The Dambusters: 20 Historical Photographs from Operation Chastise

eder-dam-17-may-1943(Image: Germany Federal Archive cc-sa-3.0 DE; Eder Dam breached, May 17 1943)

Yesterday and today mark the 70th anniversary of Operation Chastise, the famous Dam Busters raid carried out by Avro Lancasters of No. 617 Squadron, RAF Bomber Command. On the night of May 16, 1943, 19 Lancaster bombers took off from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire to attack the Mohne, Edersee and Sorpe dams in Germany’s industrial Ruhr Valley. Seventy years ago today, nine bombers returned.

avro-lancaster-bouncing-bomb(Image: Royal Air Force; bouncing bomb beneath specially reconfigured Lancaster)

Led by 24-year-old Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC, a veteran of over 170 bombing and night fighter missions, specially selected crews breached the Mohne and Edersee Dams using Barnes Wallis’ famous ‘bouncing bomb‘. An estimated 1,600 people were drowned, although the Sorpe dam sustained only minor damage.

avro-lancaster-gibson-crew(Image: RAF; Guy Gibson and crew prepare to board their Lancaster, May 16, 1943)

To commemorate the 70th anniversary, the UK’s last surviving airworthy Lancaster bomber of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight overflew Chatsworth House in Derbyshire and passed between the famous twin towers of Derwent Dam, where  the “Dambusters” practiced their bombing runs. This article features 20 historical photographs (ten in colour) of Operation Chastise and the aircrews of No. 617 Squadron.

dambusters-raid(Image: RAF)

Above, Air Vice-Marshal Ralph Cochrane, Wing Commander Guy Gibson, King George VI and Group Captain John Whitworth discuss the raid in May 1943.

bouncing-bomb-test(Image: RAF

‘Upkeep’ version of the bouncing bomb dropped during a training flight at Reculver bombing range, Kent.

mohne-dam-1943(Image: RAF, public domain)

Taken during a reconnaissance mission in 1943, this aerial view shows the Mohne Dam, which supplied 75% of water to the Ruhr Valley industrial complex.

ruhr-valley-operation-chastise(Image: RAF, public domain)

Massive flooding at Froendenberg-Boesperde in the Ruhr Valley, 13 miles south of the Mohne Dam.

kassel-germany(Image: RAF, public domain)

Flooding in the town of Kassel, 30 miles downstream from the Eder Dam.

wing-commander-guy-gibson-may-1943(Image: RAF, public domain)

Above, Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC DSO (bar) DFC (bar), seen in full flying kit alongside a Lancaster bomber, May 1943.

mohne-dam-breached(Image: Schalber, cc-sa-3.0 DE)

Here, the breach in the Mohne Dam’s massive wall gives way to a scene of utter devastation as millions of gallons of water flooded into the valley.

king-george-vi-les-munro(Image: RAF, public domain)

In the first colour photograph of our series, His Majesty King George VI chats to Squadron Leader Les Munro DSO DFC of the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Munro, who is the last surviving member of the Dambusters raid, returned to New Zealand after the war, working as a property valuer before establishing a farm near Te Kuiti.

617-squadron-aircrew-1943(Image: RAF, public domain)

Aircrew of No. 617 Squadron during the visit of King George VI to RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire on May 27, 1943, ten days after the raid.

guy-gibson(Image: RAF, public domain)

Wing Commander Guy Gibson on parade during the King’s visit of May 27, 1943.

guy-gibson-office-scampton(Image: RAF, public domain)

Guy Gibson is seen here in his office at RAF Scampton on May 22, 1943, several days after the raid. Accompanying him is Squadron Leader Dave Maltby, one of his flight commanders. Maltby was killed several months later when his aircraft crashed into the North Sea. The 23-year-old pilot’s body was recovered and is buried in the churchyard of St Andrew’s Church, Wickhambreaux, Kent.

lancaster-617-squadron-drew-t-tommy(Image: RAF, public domain)

Beneath stormy skies, the crew of Lancaster ED285/’AJ-T’ coded T for Tommy sit on the grass at RAF Scampton, May 22, 1943. From 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.

Pilot Joe McCarthy DSO DFC (Royal Canadian Air Force) was born on Long Island and grew up in Brooklyn, working as a lifeguard at Coney Island before the war. He died in 1998.

guy-gibson-crew(Image: RAF, public domain)

Guy Gibson with members of his crew. Left to right: Wing Commander Guy Gibson; 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.

dambusters-crew-scampton(Image: RAF, public domain)

Left to right: Flight Sergeant J H Payne, gunner; Pilot Officer T W Johnson, engineer; Sergeant W E Hornby; Sergeant L G Mieyette, wireless operator; Pilot Officer C H Coles, bomb aimer; Flying Officer J A Rodger, navigator; and Flight Lieutenant W H S Wilson.

Not all of these men flew on the Dambusters raid due to illness. Sadly all were killed four months later, when their Lancaster was shot down on the night of 15-16 September, 1943 during the raid on Dortmund-Ems Canal.

dambusters-aircrew(Image: RAF, public domain)

Three members of No. 617 Squadron who flew on the Dambusters raid. Left to right: Flight Lieutenant Dave Shannon, pilot of ED929/’AJ-L’ during Operation Chastise, 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.

Dave Shannon DSO (bar) DFC (bar) was a member of the Royal Australian Air Force. He remained in England after the war and became an executive with Shell and later Cunard. He died at his home in Sydenham, South London, in 1993 aged 70.

guy-gibson-reading(Image: RAF, public domain)

Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, Commanding Officer of No. 617 Squadron (The Dambusters) is seen here reading his book in a poppy field at RAF Scampton. His office at the base has now been fully restored.

battle-of-britain-memorial-flight(Image: Jonathan Kershaw, cc-3.0)

Today, the last airworthy Lancaster bomber in the UK is operated as part of the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Fight, alongside a variety of Spitfire and Hurricane fighters, as well as other aircraft types. This Lancaster (serial number PA474) was built in 1945 and saw little service in World War Two. The world’s only other airworthy Lancaster is based in Canada. Of 7,377 Lancasters built, 17 are known to survive in a largely complete condition.

No. 617 Squadron remains active, operating the Tornado GR4 out of RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland. The Dambusters squadron is expected to be the first UK unit to operate the F-35 Lightning II from RAF Marham in Norfolk, when the new jet eventually replaces the ageing Tornado fleet.

Keep reading – explore 20 historical photos of downed Luftwaffe aircraft during the Battle of Britain, or browse the thumbnails below.

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