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FLYING TO THE DAMS – Low Level

W/C Gibson at door; P/O Taerum (right).

At 9:30 pm on May 16, 1943 W/C Gibson took off to lead No. 617 Squadron to the Dams. The primary tactic that was used to reach the targets was low flying. The North Sea was crossed at the lowest possible altitude to avoid enemy radar. Once the enemy coast was reached, extremely low altitude was maintained in order to escape attack by enemy fighters.

The navigation, once the enemy coast had been crossed, was largely in the hands of the bomb aimer who, lying on his chest at the front of the aircraft, used a special roller to identify important features such as railway lines and canals and to avoid high-tension lines.

“When we were on our way in we were picked up by searchlights. They were dazzling. The blue light was a master light. Once the blue light was on you the other ones automatically picked you up. But we were fortunate. We were able to shake it off. But we lost the other two aircraft we were going in with. So we just carried on singly.”

– F/O Revie Walker (F/L Shannon’s navigator)

“We were flying so low that more than once Spam (P/O Spafford, the bomb-aimer) yelled at me to pull up quickly to avoid high-tension wires and tall trees.”
– W/C Gibson.

“If the wires in the moonlight were ‘up here’ (motioning above his head) we knew we’d have to go under them. If they were to flutter ‘down there’ (motioning below his head) we knew we’d go over them. It was that quick.”
– F/Sgt. Ken Brown

Five Lancasters were lost en-route to the Dams. Sgt. Byers was hit by flak and crashed as he reached the enemy coast. F/L Astell and F/L Barlow struck high-tension lines. P/O Burpee and P/O Ottley were shot down by flak.

P/O Burpee and crew.

Two aircraft returned to base without reaching the enemy coast. P/O Rice flew so low that his aircraft struck the sea tearing off part of the Lancaster’s belly and his weapon. F/L Munro’s aircraft was struck by flak. His radios and intercom systems were knocked out so he was forced to return to base.

“P/O Burpee was about a mile and a half off the north coast. They opened up on him and he blew up over the airport. So I knew we had one less.”

– F/Sgt. Ken Brown

“Right under the bloody thing!”
– P/O George Gregory (F/L Hopgood’s front gunner) after passing under a high-tension power line

Ottley was on my starboard side and they hit him. He immediately blew up. His tanks went first and then his store (bomb) . . .the whole valley was just one orange ball.”
– F/Sgt. Ken Brown

“I’m sorry boys. We’ve had it.”
– P/O Ottley

“Hopgood had been hit himself -in the head- and blood was pouring out of the wound, but he yelled to the engineer, ‘Carry on and don’t worry.'”
– F/O Burcher (F/L Hopgood’s rear gunner)

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