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Thread: No. 617 Squadron questions

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    Default No. 617 Squadron questions

    I recently discovered and very much enjoyed listening to a 1954 Australasian radio version of Paul Brickhill's book, dramatised by Maurice West, and introduced by Brickhill himself. Download the series here, it's excellent:
    http://www.archive.org/details/TheDambusters1954OtrAustralianRadio

    Since listening to the series I have been giving No. 617 Squadron a fair bit of thought and I have numerous questions for the experts. I posted these below to the Key Publishing Historic Aviation Forum but got no useful answers, so i thought maybe the expert panel here might have more indepth knowledge and can answer a few.

    1) The squadron started off with two Flights, 'A' and 'B' Flights, and they had 21 aircraft and crews. Later it was reorganised into three Flights, 'A','B' and 'C' Flights. I am wondering did they build up over 26 aircraft at this point, and therefore have to add a second set of code letters for 'C' Flight? (For example No. 75 (NZ) Squadron had so many aircraft in their Stirling and Lancaster era that they had codes AA- for 'A' and 'B' Flights, and code JN- for 'C' Flight). Or were they smaller Flights than previously?

    2) When the three Flights were formed the series says the Flight Commanders were Joe McCarthy, Dave Shannon and Les Munro. But who led which Flight?

    3) The Tamiya 1/48 'Dambusters' Lancaster comes with the option of the Dams Raid configuration or a later Grand Slam bomb configuration. The colour scheme for the later version has a sky coloured undersides rather than black. I always thought that odd when I saw pictures of it till listening to the series and i realised they did a lot of daylight raids with the bigger bombs. Were all their Lancasters painted in daylight colours or was there a daylight Flight and a nighttime Flight as well as their training Flight?

    4) As well as their Lancasters of various variants, their Mosquitoes and their Mustang/s, did No. 617 Squadron have any other types assigned to it in WWII? Such as an Anson or Oxford for instrument training, communications or general hack?

    5) Does anyone have info on the New Zealander who served on the Dams raid called Len Chambers? He was a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner and served on the crew of Micky Martin's aircraft. Which position was he? Was he the Wireless Op or was he in one of the turrets? Also I read that he left the squadron to undergo pilot training. Did he qualify for his wings? And did he fly operationally as a pilot? If so, where? In Europe? Or did he return to NZ? Was he on bombers, fighters, flying boats, transport?

    5) In the series I noted Micky Martin calling the aircraft Q-Queenie, the actor pronounced it as Quee-Queenie. Was this just an acting fluff? He did it several times. Or was this actual RAF procedure so Q was not confused with U on the radio? Just like 9 is pronounced niner so not confused with 1.

    6) I have inerviewed a chap who was an Armourer on No. 617 Squadron. He joined the unit just after the Dams raid and so worked on the Grand Slams and several other bomb types. He told me about a chapter in the squadron's history that was not recorded in the series sadly. He said Barnes Wallis came up with a scheme to get commandoes into beaches very quickly. He designed a large air-droppable boat that was slung under a Lancaster, and the men would climb from the Lanc into the boat and strap in. The Lanc would drop the boat and parachutes would slow its descent till it touched down on the water just offshore. He reckoned Wallis said 30 or more men would be dropped in one go. He said that he and another Armourer were seconded by Wallis and he worked directly with him, in a secret location on a remote part of the British coast. A couple of Lancs were utilised to test the boat drops. He reckoned that Walis was very prepared to be the Guines pig himself in a drop but I don't think that happened. Has anyone read or heard of these tests done by 617 Sqn? Is it a well known chapter of the squadron's history? Is it written about in books?

    I think I may have other queries about the squadron too but I'll leave them for now.

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    Dave,

    Regarding (5) - from Colin Hanson's 'By Such Deeds - Honours and Awards in the Royal New Zealand Air Force, 1923-1999':

    CHAMBERS, Flight Lieutenant Leonard, DFC.
    NZ403758; Born Karamea, 18 Feb 1919; RNZAF 29 Sep 1940 to 11 Feb 1945; Wireless Operator-Air Gunner.
    Citation Distinguished Flying Cross (Imm) (27 May 1943): [617 Sqn RAF (Lancaster)] On the night of 16th May, 1943, a force of Lancaster bombers was detailed to attack the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams in Germany. The operation was one of great difficulty and hazard, demanding a high degree of skill and courage and close co-operation between the crews of the aircraft engaged. Nevertheless, a telling blow was struck at the enemy by the successful breaching of the Mohne and Eder dams. This outstanding success reflects great credit on the efforts of the personnel who participated in the operations in various capacities as members of aircraft crew.
    Flt Lt Chambers flew 20 sorties with 460 Sqn RAAF (Wellington) before completing a tour of a further 37 sorties with 75(NZ)Sqn (Wellington), becoming the Sqn Signals Leader. With 617 Sqn he completed 10 sorties before being posted to Canada for a pilot’s course, and returned to NZ in Nov 1944. Died Westport, 1 Mar 1985.

