View Full Version : FS and F/O Leonard Joseph SHANNON, DFC, DFM - No.617 Squadron - cits and biography

22nd June 2022, 05:08
SUMPTER, Leonard Joseph, Flight Sergeant (655673) – No. 617 Squadron – Distinguished Flying Medal – awarded as per London Gazette dated 28 May 1943. Information from Spink catalogue of 1 May 2003. Estimated value of 22,000 to 26,000 pounds. The Immediate Joint Recommendation states:

‘F/L Shannon was Captain, Flying Officer Walker, Navigator, and Flight Sergeant Sumpter, Air Bomber of the Lancaster aircraft detailed to attack the Eder Dam. With great skill and determination, they succeeded in dropping their mine in exactly the right position. This was due to the excellent spirit and understanding in the crew. By their efforts, they ensured the final breaching of the Dam. Flight Lieutenant Shannon and Flying Officer Walker have flown together on many operations, and at all times they have displayed courage of a high order’.

SUMPTER, Leonard Joseph, Flying Officer (149045) – No. 617 Squadron – Distinguished Flying Cross – awarded as per London Gazette dated 9 June 1944 with the following published citation:

Since being awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal, this officer has participated in many sorties, and has continued to display high qualities.of courage and devotion to duty. He is a skilful bomb aimer whose determination to ensure accuracy in the. face of the heaviest opposition has been most commendable. He has set a fine example to all.
The (Immediate) recommendation states:

‘Since being awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal in May, 1943, Flying Officer Sumpter has completed 21 2/3 operational sorties as bomb-aimer in a Special Duties Squadron. He has taken part in many low-level attacks of a most hazardous nature which have included such targets as the Dortmund/Ems canal, Clermont Ferrand and Brunswick. During the past few months this officer has operated in a Deputy Leader’s aircraft and his principal task has been to aim and release the marker bombs for the Main Force. Flying Officer Sumpter, by his outstanding skill and determination in the face of extreme danger, has played a big part in the remarkable run of successes recently achieved by his squadron.

“The development of a technique for making a target at night automatically led to the immediate selection of Flying Officer Sumpter as bomb-aimer and navigator for Mosquito aircraft which were employed; the aiming point had to be accurately marked at a precise moment just before the arrival of the Main Force. This demanded very accurate navigation and a low-level dive attack against one of the most strongly defended cities in Germany. In spite of his limited experience on Mosquito aircraft and the very heavy opposition which was encountered both along the route and over the target, this officer directed his captain to the aiming-point exactly at the selected time. The markers were thus accurately and punctually laid and the unqualified success of the operation was therefore in no small measure due to the skill, determination, and indomitable courage of this gallant officer. His outstanding operational record has, moreover, always been an example and a potent source of inspiration to his Squadron.”

The Base Commander wrote: ‘There is little I can add to the Station Commander’s citation. I had the privilege of accompanying Flying Officer Sumpter’s crew on the occasion of a recent attack against the Antheor Viaduct and consequently had an opportunity of gauging his qualities. That he insisted on doing three runs over the target, despite heavy enemy defences, before finally releasing his bombs is in itself a criterion of his determination and indomitable courage.’.

Flight Lieutenant Leonard Joseph Sumpter, DFC, DFM, born in Kettering, Northamptonshire, 1911; served with the Grenadier Guards 1928-31 and 1939-41; transferred to the Royal Air Force in 1941 as Flight Sergeant; Pilot Officer 27.6.1943, and Flight Lieutenant 17.1.1945. Joined 57 Squadron 8.9.1942, and flew 13 operations; transferred to 617 Squadron 19.3.1943 and did two tours, flying 35 operations; released from service 11.3.1946; rejoined and served with the Physical Fitness Branch 1946-1950.


Posted to 57 Squadron from 11 O.T.U. in September 1942, Flight Sergeant Sumpter spent six months with the Squadron. During this time, he flew as bomb-aimer on 13 operations in Lancasters as part of Squadron Leader G.W. Curry’s crew. His targets included Wismar, Genoa, Turin, Stuttgart, Berlin, Nuremburg and St. Nazaire. During the bombing raid on Wismar on 12.10.1942, he was slightly wounded in the foot after the aircraft sustained extensive damage.


