Tag Archives: Guy Penrose Gibson

16–17 May 1943

Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, VC, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar. (Imperial War Museum)
Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, V.C., D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar. © IWM (CH 11047)

16–17 May 1943: Nineteen modified Avro Lancaster B.III Special long-range heavy bombers of No. 617 Squadron, Royal Air Force, carried out Operation Chastise, a low-level night attack against four hydroelectric dams in the Ruhr Valley.

The purpose of the attack was to disrupt German steel production. It was estimated that 8 tons of water were required to produce 1 ton of steel. Breaching the dams would reduce the available water and hydroelectric power, disrupt transportation of materials on the rivers, and flood iron ore and coal mines and power plants. If the dams were destroyed, it was believed that the effects would be the same as attacks against 26 categories of industrial targets further down the Ruhr Valley.

Led by 24-year-old Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar, a veteran of 172 combat missions, the aircrews of No. 617 Squadron dropped a spinning cylindrical bomb, code-named “Upkeep”, from a height of just 60 feet (18.3 meters) over the reservoirs behind the dams, while flying at precisely 240 miles per hour (386.2 kilometers per hour).

The 9,250-pound (4,195.8 kilogram) Vickers Type 464 bomb was designed to skip along the surface and to strike the dam, and then sink to the bottom. There, a pressure detonator exploded the 6,600 pound (2,994 kilogram) Torpex charge directly against the wall with the water pressure directing the energy through the wall.

Guy Gibson's Avro Lancaster B.III Special, ED932/G, AJ-G, "bombed up" with an Upkeep bomb. © IWM (HU 69915)
Guy Gibson’s Avro Lancaster B.III Special, ED932/G, AJ-G, “bombed up” with a Vickers Type 464 bomb. © IWM (HU 69915)

Nineteen Lancasters took off from RAF Scampton beginning at 9:28 p.m. on the 16th, and flew across the North Sea at only 100 feet (30.5 meters) to avoid being detected by enemy radar. The bombers succeeded in destroying the Möhne and Eder dams and damaging the Sorpe. A fourth dam was attacked but not damaged. The last surviving bomber returned to base at 6:15 a.m. on the 17th.

Of the nineteen Lancasters launched, two were damaged and turned back before reaching the targets. Six were shot down and two more collided with power lines during the low-level night flight. Of 133 airmen participating in the attack, 53 were killed.

GIBSON, Guy, with PO Frederick M. Spafford, FL Robert E.G. Hutchinson, PO Andrew Deering and FO Torger H. Taerum
Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, V.C., D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar, Commander No. 617 Squadron, with the crew of “G George”: Pilot Officer Frederick Mchael Spafford, D.F.C., bomb aimer; Flight Lieutenant Robert Edward George Hutchinson, D.F.C. and Bar, wireless operator; Pilot Officer Andrew Deering, D.F.C., gunner; Flying Officer Torger Harlo Taerum, D.F.C., navigator. Flight engineer Sergeant John Pulford and tail gunner Flight Lieutenant Richard A.D. Trevor-Roper are not present.  © IWM (TR 1127) 

Guy Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross by King George VI. An additional 33 survivors were also decorated. 617 Squadron became known as “The Dambusters.” A book, The Dam Busters, was written about the raid by Paul Brickhill, who also wrote The Great Escape. A 1955 movie starred Richard Todd, O.B.E., as Wing Commander Gibson. There have been reports that a new movie is planned.