    Errol

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    Dave, a few answers to your questions...

    1) The Squadron started life with 10 Lancaster's, sent to them from other squadrons for training purposes, and 21 crews split into two flights. They soon received 20 modified Lancaster's, retaining two or three of the standard type (one until the end of the war), but also receiving a 21st modified type the day of the dams raid. In the weeks after this, they had to borrow standard aircraft from their neighbours at Scampton (No 57 Squadron) to enable them to fly operations until a full compliment began to come on line. In late 1943, several of the modified (dambuster) Lancaster's were converted to standard configuration, but essentially they had, by spring 1944 a full compliment of standard aircraft and about a dozen dams type.

    The Squadron did not use any special code when a third flight was raised. The Squadron carried 'AJ' coding on all aircraft until the end of August 1943 when they moved to RAF Coningsby. They were then allocated 'KC' codes which were carried by all standard aircraft, whilst 'AJ' was retained on the dams Lancasters. In the spring of 1945 they began to receive 'Grandslam' aircraft which were given the new codes of 'YZ'.

    2) The Squadron was split into three flights at the end of March 1944, with Shannon and McCarthy both promoted to Squadron Leader. Shannon assumed command of 'A - Flight', Munro 'B - Flight', and McCarthy 'C - Flight'.

    3) Only the Grandslam Lancasters wore the daylight scheme, and then not all. Some started and retained a night scheme, whilst al standard aircraft carried a night scheme. There are numerous photos of standard and Grandslam Lancasters flying together in a mixture of schemes.

    4) I'm not aware of any other aircraft specifically assigned to the unit, although most bases had aircraft like Oxford's, Anson's or Tiger Moth's for general use.

    5) Flight Lieutenant Len Chambers came from Karamea. He joined the RNZAF in September 1940 and trained as a Wireless Operator / Air Gunner, flying as the former in Mick Martin's crew. In late 1943 he applied for pilot training, and was accepted, going to No 6 EFTS in the UK and then over to Canada in February 1944 to continue his training. The war ended before he completed training and he was demobbed in February 1945.

    6) This was something specific to the actor rather than a historical item.

    7) The scheme you mention was the 'Boom Patrol Boat'. Although Wallis was involved later on, it was not his idea, instead being an Admiralty scheme. It basically involved a boat being carried in a Lancaster bomb bay, which had a bow filled with explosive. After dropping the boat would descend under three parachutes, land on the sea, the parachute canopies would be detached and the boat motored towards its target, with the two man crew bailing out soon after. An early trial was apparently carried out in June 1944, although this was not 617 Squadron and the details are unknown. 617 Squadron carried out a single trial in January 1945 which was successful. A second trial the following day was cancelled and that was the sum of 617 Squadron's involvement. It is little known and little written about. 'Bouncing Bomb Man' by Iain Murray carries a short piece, and my own first book 'No 617 Dambusters Squadron' a fuller account with photographs of the trial, and accounts from the crews involved. I dont know of any other account aside from a single-line mention.

    My book, gives fuller details of all the points mentioned above.

    Hope that helps

    Alex

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    Thanks Errol and Alex, that's great information.

    The only thing I notice is an anomaly in Len Chambers' history where Errol's post quoted from Colin Hanson says he returned from Canada to NZ in November 1944, and Alex's post says the war ended while he was still training and that he was demobbed in February 1945 as Alex sugests. The latter does not make sense as the European War ended in May 1945, the Pacific War in August 1945. If he was back in NZ by Nov 1944 it's possibly he did join an operational squadron I guess, or perhaps became an instructor, even if he was released from the service in February 1945.

    Thanks for the info on the boats. It has been some time since I filmed the interview with the No. 617 Armourer and I have done many more in between so the details were hazy but Bill did go into pretty good detail about his time on the project. I'll have to write it up someday, it might make an interesting article.

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    Sorry Dave, I should have been more specific. The war ended 'for him' before he completed his flying training. The details come from his service record, a complete copy of which I have on the table before me. He was demobbed, and placed on the Reserve list as from 11th February 1945.

    His last unit (training) is shown as No. 1 SFTS at Camp Borden in Ontario from the middle of August 1944. After that it is travel back to New Zealand, and Reception Centre's before demob.

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    Errol,

    I noted with interest Colin Hanson's statement in 'By Such Deeds", that F/Lt Chambers flew 20 sorties with 460 Sqn RAAF on Wellingtons. It is my belief, that Chambers never flew on Wellingtons with 460 Sqn.

