Dambusters 80th anniversary marked with Halton flypast on 16 May 2023

Weather permitting, at around 18:18 on Tuesday evening Wendover and Halton residents will once again hear the unmistakable sound of the four Merlin engines of the RAF’s last remaining Avro Lancaster bomber as it flies over RAF Halton. The flypast by the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) is to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the famous Dambusters bombing raid (Operation Chastise) on the Ruhr valley dams in Germany, which took place on the night of 16/17 May, 1943.

The BBMF Lancaster’s planned route starts on the afternoon of 16th May with passes over Staffordshire and Northamptonshire before heading south to RAF Hendon (site of the RAF Museum), then RAF High Wycombe (at Walters Ash), then across to RAF Halton, with a planned arrival between 18:03 and 18:33. The official estimate is about 18:18, but keep your ears and eyes open any time after 18:00. Good weather is predicted for the time.

The last time the BBMF Lancaster flew over Wendover and Halton was on 6 August last year, when the aircraft made several low level circuits that were heard and seen throughout the area, with many photographs being posted on social media.

After Halton the Lancaster will head north and fly over some of the many current and former airfields that were used by RAF Bomber Command during WWII, including RAF Scampton, the base for 617 Squadron. A timetable for the flypasts is available on the BBMF website, here: https://www.military-airshows.co.uk/press23/bbmfschedule2023.htm.

(Note: The above photo is a Lancaster over Wendover taken in August 2022).

Operation Chastise

The 1943 operation, which was immortalised in the classic 1955 film “The Dambusters,” saw 19 modified Avro Lancasters of the specially formed 617 Squadron fly at extremely low level at night time, from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, across the North Sea, then across occupied Holland across to Germany, where they attacked four dams in the hills to the east of the Ruhr river valley. The attacks breached the walls of two dams, the Möhne and Eder, causing downstream tidal waves and flooding.

This marked the one and only operational use of inventor Barnes Wallis’ “bouncing bomb,” codenamed Upkeep. This required the Lancaster pilots, bomb aimers and navigators to co-ordinate closely and fly the huge aircraft at extremely low level – 18 metres (60 ft) which was less than the wingspan of the aircraft, at 390 km/hr (240 mph), above the dam lakes at night time, and then release the single 4,100 kg (9,000 lb) bomb at a precise time.

The mission was extremely dangerous, and out of the 19 Lancasters that took off, eight were shot down or crashed, with the loss of 53 aircrew killed and three captured.

The mission commander Guy Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross and the mission was seen as an important morale-booster in the UK. The flood waters from the breached dams killed about 1,650 people on the ground, including many prisoners of war as well as German military personnel and civilians. The dams powered power stations that served the Ruhr valley factories, and the effect of the raid on German industrial capacity is still debated today.

The last surviving RAF member of the operation was Squadron Leader George Leonard Johnson, MBE, DFM, known as Johnny Johnson. Born in 1921, he passed away last year on 7 December 2022 aged 99. He was a bomb aimer on AJ-T and released his Upkeep bomb on the Sorpe dam.

Simon Eccles