In late February 1943 a unique decision was taken by the RAF to form the now legendary 617 Squadron, a highly specialized unit within Bomber Command. Its task was to be the destruction of the huge Möhne, Sorpe and Eder dams, which provided vital services to German industry. Tasked with providing the crews for this new squadron was the young, outstanding, bomber and night-fighter pilot Wing Commander Guy Gibson, already a veteran of 174 bomber operations. On 21 March 1943 the unit was formed at RAF Scampton under his command, and the chosen men had just eight weeks to prepare for the task in hand.
The specially modified Lancasters would drop a unique mine developed by the aeronautical design genius Barnes Wallis. This special "bouncing bomb" would, when dropped from a precise low level, bounce across the water like a skimming stone before sliding down the dam wall and detonating. Of the nineteen Lancasters that took off from Scampton on the night of 16/17 May 1943, eight would never return, but the damage and industrial dislocation caused was considerable, and the boost to the morale of the British people immense
Anthony Saunders' powerful new painting, Low Pass over the Möhne Dam
, portrays Guy Gibson under fire from the defending garrison as he powers his Lancaster AJ-G at full throttle over the dam to confirm the extent of the successful breach. Below him, and clearly visible, the bright moonlight reveals the huge rupture in the dam's massive wall as the swirling avalanche of water surges into the valley below. With the subsequent destruction of the Eder Dam, and the damage to the Sorpe Dam, the men of 617 Squadron had achieved what they were asked, and more.Signatures:Squadron Leader GEORGE L. JOHNSON DFM RAF - Joining the RAF in 1940, George had already flown 28 operations with 97 Squadron at Woodhall Spa before joining 617 Squadron as Bomb Aimer on American Joe McCarthyâ€™s Lancaster AJ-T, which attacked the Sorpe Dam. This aircraft had not been fitted with the twin spotlights necessary for accurate height keeping, and it was on their tenth attempt that George released their bomb, hitting the Dam successfully.
Corporal KENNETH LUCAS RAF - Ken joined the RAF in June 1940, trained as ground crew for Bomber Command and joined 49 Squadron at RAF Scampton, before transferring to 617 Squadron upon its formation. Involved in all the major servicing of the aircraft, Ken was heavily involved in carrying out the modifications before the raid, including fitting the spinning mechanisms for the bomb, and attaching the crucial lamps to the underside of the aircraft.
Corporal MAUREEN STEVENS WAAF - As soon as she was old enough to volunteer, Maureen Stevens joined the WAAF, and after initial training was posted to RAF Scampton as an R/T operator in the control tower. She was duty R/T operator on the night of 16 / 17 May 1943, and it was she who talked home the survivors of the Raid, and listened until the last for those who didn't make it home.