    Have you any idea where Colin Hanson obtained that information?

    Col.
    Last edited by COL BRUGGY; 3rd February 2011 at 13:45.

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    Col, I can confirm Len never served with 460 Squadron. Additionally, Hanson added some 33 too many operations to Chambers record. He is recorded as having flown only 31 ops prior to 617 Squadron, the dams raid (and subsequent award of the D.F.C.) being his 32nd. After this he completed only two more before being posted out for pilot training.
    Last edited by Unverified 9395; 3rd February 2011 at 14:34.

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    I have some of Colin Hanson's research papers on hand. Among these is a letter from a brother of Len Chambers along with an accompanying undated clipping published in the Wellington 'Evening Post' newspaper at the time of the 'Dam Buster' movie's premier showing in the city. It seems that Colin was misled by the report's '67 sorties' (should have read 47 sorties?) and by deduction assumed that the difference was accounted for by the mention of 460 Sqn.

    I've transcribed the report below in full as some of the information may be new to forumites.

    Errol

    SECOND ‘DAM BUSTER’ SURVIVOR IN TOWN
    Moehne Raid Was Not His Toughest

    IMPORTANT AND SPECTACULAR though it was, Flight Lieutenant L. Chambers, D.F.C., said today that the famous dam-busting raid was not the roughest or toughest of the 67 sorties in which he participated during the war. “No. 75 (New Zealand) Squadron was where we got the rough stuff in those early days of the war," he said today.
    Mr. and Mrs. Chambers arrived in Wellington last night to join Mr. J. L. Munro as the guests of honour for tonight's Gala charity premiere of the film “The Dam Busters" at the Majestic Theatre.
    Mr. Chambers has the distinction or actually being there at the bombing of the Moehne dam as the radio operator of Flight Lieutenant (now Wing Commander) Micky Martin’s plane. Mr. Munro’s plane had to turn back after being badly hit by flak over Holland.
    In addition to his radio duties, his particular job was to start the motor and get the 9000lb bomb turning at its speed of 600 r.p.m. in preparation for the bombing run. (Details of' how the famous bomb worked were described in yesterday's "Post.")

    THIRD PLANE IN
    "A lot of what happened is hazy to me now," said Mr. Chambers today. "We were the third plane in. I remember a violent patch of flak just as we were coming in and the shock of seeing Gibson’s wing shearing past just above the astro dome. I remember seeing Hoppy's plane blow up (Flight Lieutenant John Hopwood), and then we swept down on our run with Gibson beside us blazing away at the flak gunners.
    "We had a perfect run. I had the special job to look back and see if we had been successful, and then radio the codeword to Britain – the first time I'd ever broken radio silence in the war up till then. I saw the dam burst and the water go swirling down. On its way it took a power house or something about eight storeys high. It looked like a matchbox. I saw a train with all its lights on overwhelmed by the water as it crossed a bridge. And then there was a car trying to race the floodwaters. It wasn't fast enough.

    'A VAST TANGIWAI' [Tangiwai was New Zealand's worst rail disaster, in which 151 lives were lost on Christmas Eve 1953]
    "Like a vast Tangiwai? Yes, it was terrific."
    Mr. Chambers enlisted in September, 1939, and trained at Levin and in Canada as a radio operator-air gunner, although he had applied for a pilot's course. He was first with 460 Squadron and then joined 75 Squadron, with which he did 37 sorties, most of them over the heavily defended Ruhr, and he eventually became squadron signals officer and one of the Air Force pioneer radar operators.
    He thinks it was because of his unique experience in this field that he was chosen as a foundation member of 617 Squadron. After 10 trips with 617 he at last achieved his ambition and was posted to Canada for a pilot's course – and, incidentally. to give lectures and talks on bombing technique all over Canada and U.S.A.

    CANADIAN WIFE
    He married a Canadian girl and returned to New Zealand in 1944, and though he went up to the Islands did no operational work. He has four children (all girls), the youngest of them only three weeks, and is a builder on his own account at Karamea, Two months ago he ruptured his back muscles and this is the first outing he has had since then. The trip to Wellington is a special jaunt for Mrs. Chambers, who said this was the first occasion she had really been out of Karamea for seven years.

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    Thanks everyone. This is all very interesting and thanks Errol for transcribing that article as it was quite interesting despite the errors.

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    Hi Dave

    If you go to this website you can download a transcription of the 617 Operational Record book. There's also lots of other interesting info there too!

    http://www.dambusters.org.uk/operations.htm

    This shows that Len Chambers was the Wireless Operator on the Dams Raid

    Dave

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