The destination for history

Eight things you may not know about the Dambusters


On 16 May 1943, 19 RAF Lancaster aircraft set off to make history in Operation Chastise. The events of the Dams Raid is legendary –  from the technical creation of ‘bouncing bombs’ to the top secret strategy of flying at only 60 feet above enemy territory.

But what about the 133 men, from all over the UK and beyond, who were hailed as ‘the Dambusters’? Here Charles Foster reveals eight things you may not know about these heroic men who flew in World War II’s most audacious attack…

Neither of the flight commanders (Melvin ‘Dinghy’ Young and Henry Maudslay) had met Guy Gibson before 617 Squadron was formed. Both were shot down on their return flights.

Of the 19 flight engineers who flew on the raid, four were Scottish. 

Flt Sgt Leonard Sumpter, bomb aimer in David Shannon’s crew, was the only man to take part in 617 Squadron’s first wartime operation (the Dams Raid) and its last, an attack on Hitler’s mountain lair of Berchtesgarten on 25 April 1945.

Sgt Ray Wilkinson, rear gunner in Bill Townsend’s crew, was the only man to take part in both the Dams Raid and the final successful attack on the Tirpitz on 12 November 1944.

The front gunner in David Shannon’s crew, Sgt Brian Jagger, was the son of the portrait painter David Jagger and the nephew of the sculptor Charles Sargeant Jagger, designer of the Royal Artillery war memorial at Hyde Park Corner in London. A David Jagger self-portrait was recently sold for £221,000 at auction. 

Four men who flew on the raid had pregnant wives waiting at home. Two were killed (Lewis Burpee and Charles Brennan). The two others, David Maltby and Richard Trevor-Roper would both die soon after their own sons were born (Maltby on 15 September 1943, Trevor-Roper on 31 March 1944).

Two members of the crew of Lancaster AJ-P were knighted later on in their lives: pilot Mick Martin and navigator Jack Leggo. 

Pilot Warner ‘Bill’ Ottley and his wireless operator Jack Guterman were good friends and both had extensive classical music record collections which they listened to together in their quarters. Both died when AJ-C was shot down, and Ottley’s records were donated to his school, Hurstpierpoint College.

Canadians Albert Garshowitz and Frank Garbas grew up in the same town of Hamilton, Ontario, and had played schoolboy rugby in the same league. They met by chance again in the UK while training and joined the same crew. They both died when AJ-B crashed into a pylon near Marbeck in Germany. 

Sign up for our newsletter

show more books