AJ-G THE DAMBUSTERS  (617 Squadron)

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Mohne Attack

It was a cloudless, moonlit night which gave Gibson an excellent view of the dam. The other Lancasters orbited the area some distance away and checked out the defences. Just as the reconnaissance had shown, an anti-torpedo net was floating in front of the dam but there were no search lights or balloons. There was light flak identified in each of the towers and along the wall as well as in the nearby countryside. There were an estimated 12 guns.

Direction of attack on the Mohne Dam
Direction of attack on the Mohne Dam

Gibson made a dummy run over the dam and then circled round and went in for his real attack. The German gunners were now ready for him and were probably amazed to see the Lancaster turning on its lamps as it approached the dam. With the Upkeep now being revolved backwards at 500 rpm in the belly of the aircraft , Taerum talked Gibson down to the required 60 feet. At 0028 hours Spafford the bomb aimer pressed the release button and Upkeep was away for real.

Just as it did in testing, the Upkeep bounced across the lake three times before sinking down the centre of the dam. Moments later a huge column of water was thrown up as it exploded, momentarily obscuring Trevor-Roper's view of the dam from the rear turret of AJ-G.

Everyone thought that the huge dam had given way but as the water and spray subsided they realised that the dam wall was still intact. Hutchinson, Gibson's wireless operator sent back the Morse message Goner 68A - weapon released against Mohne dam, exploded five yards from dam with no breach.
Gibson gave the water a few minutes to settle before calling Hopgood (AJ-M) to attack just as Maudslay and Knight were arriving. After being slightly damaged on the journey to the dam, AJ-M was punished further from the German gunners. The other planes saw shells hitting the port (left) engines and going into the starboard (right) wing. With the battering and flames now coming from the engines, Fraser released Upkeep late. The bomb bounced straight over the dam and hit the power station on the other side. AJ-M now crippled, limped over the dam in a ball of flames after a fuel tank had no doubt been hit.

Knowing he was doomed Hopgood tried to gain some height to allow his crew to bail out. Tony Burcher in the rear gun turret managed to escape by cranking the turret around by hand after the hydraulics had been knocked out due to the loss of the port (left) engine. He crawled into the rear fuselage where his parachute was stored. As he strapped it on he saw John Minchin the wireless operator crawling down towards him seriously wounded. Burcher bravely pushed his fellow crew mate out of the rear door, pulling the rip cord of the parachute as he fell. Realising they were now to low, Burcher opened his parachute while inside the plane throwing it out of the door and letting it pull him clear of the doomed Lancaster. As he left the plane the wing sheared off and he passed out.
AJ-M plunged into the ground in ball of flames three miles from the dam. Hopgood, Earnshaw, Brennan and Gregory were killed instantly. Burcher came round on the ground but had sustained serious back injuries from either hitting the tail of the plane or landing heavily. Minchin's parachute had failed to open in time and he was killed. Fraser the bomb aimer had also managed to escape from the Lancaster in the same way Burcher had by allowing the parachute to pull him clear of the plane through the front escape hatch. Both Burcher and Fraser were taken prisoner.
At the moment AJ-M had hit the ground the self-destruct fuse on their Upkeep had detonated it destroying the power station on the dry side of the dam.

The wreckage of AJ-M
The wreckage of AJ-M

There was no time to mourn for the remaining crews, they still had a job to do. Gibson called in Micky Martin (AJ-P) the low flying expert. In an attempt to reduce the amount of flak Martin would get and try to prevent a repeat of the previous disaster with Hopgood and AJ-M, Gibson flew in just ahead of him drawing the flak away. Martin made a perfect run and released his Upkeep at the correct point but it veered off to the left and exploded short of the dam with no effect. As Martin flew over the dam at the end of his attack some flak shells hit his starboard (right) wing and punctured a fuel tank. Luckily for AJ-P the tank was empty. Goner 58A was relayed back to Grantham - Weapon released at Mohne dam, exploded 50 yards from dam with no breach made.

Dinghy Young was the fourth plane to attack in AJ-A. Despite the damage sustained during his attack Martin in AJ-P joined Gibson in trying to distract the gunners on the dam while Young made his attack. This time Gibson turned on his navigation lights to draw the gunners attention while MacCausland, Young's bomb aimer released the Upkeep. Their attack was spot on, the bomb bounced three times, sank down next to the dam wall and exploded throwing up another huge column of water. Again the crews must have thought that the dam had gone but when the water subsided they found to their dismay that the structure was still intact. Goner 78A was sent to Grantham - Weapon released at Mohne dam, exploded on contact with the dam but no breach made.

There was an air of gloom descending over Grantham and frustration with the crews at the dam. There had been one perfect hit and another close one yet still the dam stood firm. After all, Wallis believed only one Upkeep would be required to punch a hole through the dam.

Undeterred Gibson radioed Dave Maltby into attack in AJ-J. With Gibson and Martin drawing fire on either side Maltby went in for his run. Just as he was about to release his bomb, Maltby noticed that the crown of the dam had began to crumble and the centre had opened up slightly. Young's Upkeep had worked! AJ-J continued the attack never the less and with another perfect hit the dam gave way with spectacular effect. For some reason another 'no breach' message was sent back to Grantham after the attack, probably because the scene was still obscured. Gibson however soon saw a river of water rushing through the dam wall sweeping it away down the valley. He called off Shannon who was about to make his attack and ordered his wireless operator Hutchinson to send Nigger back to Grantham - the codeword for the successful breach of the Mohne dam.

NIGGER, breach in the Mohne Dam (Morning after the attack)
NIGGER, breach in the Mohne Dam (Morning after the attack)

Pictures of Mohne Dam after attack

The scene at Grantham was one of relief and joy as the codeword 'Nigger' came through. Harris who had not so long before called Wallis' idea "Tripe of the wildest description" now shook his hand and exclaimed "I didn't believe a word you said when you came to see me, but now you could sell me a pink elephant".

While Grantham celebrated the success, the Eder dam was the next target for the crews in the Ruhr Valley…

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