Guy Gibson – The Leader, the Squadron, the Training

Born in India and educated at Oxford, Guy Gibson became a pilot with the Royal Air Force in 1937. By the end of 1942, at only 24 years of age, he was the commanding officer of No. 106 Squadron, having completed 73 bombing operations and 99 night fighter operations, distinguishing himself as an outstanding pilot and having been awarded the DFC and the DSO with Bar.

On March 21, 1943 W/C Gibson was ordered to form a new, special squadron to fly Lancasters on a highly-secret operation. As well, he was granted the unprecedented privilege of selecting crews from other squadrons of Bomber Command. 21 pilots and crews had to be chosen. At this point he was only told that the target would require low flying over water at night. Gibson himself was not told for some weeks that the task was no less than the breaching of the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams that stored more than 300 million tons of water vitally important to German industry.

“How do you feel about doing one more trip?”
– AVM Ralph Cochrane

“Though we did not see a lot of him he (W/C Gibson) seemed to set a standard of perfection in all our training.
– P/O Cecil Howard (F/Sgt. Anderson’s navigator)

The aircrew selected included the best in Bomber Command and training began with low-level training over lakes in Britain. The flying was most demanding, requiring pilots to descend rapidly to sixty feet and then maintain that altitude and the required speed of 230 miles per hour.

On May 16, 1943, only eight weeks after the squadron had been formed, Guy Gibson and his squadron were ready to take off from their base at Scampton on what was to become the most famous bombing operation of the war.

“Can you do it at 60 feet?”
– Barnes Wallis

“What they did was put a great sheet across the runway at one end and then so many yards down, another sheet. You had to start at the beginning of the runway at 1500 feet and dive, cross the first sheet at 70 feet, cross the second sheet at seventy feet, and at the end of the runway be at 1500 feet. It was quite tricky.”
– F/Sgt. Ken Brown

“At first we thought the chap calling, ‘Down, down, down’ would never stop.”
– F/L David Shannon

“This is bloody dangerous!”
– P/O Spafford of W/C Gibson’s crew

“Another gadget to help the bomb aimers was the penny bomb sight. This ‘V’ notch sight had two pointers which, when lined up with the towers on the dam, gave the correct distance to release the mine from the wall.”
– F/L David Shannon

“We didn’t have a clue as to what was going to be the target. Nobody even mentioned dams, we thought the Tirpitz (battleship) or some other thing.”
– F/Sgt. Ken Brown