70 years on from the Dambuster raids

SUCCESS Members of 617 Squadron photographed at Scampton after the Dams raid in May 1943
SUCCESS Members of 617 Squadron photographed at Scampton after the Dams raid in May 1943

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Some higher being must have been with them that night.

That’s the firm belief of Edgar Webb, from Fareham, who served as ground staff in the Royal Air Force at the time of the Dambusters raid.

Now, 70 years after the raid, Edgar, 89, vividly recalls the planes landing with ‘as many holes as a colander’.

Edgar was serving in Squadron 617 when the raid, known as Operation Chastise, was launched to destroy three German dams.

His role as an aircraft technician was to put the plane’s batteries on charge in the hanger.

Edgar says, ‘The ground staff were not remotely on the same level as the air crew.

‘Originally, I had applied to become air crew and if I had been accepted, I’m sure I would have been long gone by now.’

Edgar served with the RAF from 1941 until 1946, being stationed at RAF Scampton in 1943 when the squadron was formed.

‘I’m so full of admiration at the sheer guts of those men,’ he says.

‘I had to meet members of the air crew who came in to connect their batteries.

‘One thing I saw, which I don’t think anybody else did, was that they were told to practise low flying.

‘They were skimming across the runway at 100ft.

‘They did displays there week after week before they were organised.

‘I will always remember wonderful displays of Lancasters being tossed around like Spitfires.’

Nineteen specially converted Lancasters carried out the attack, which took place 70 years ago tonight.

As ground staff, Edgar had a couple of brief meetings with Wing Commander Guy Gibson, who led the raid.

For weeks before, Wing Commander Gibson was given free rein to comb the RAF’s other squadrons to create his ideal team.

He was unaware of the mission that lay ahead of him and was only told that some low-level flying would be required over water.

Edgar marvels at his bravery, ‘I will never forget his aircraft landing looking like a colander. When I saw it, it was covered in holes.

‘He flew up and down, time after time, with his lights on to distract the German aircraft so others could go on and get the bombs down.

‘How they survived without injury, I do not know. Some higher being had to have been with that plane that night.

‘There’s no other way. It was a miracle.’

Edgar remembers fondly his brief encounters with Wing Commander Gibson.

He says, ‘The first time I met him was when he came into the hanger to put his battery on charge.

‘The second time was at a squadron do. The air crew and the ground staff got together.

‘There was beer flowing everywhere and people were having a good time.

‘I went over to get another beer and as I reached across the table his hand grabbed mine.

‘It was the last bottle of beer in the place, we just looked at each other, and he decided to share it with me.

‘He probably wouldn’t remember it five minutes later, but I always will.

‘I admired and respected him.’

HOW TO REMEMBER THEM

THE daring and auspicious raid will be remembered up and down the country today.

Seventy years to the day, 19 specially-modified Lancaster bombers breached the Mohne Dam in Germany.

Their raid set off on the night of May 16, lasting through to May 17. They breached the Mohne and Eder dams.

Out of the 133 airmen who went on the raid, known as Operation Chastise, 53 died.

Today, respects will be being paid by some of the last remaining crewmen on the shore of the Derwent Reservoir in Derbyshire where Squadron 617 tested their low-flying skills.

The last remaining pilot will be at the service.

The Royal Air Force will, for the first time, transmit on Twitter the original wireless telegraphy signals. The tweets, which will substitute the original Morse code signals, will be posted on the RAF’s Twitter account

@RoyalAirForceUK.

The Royal British Legion is holding an honour walk at Hereford Racecourse on Sunday, May 19 and on the same day, Woodhall Spa and District Branch will be unveiling and dedicating a new memorial to the Dambusters.

Tonight from 7pm, on BBC2, Dan Snow will present a tribute from RAF Scampton.

On Friday, Chris Evans will be presenting his BBC Radio 2 breakfast show from RAF Scampton, including flying a Lancaster Bomber. The Jeremy Vine Show, midday until 2pm on Radio 2, will come live from Biggin Hill Airport and from 8pm, Friday Night Is Music Night will present The Dambusters 70 Years On.

The raid will also be remembered in Germany on Friday, when a commemorative event and service will take place at Eder Dam.