AJ-G THE DAMBUSTERS  (617 Squadron)

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Journey

The third wave which was acting as the reserve left Scampton just after midnight, over 2 hours after the first two waves had departed. Before the last aircraft of the third wave had even lifted off, 3 crews of 21 men were already dead and two other Lancasters had aborted the mission.

In the two hours prior to the departure of the third wave, the first wave had flown out over the North Sea and the crews were testing their lamps and weapons. The winds were stronger than expected and it blew the first three aircraft of Gibson, Hopgood and Martin off course. They crossed the Dutch coast in the wrong position right over an area of anti aircraft batteries. Luckily they caught the gunners asleep and escaped without loss or damage. They continued to occasionally drift off course as they crossed from Holland into Germany attracting the attention of flak and searchlights. During the flak attacks, Hopgood's aircraft was hit in the wing and he brushed over tree tops and under high tension cables as he struggled to keep the Lancaster in the air. During the journey to the Mohne, the gunners exchanged fire with defence position and in the intensity they lost one another although they all arrived at the Mohne at roughly the same time.

Young, Maltby and Shannon were not far behind the leading group and were experiencing the same problems. They reached the Mohne eight minutes after Gibson relatively unscathed apart from a small hole in Shannon's Lancaster. Maudslay, Astell and Knight in the third flight had an uneventful fight until after they crossed the Rhine at Rees. At this point Astell crashed.

There are conflicting stories as to why Astell crashed. Bob Kellow, Knight's wireless operator said later that AJ-B was trailing behind when it was caught in a crossfire of light flak. German witnesses however, claim that Astell flew into an electricity pylon and crashed exploding into pieces as the Upkeep detonated. Astell and his entire crew were killed in the crash.

Astell was the fifth Lancaster to fall or turn back (all others being in the ill fated second wave). By the time Maudslay and Knight arrived at the Mohne dam the attack had already begun.


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