ACA Woking News by Stuart Holmes

10 September 2008

The Dam Buster’s Tour

Guy Gibson grave stone

In early September four of our members joined a “Dam Buster Tour” arranged by the “Not Forgotten Association”.  After an 06.15 start from the Union Jack Club the coach crossed the Channel to Calais and 
Tour party at Arnhem Cemetery

Arnhem Cemetery

travelled north into Holland where a stop was made at the cemetery in Steenbergen-en Kruisland to visit the graves of Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC, DSO*, DFC* and his navigator Squadron Leader James Warrick DFC whose Mosquito aircraft crashed after acting as Master Bomber during an attack on Rheydt on 19 September 1944. Many people ask why these two remain in a civilian Dutch cemetery rather than be transferred to one of the Commonwealth War Grave Commission cemeteries or be repatriated to the UK.  The party was told that, following the crash, the people of Steenbergen found and buried the bodies saying, ‘They died in our village, we will look after them for ever’.  The tour then visited Arnhem to see the landing and fighting areas and spent some time at the small memorial park close to the bridge, before stopping in Nijmegen for the night.

Mohne Dam

Mohne Dam

The following day began with a visit to the Mohne dam where the immensity of the task faced by No. 617 Squadron became apparent and a cruise around the dam gave just a little feeling for the view the crews would have had.  The dam is just under half a mile long, is 100 feet thick at its base and is 25 feet wide at the top. 

Five aircraft actually attacked the dam and one was shot down whilst attacking, two were seen to cause, first, a small breach and then a massive breach in the dam and the remaining three aircraft, led by Wg Cdr Gibson and Sqn Ldr Young who had dropped their bombs on the Mohne, went to the Eder Dam where all three dropped their bombs and cause a huge breach but one aircraft was damaged by the explosion of its bomb and subsequently crashed on the way home. Two aircraft attacked the Sorpe Dam causing slight damage which required the dam to be drained  to half capacity for repairs and one aircraft attacked the Ennepe Dam but without success.  In all 19 Lancasters took off from Scampton to attack the four dams: two dams were breached and one damaged.  Eight aircraft failed to return, 53 airmen died and three became prisoners of war.

Bomber Harris poster

From the Mohne dam the tour continued to Kassel for the night and it was here that there was an almost surreal sighting.  Very close to the hotel was a small bar which had an anti aircraft gun on its roof and a large photograph on the outside wall.  On examination the photograph was found to be of ACM Sir Arthur Harris and the bar was called the “Bomber Harris Bar”: it seemed akin to having a “Herman Goering Bar” down the Old Kent Road!

Arial view of Eder Dam

Eder Dam

Attack line towards Eder Dam

Eder Dam

Next day the tour went to the Eder Dam. This was viewed from Schloss Waldecke which is almost 1000 feet above the level of the dam and the attack had to be made around the back of the Schloss followed by a steep dive to get down to 60 feet above water level by the release point some 5-600 feet short of the dam. This manoeuvre had to be completed in about 1½ miles with the complication of a spit of land jutting across the final approach path - at night, in a narrow valley!  Unfortunately it was not possible to stop the coach near the dam itself so a full appreciation of the task was not possible.

Stan Instone of Woking ACA
visited graves of members of his crew

Stan Instone and crew graves

On the way back to Nijmegen stops were made at the Rheinberg and Reichswald Forest to permit members to pay personal respects to the many Commonwealth servicemen who are buried in them, including some old comrades.

Ypres Menin Gate

Ypres Menin Gate

The final stage of the journey was broken at Ypres (Wipers) to allow a visit to the Menin Gate memorial which stands at the site of the Meenenpoorte through which passed troops of almost every regiment of the British Empire armies who fought in the Ypres Salient as they marched to the front during the Great War.  On the memorial are carved the names of 54,332 men who died in the Salient between 1915 and 1917 and who have no known graves: the names of 34,984 who died after August 1917 can be found some five miles east at Tyne Cot cemetery which is close to the village of Passchendaele (Passion Dale) where there are also 11,953 graves.  (For comparison about sixty miles further south the Thiepval Memorial lists 73,367 British and South African soldiers who died on the Somme in 1916.)

The tour ended back at the Union Jack Club late on the Thursday for a meal and a night’s sleep before dispersing the following day.

NFA logo

The tourists wish to express their gratitude to the Not Forgotten Association for the organisation and attention which went into making this a truly memorable visit and their humble admiration to those members of the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen Association who were also on the tour.

story and photos by Stuart Holmes

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