An Avro Lancaster B.III Special drops an "Upkeep" bomb during tests, April 1943. (Imperial War Museum)
An Avro Lancaster B.III Special drops an “Upkeep” bomb during tests at Reculver, April 1943. Imperial War Museum, still from film, IWM (FLM 2340)
After being dropped from an Avro Lancaster, the “special mine” bounces across the water. (Imperial War Museum)
Post-strike reconnaissance photograph shows the breach of the Mohne Dam in the Ruhr Valley, 16 May 1943. (Imperial War Museum)
Post-strike reconnaissance photograph shows the breach of the Möhne Dam in the Ruhr Valley, 17 May 1943. The gap is 250 feet (76 meters) wide and 292 feet (22 meters) deep. © IWM (CH 9687)

The Avro Lancaster B.III Special was a four-engine long range heavy bomber modified to carry the Type 464 bomb. It was operated by a crew of seven: Pilot, flight engineer, navigator, radio operator, bomb aimer, nose gunner and tail gunner. The “Lanc” was 69 feet, 6 inches (21.184 meters) long with a wingspan of 102 feet (31.090 meters) and overall height of 20 feet (6.096 meters). The modified bomber had an empty weight of 35,240 pounds (15,984.6 kilograms and a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 60,000 pounds (27,215.5 kilograms).

The Lancaster B.III Special was powered by the Packard Motor Car Company’s license-built version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 24, the Packard V-1650-1 Merlin 224. These were liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,648.96-cubic-inch-displacement (27.022-liter) single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines with four valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 6.0:1. The Merlin 224 used a two-speed, single-stage supercharger. 100/130-octane aviation gasoline was required. The engine had a Normal Power rating of 1,080 horsepower at 2,650 r.p.m. and 9,500 feet (2,896 meters); Military Power, 1,240 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters); and 1,300 horsepower at 3,000 horsepower with 54.3 inches of manifold pressure (1.84 Bar) for Takeoff. The Merlins drove three-bladed de Havilland Hydromatic quick-feathering, constant-speed propellers which had a diameter of 13 feet (3.962 meters). The propeller gear reduction ratio was 0.477:1. The V-1650-1 was 6 feet, 7.7 inches (2.024 meters) long, 2 feet, 6.0 inches (0.762 meters) wide and 3 feet, 6.6 inches (1.082 meters) high. It weighed 1,512 pounds (685.8 kilograms).

These engines gave the Lancaster a cruising speed of 200 miles per hour (321.9 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 272 miles per hour (437.7 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 24,700 feet (7,528.6 meters) and maximum range was 2,530 miles (4,071.6 kilometers).

Defensive armament for a standard Lancaster consisted of eight air-cooled Browning .303-caliber Mark II machine guns in three power turrets, nose, dorsal and tail. The Lancasters assigned to Operation Chastise had the dorsal turret deleted to reduce weight and aerodynamic drag. The gunner normally operating that turret was moved to the front turret, relieving the bomb aimer to deal with the operation of the specialized mission equipment.

7,377 Avro Lancasters were built. Only two remain in airworthy condition.

The first two modified Avro Lancaster B.III Specials assigned to No. 617 Squadron, RAF Scampton, April 1943. (Royal Air force)
The first two modified Avro Lancaster B.III Specials assigned to No. 617 Squadron, RAF Scampton, April 1943. In the foreground is ED825/G, AJ T. (Royal Air Force)
One of the two flyable Lancasters remaining, “City of London,” the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd.-built Lancaster B.I, PA474. The airplane is marked as “Mickey the Moocher,” EE176, QR M. (Crown Copyright)
Victory Aircraft Ltd.-built Avro Lancaster B Mk.X FM213, marked as KB726, VR A.

Highly Recommended: The Dam Busters, by Paul Brickhill. Evans Brothers, London, 1951

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 July 1943

22 July 1943: A Royal Air Force official photographer visited No. 617 Squadron, The Dambusters, at their base at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire, England. These photographic images are part of the Ministry of Information Second World War Colour Transparency Collection.

