Corgi AA32620 RAF Avro Lancaster B111 Special ED925 AJ-M “Mother” as flown by John Vere Hopgood of 617 Squadron RAF on the Dambuster Raid in May 1943. Low limited edition of only 1,000 pieces. Now highly sought after.
On the raid Gibson, Hopgood and Mick Martin were the first trio from Wave One to take off. From survivor Tony Burcher’s account it would seem that Hopgood’s AJ-M was hit by flak some 20 minutes before the dam was reached. Hopgood himself received a head wound, and in the front turret below him, Gregory had probably been killed, as he wasn’t answering his intercom. Burcher recalls Hopgood saying: ‘Right, well what do you think? Should we go on? I intend to go on because we have only got a few minutes left. We’ve come this far.There’s no good taking this thing back with us. The aircraft is completely manageable. I can handle it ok. Any objections?’ And on he pressed, with Brennan beside him holding a handkerchief on his head to stem the bleeding.
They got to the dam. Gibson attacked first, unsuccessfully. He was lucky. The dam’s gunners were uncertain of the direction from which he would come, so didn’t start firing until he was very close and did not damage him.
But, ten minutes later, when Hopgood approached, they were ready. His already damaged Lancaster was hit again. An engine caught fire, he strugged to keep the aircraft level, and the mine was released too late, bouncing over the dam and into the power station below, where it exploded.
Now Hopgood tried desperately to gain height, in an effort to give his crew a chance to bale out. He gained about 500 feet and somehow, Fraser, Minchin and Burcher escaped, but Minchin, badly injured, didn’t survive the parachute drop. Fraser and Burcher did, but both were captured and taken prisoner. The aircraft crashed 3 miles from the dam in a field. The 4 other crew members, namely Hopgood, Earnshaw, Brennan and Gregory, all sadly died in the crash.
Surely one of the most amazing attacks of the World War II was “Operation Chastise”, the attack by Lancasters of 617 Sqdn against the German Ruhr valley dams using the famous bouncing bomb. Following the successful attack on the Mohne Dam, Guy Gibson led 5 Lancasters to the Eder. This dam was situated in extremely difficult terrain and as the aircraft struggled to line up on their target, one was destroyed as it was caught in the blast of an exploding bomb.
Avro’s chief designer, Roy Chadwick knew that the twin engined Manchester was a good aircraft. Designed to cope with the stresses of dive bombing and to carry torpedoes, it had immense strength and a large, partition free bomb bay. But it was dogged by the under developed Rolls Royce Vulture engine, whose construction (bolting two 12 cylinder engines round a common crankshaft) led to catastrophic unreliability.
Faced with the ignominious Air Ministry instruction to build Halifax bombers instead, Chadwick worked feverishly in association with Rolls Royce and produced what was arguably the greatest bomber of WWII. With a ceiling of up to 24,000 feet and an eventual load carrying ability greater than its entire weight, the ‘Lanc’ was not only prized by the Brass hats, but much loved by its crews for its ability to get them out of trouble with near fighter agility, yet take off, cruise and land with genteel docility.
From its first operational sortie in March, 1942, some 7,377 aircraft were made, flew 156,000 missions and dropped 608,612 tons of ordnance-that’s two thirds of all the bombs dropped by Bomber Command during the war. But there was always a price to be paid. Over 4,000 Lancasters, together with their seven man crews, were lost.
The Lancaster was far from a blunt instrument. That capacious bomb bay allowed Barnes Wallis to design the bouncing Upkeep bomb, the 12,000lb Tallboy and the 22,000lb Grand Slam all of which were specific, tactical weapons. Arguments over the effectiveness of these weapons miss the point; that Bomber Command and its leader, Arthur Harris, would always adopt new technology that would aid precision bombing. Lancasters also played a crucial role in daylight operations before, during and after D-Day and additionally, were the preferred aircraft for the Pathfinder forces and in developing the first effective air-to-ground Radar navigation system; H2S.