View Full Version : Sergeant Douglas Edward WEBB - No,617 Squadron - DFM - biographical notes

4th June 2022, 02:23
WEBB, Douglas Edward, Sergeant (138334) – No. 617 Squadron – Distinguished Flying Medal - awarded as per London Gazette dated 28 May 1943 – Information from Spink catalogue of 9 May 2002, transcribed by Huguette Mondor Oates. No citation other than .‘In recognition of gallantry displayed in flying operations against the enemy’.

Sergeant Douglas Edward ‘Doug’ Webb, D.F.M., a photographer in civil life from Leytonstone, Essex, joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in 1940, aged 18 years. Posted to No. 49 Squadron in September 1942, he went on to complete his first tour of 27 operations as an Air Gunner in Lancasters, the Squadron’s targets including Germany, Italy and France, among them a daylight trip to Milan on 14.2.1943, and a return trip from Dusseldorf on three engines on 23.1.1943.

Then two days later, Webb was posted with his pilot, Flight Sergeant ‘Bill’ Townsend, and the rest of the crew, into Guy Gibson’s newly formed 617 Squadron for the highly secret ‘Operation Chastise’. During the period of intensive low-level training that followed, Webb swapped from Mid-Upper to Front Gunner and, in this capacity, set out on the epic Dams Raid of 16.4.1943. At the briefing it was announced that Townsend would lead the third and final group of six Lancasters, which would form an airborne reserve under the control of Group H.Q. They would fly the southern route but their take-off time would be such that they could be recalled before crossing the enemy coast if the first group and second groups successfully breached the Mohne, Eder, and Sorpe dams. A set of secondary instructions, however, were also given, and these included provisional orders to attack the Ennepe dam.

Townsend and his crew took-off in Lancaster ‘O’ for Orange at 00.14 hours, ominously scraping over a hedge and not knowing their target. Crossing the coast at 01.30, ‘O’ for Orange encountered searchlights and ‘heavy flak’. The Navigator, Pilot Officer Howard, ‘thought the end had come’. But Townsend’s superb flying recovered the situation as he ‘threw the heavily laden Lancaster around like a Tiger Moth’. At 2.21, ‘O’ for Orange was still on its way out when Group signalled Towsend with the message. ‘Gilbert – attack the target as detailed’, meaning that the Ennepe dam on the river Schwelme was confirmed as the target. As they approached the dam it was well on into early morning and navigation was extremely difficult owing to mist forming in the valleys and the angle of the moon. Finally, the dam was spotted. Townsend made three runs before the Bomb-Aimer let go. The bomb bounced once and 30 seconds later a high column of dirt and water came up from the explosion but there was no sign of any damage’

At 4.11, they signalled ‘Goner 58E’ to Group and set course for home with the sun coming up on one side and the moon going down on the other. Despite the dangers of high-tension wires, Townsend foxed local defences by flying right down on the deck at 240 m.p.h. Over the Texel, however, more Anti-Aircraft fire was encountered but again low flying saved the day, and it was this together with a bit of foresight on Webb’s past that brought them safely home, albeit on three engines after one had to be feathered over the North Sea due to a faulty oil gauge. They landed at Scampton in broad daylight at 6.15. a.m., the last Lancaster home from “Operation Chastise”. Webb summarized events by saying, ‘The fact is that if I had not “borrowed” an extra 1000 rounds of ammunition for each gun and re-armed while flying, I would have had no ammunition for the return trip. The other fact is that if it had not been for the absolutely superb flying that Bill put in, simply by going lower and lower, we could not have survived. It is as simple as that. I still remember very vividly some of those power cables and pylons.’

On 21.6.1943, Webb and 45 members of 617 went by special train to London where celebrations centered on the R.A.F.’s favourite wartime hotel – The Regent Palace. Next day, 37 of them were decorated at Buckingham Palace. Afterwards, Webb told a reporter “The Queen was very charming and spoke to each of us. She asked me if any of us were suffering any ill effects of the raid”.

After the Dams Raid, it was quickly established that 617 would henceforth undertake attacks on special targets. On 15.7.1943, Webb took off with Townsend, now commissioned, as part of a force of six Lancasters to knock out an electric power plant at Aquata Scriva, 15 miles North West of Milan. It was a long trip and it was arranged that the force would afterwards land at Blida, 20 miles from Algiers.

Townsend made three bombing runs in an attempt to positively identify the target and finally let his 14 500lb bombs go at 800 feet but hit an armoured train with spectacular results. On the way home to Scampton from Africa on 24.7.1943, Webb participated in an operation against a target at Leghorn. He visited Blida again at the end of the month after a leaflet raid on Genoa, and in December took part in the Squadron Tallboy attack led by Wing Commander “Willie” Tait on the ‘E’ Boat pens at ljmuiden; the long range operation against the Politz synthetic oil plant near Stettin; a raid against the Rotterdam E-Boat pens; and on New Year’s Eve, the attack on the German Cruisers Emden and Koln in their Oslo Fjord anchorage. By the end of the latter action both ships were on the move, reportedly making 30 knots and sending up heavy defensive fire.

By early 1945, Webb was flying with Flight Lieutenant Marshall as his pilot from 617’s base at Woodhall Spa. On 22 and 24.2.1945, he took part in operations against the Bielefeld railway viaduct and the Dortmund-Ems canal. 24.3.1945 saw Webb involved in a trip to the Farge U-Boat Pens to deliver a 22,000-lb Grand Slam, and on 6 April, he returned to ljmuiden to attack a Sperrbrecher. He took part in the attack on the Hamburg U-Boat pens as Rear-Gunner on 9.4.1945. Finally, Webb participated in the attacks of 13 and 14 April on the Pocket Battleship Lutzow at Swinemunde, flying on the latter occasion with Flying Officer Flatman whose Lancaster was among those hit and damaged.

A regular at 617 reunions after the War, ‘Doug Webb was a guest of honour at the Leicester Square world premiere of ‘The Dam Busters’ movie in 1955.

Following the highly publicized sale of this D.F.M. at Christie’s in March 1989, it was returned to Webb by the successful purchaser in order that he might be able to wear it on suitable occasions during the remainder of his life. As a result of this generous arrangement, Webb applied for his ‘late claim’ 1939-45 campaign awards to wear alongside the D.F.M.