Wing Commander Guy Gibson with members of his crew. Left to right: Wing Commander Guy Gibson, VC, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar; Pilot Officer P M Spafford, bomb aimer; Flight Lieutenant R E G Hutchinson, wireless operator; Pilot Officer G A Deering and Flying Officer H T Taerum, gunners. (Imperial War Museum TR 1127)
Wing Commander Guy Gibson with members of his crew. Left to right: Wing Commander Guy Gibson, VC, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar; Pilot Officer P M Spafford, bomb aimer; Flight Lieutenant R E G Hutchinson, wireless operator; Pilot Officer G A Deering and Flying Officer H T Taerum, gunners. (Imperial War Museum TR 1127) 
Wing Commander Guy Gibson sitting in a poppy field reading a book. (Imperial War Museum TR 1125)
Wing Commander Guy Gibson sitting in a poppy field reading a book. (Imperial War Museum TR 1125)
The crew of Lancaster ED285/`AJ-T' sitting on the grass, posed under stormy clouds. Left to right: Sergeant G Johnson; Pilot Officer D A MacLean, navigator; Flight Lieutenant J C McCarthy, pilot; Sergeant L Eaton, gunner. In the rear are Sergeant R Batson, gunner; and Sergeant W G Ratcliffe, engineer. Flight Lieutenant Joe McCarthy (fourth from left) and his crew of No. 617 Squadron (The Dambusters) at RAF Scampton, 22 July 1943.
The crew of Lancaster ED285/`AJ-T’ sitting on the grass, posed under stormy clouds. Left to right: Sergeant G Johnson; Pilot Officer D A MacLean, navigator; Flight Lieutenant J C McCarthy, pilot; Sergeant L Eaton, gunner. In the rear are Sergeant R Batson, gunner; and Sergeant W G Ratcliffe, engineer.
Flight Lieutenant Joe McCarthy (fourth from left) and his crew of No. 617 Squadron (The Dambusters) at RAF Scampton, 22 July 1943. (Imperial War Museum TR 1128)
Flight Lieutenant Dave Shannon, pilot of ED929/`AJ-L' on the dams raid, with Flight Lieutenant R D Trevor-Roper, who flew as Gibson's rear gunner on the dam's raid; and Squadron Leader G W Holden. (Imperial War Museum TR 1129)
Flight Lieutenant Dave Shannon, pilot of ED929/`AJ-L’ on the dams raid, with Flight Lieutenant R D Trevor-Roper, who flew as Gibson’s rear gunner on the dam’s raid; and Squadron Leader G W Holden. (Imperial War Museum TR 1129)
Flight Lieutenant Harold Sydney Wilson and crew. They did not fly on the Dams raid owing to illness. Left to right: Flight Sergeant Trevor H Payne, front gunner; Pilot Officer Thomas W Johnson, flight engineer; Sergeant Eric Hornby, rear gunner; Sergeant Lloyd G Mieyette, wireless operator; Pilot Officer George H Coles, bomb-aimer; Flying Officer James A Rodger, navigator; and Flight Lieutenant Harold S Wilson. All were killed when their Lancaster was shot down on the night of 15 /16 September 1943 during the raid on the Dortmund-Ems Canal. (Imperial War Museum TR 1126)
Flight Lieutenant Harold Sydney Wilson and crew. They did not fly on the Dams raid owing to illness. Left to right: Flight Sergeant Trevor H Payne, front gunner; Pilot Officer Thomas W Johnson, flight engineer; Sergeant Eric Hornby, rear gunner; Sergeant Lloyd G Mieyette, wireless operator; Pilot Officer George H Coles, bomb-aimer; Flying Officer James A Rodger, navigator; and Flight Lieutenant Harold S Wilson. All were killed when their Lancaster was shot down on the night of 15 /16 September 1943 during the raid on the Dortmund-Ems Canal. (Imperial War Museum TR 1126)
Wing Commander Guy Gibson at his desk with Squadron Leader D J H 'Dave' Maltby, one of his flight commanders. (Imperial War museum TR 1122)
Wing Commander Guy Gibson at his desk with Squadron Leader D J H ‘Dave’ Maltby, one of his flight commanders. (Imperial War Museum TR 1122)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 May 1943

Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, VC, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, Royal Air Force, at RAF Scampton, 27 May 1943. (Imperial War Museum TR 1002)
Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, VC, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, Royal Air Force, at RAF Scampton, 27 May 1943. (Imperial War Museum TR 1002)
Victoria Cross
Victoria Cross

Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, was awarded the Victoria Cross by His Majesty King George VI at a ceremony at RAF Scampton. Wing Commander Gibson received the medal for his leadership of No. 617 Squadron, The Dambusters, during Operation Chastise, the attack on Germany’s Ruhr Valley hydroelectric dams, 16–17 May 1943.

