16 May, 1943
75 years ago tonight, 617 Squadron flew out of RAF Scampton on Operation Chastise. 133 men took off to attack the Ruhr dams. Only 77 of them returned.
The legend of "The Dambusters" was born. They were led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson; who was just 24 years old. So tonight, I salute their courage, their skill & their sacrifice ...
18.00 UK time: “We are going to attack the great dams of Germany”, Wing Commander Guy Gibson revealed to his men in their final briefing. They had been training to fly at low height and deliver a bouncing bomb over water, but for most, this was the first they knew of their targets.
19.30 The crew were given their last meal – two eggs and bacon. Some of the canteen staff guessed that they were about to fly out, as it was the only time that they were given two eggs. Some of the men knew that this would be their last ever mission, and gave instructions for their affairs to be put in order.
21.28 The first of three waves of Lancasters took off from RAF Scampton. Cloaked in secrecy as ever, they flew out under complete radio silence. The 19 planes, carrying a total of 133 airmen, took different routes to trick the Germans into thinking the raid was bigger than it was.
Wing Commander Guy Gibson (in door of aircraft) and his crew board their Avro Lancaster bomber for the mission
Robert Barlow, Les Munro, Geoff Rice and Vernon Byers, piloted the first planes, heading for the Sorpe. Theirs was the longest route.
The Lancasters headed out across the North Sea toward the Dutch coast, but the winds were higher than expected and they began to stray off course.
22.01 Joe McCarthy, also bound for the Sorpe, took off late as his aircraft was broken and he had to change planes. He flew alongside Gibson, Micky Martin, John Hopgood, Henry Young, Dave Shannon, David Maltby, Henry Maudslay, Les Knight and Bill Astell.
The final wave, the Airborne reserve, captained by Warner Ottley, Lewis Burpee, Ken Brown, Bill Townsend and Cyril Anderson waited anxiously at the base until just after midnight before take off.
22.57 The first plane was lost. In the bad weather Byers strayed off course over the heavily defended island of Texel. The Lancaster was shot down by enemy fire. All of the men were killed.
The other crews carried on.
23.50 Barlow's plane hit the power lines in enemy territory after being hit with flak. There were no survivors.
The crews flew beneath power cables, along roads and below the level of the surrounding trees to avoid enemy defences, but as they were blown off course they hit obstacles.
Gibson’s wave made their way across the North Sea and into the Netherlands.
His formation - or 'vic' - crossed the coast at the ominously named island of Overflakee, but flying fast and low they took the Germans by surprise, crossing the heavily defended island unscathed.
The second formation, ten minutes behind, climbed higher to use their radio aids and discovered the unforecast wind, but the German radars picked them up and they opened fire.