Prior to this historic raid, the crews of the specially formed 617 Squadron, stationed at Scampton, immediately underwent intensive training from March 1943 to ensure that very low flying at night had become second nature to them as this would be essential to completing successfully the forthcoming operation. On the night of 16.5.943, Flight Sergeant Sumpter, described as ‘tougher than a prize-fighter’, took his place in Flight Lieutenant Dave Shannon’s crew as bomb-aimer, with 617 Squadron’s Lancasters on the epic Operation Chastise to attack the Moehne, Eder and Sorpe dams, just east of the Ruhr in Germany.

The operation was ‘one of great difficulty and hazard, demanding a high degree of skill and courage and close cooperation between the crews of the aircraft engaged’. The attack was planned in three parts. Wing Commander Guy Gibson, D.S.O., D.F.C., C.G.M, led nine aircraft on the southern route, Flight Lieutenant E.L. Munro on the northern, with five aircraft taking off a couple of hours later as a mobile reserve. If the dams were not breached by the first two formations, then Gibson would call on the reserves to complete the task. Gibson’s formation, which included Shannon and Sumpter, took off in three waves of three aircraft with ten minutes between them. They were to attack the Moehne and, after the Moehne was breached, the aircraft which had not bombed would continue on to the Eder.

Shannon and his crew took off at 21.47 hours in Lancaster ‘L for London’, known to her crew as ‘L for Leather’, and, on reaching the Moehne, were ordered by Gibson to make their attack, only to have the order immediately countermanded when Gibson was alerted to the fact that the concrete face of the dam had already split and crumbled under the weight of water. Four aircraft, including Shannon’s, then moved on to the Eder which was difficult to locate because of fog. Gibson told Shannon to start his attack. He tried several dives but failed to get into a suitable position for Sumpter to drop his bomb – this was a difficulty encountered by other crews due to the location of the Eder which lay in a fold of hills surrounded by ridges about 1,000 feet high. Finally, Shannon made the perfect approach and Sumpter dropped his bomb which hit the water, bounced twice, sank against the dam wall and produced an enormous spout of water about 1,000 feet high and shortly after a gap was seen towards the east side of the dam. The next bomb, dropped by Pilot Officer Les Knight and his crew, completed the success. As Knight came in advised by Shannon, his bomb further breached the dam. Gibson signalled back to Group Headquarters the call-sign ‘Dinghy’, indicating the Eder had been breached, at 1.54 a.m. Shannon and his crew headed for home and landed at 04.06 hours on 17 May.

As a result of the operation, the industry of the Ruhr that was not under 330 million tons of water was suffering from the lack of it and a shortage of electricity. Roads, railways, bridges and even an important military aerodrome had been washed away; arable land was ruined and livestock drowned.

On May 27, the King and Queen visited Scampton, and a month later on 22 June, the 33 who had been decorated, including Sumpter, attended an investiture at Buckingham Palace. Here, contrary to convention, they were decorated together, taking precedence over all others waiting to be honoured.


Shannon and Sumpter continued flying together, first from Scampton, then Coningsby and later Woodhall Spa as 617 Squadron proceeded with the job of attacking special targets. Sumpter was commissioned in June 1943 and, still in Lancasters and with Sumpter as bomb-aimer they flew together on many operations, including those to Bologna, the Dortmund Ems Canal, the Gnome-Rhone aero-engine factory at Limoges, La Ricamerie needle-bearing works at St. Etienne, the Michelin rubber factory at Clermont Ferrand, the explosives factory at Bergerac, the explosive works at Angouleme, and the aero-engine factory at Lyon.

Mosquitoes were now introduced into 617 Squadron as a more effective method of marking targets, and the old partnership continued strong when Shannon kept Sumpter as his navigator. Together they flew on operations marking targets such as the Juvisy marshalling yards south of Paris, La Chapelle, Munich, Brunswick, the Military Camp at Mailly, the Saumur tunnel (as part of the pre-D-Day operations), the E-boats at Le Havre, the caves near Paris believed to be harbouring weapons, and the constructional works at Siracourt. For a short time in 1945, Sumpter reverted to Lancasters as part of Flight Lieutenant L.M. Marshall’s crew, together they flew on bombing raids to the U-boat pens at Hamburg and Hitler’s retreat, the Eagle’s Nest, at Berchtesgaden.