The Victoria Cross ranks with the George Cross as the United Kingdom’s highest award for gallantry.

The first British medal to be created for bravery, the Victoria Cross was instituted in 1856, with the first recipients being personnel honoured for their gallantry during the Crimean War.

The bronze cross pattée, which bears the inscription “FOR VALOUR,” is cast from the metal of Russian guns captured at Sevastopol during the Crimean campaign. The Victoria Cross is awarded “for most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.

The King has a word with Flight Lieutenant Les Munro from New Zealand. Wing Commander Guy Gibson is on the right and Air Vice Marshal Ralph Cochrane, Commander of No 5 Group is behind Flight Lieutenant Munro and to the right. (Imperial War Museum TR 999)
His Majesty The King has a word with Flight Lieutenant John Leslie Munro, Royal New Zealand Air Force, at RAF Scampton, 27 May 1943. Wing Commander Gibson is on the right, facing Munro. (Imperial War Museum TR 999)

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 09.40.32Air Ministry, 28th May, 1943.

ROYAL AIR FORCE.

     The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery: —

Acting Wing Commander Guy Penrose GIBSON, D.S.O., D.F.C. (39438), Reserve of Air Force Officers, No. 617 Squadron: —

     This officer served as a night bomber pilot at the beginning of the war and quickly established a reputation as an outstanding operational pilot. In addition to taking the fullest possible share in all normal operations, he made single-handed attacks during his “rest” nights on such highly defended objectives as the German battleship Tirpitz, then completing in Wilhelmshaven.

     When his tour of operational duty was concluded, he asked for a further operational posting and went to a night-fighter unit instead of being posted for instructional duties. In the course of his second operational tour, he destroyed at least three enemy bombers and contributed much to the raising and development of new night-fighter formations.

     After a short period in a training unit, he again volunteered for operational duties and returned to night bombers. Both as an operational pilot and as leader of his squadron, he achieved outstandingly successful results and his personal courage knew no bounds. Berlin, Cologne, Danzig, Gdynia, Genoa, Le Creusot, Milan, Nuremberg and Stuttgart were among the targets he attacked by day and by night.

     On the conclusion of his third operational tour, Wing Commander Gibson pressed strongly to be allowed to remain on operations and he was selected to command a squadron then forming for special tasks. Under his inspiring leadership, this squadron has now executed one of the most devastating attacks of the war—the breaching of the Moehne and Eder dams.

     The task was fraught with danger and difficulty. Wing Commander Gibson personally made the initial attack on the Moehne dam. Descending to within a few feet of the water and taking the full brunt of the antiaircraft defences, he delivered his attack with great accuracy. Afterwards he circled very low for 30 minutes, drawing the enemy fire on himself in order to leave as free a run as possible to the following aircraft which were attacking the dam in turn.

     Wing Commander Gibson then led the remainder of his force to the Eder dam where, with complete disregard for his own safety, he repeated his tactics and once more drew on himself the enemy fire so that the attack could be successfully developed.

     Wing Commander Gibson has completed over 170 sorties, involving more than 600 hours operational flying. Throughout his operational career, prolonged exceptionally at his own request, he has shown leadership, determination and valour of the highest order.

The London Gazette, Tuesday, 25 May 1943, No. 3630 at Page 2361

Wing Commander Guy P. Gibson VC, 1944. © IWM (CH 13618)
Wing Commander Guy P. Gibson VC, 1944. © IWM (CH 13618)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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