Artist Simon Atack's painting 'Hopgood’s Courageous Run' depicts the Lancaster piloted by Flight Lieutenant John 'Hoppy' Hopgood as he made his attack on the Möhne Dam on 16 and 17 May 1943 as part of the daring Dambusters raid.
Simon Atack writes:
"I have been inspired many times to portray human stories and examples of outstanding courage. Few match that of 21-year-old Flt. Lt. John Vere Hopgood DFC & Bar and his gallant crew of AJ-M Mother.
"Here was a crippled aircraft flown for an hour by a seriously wounded skipper with badly wounded crew. 'Hoppy' pressed on with his attack on the Mohne Dam, flying all the way into the storms of relentless German fire. Right to the end, he fought to keep his blazing aircraft flying to a height that could give his crew a hope of escape. Three managed to bail out; two survived."
AJ-M was hit by enemy fire over Holland and a number of the crew, including Hopgood, were seriously injured. Hopgood sustained a severe head wound. Against all the odds he carried on to the target.
Gibson made the first attack with his Upkeep exploding underwater against the dam face.
Hopgood fought to get his Lancaster down to 60ft off the surface of the water against a blizzard of enemy fire. He held the plane in the correct position until John Fraser, the bomb aimer, shouted, "Bomb gone!"
Hopgood's Lancaster then took the full force of a 20mm cannon burst right into her starboard wing, which immediately caught fire. Hopgood tried to prevent the Lancaster from dipping a wing into the water.
Released just a moment too late, the Upkeep bounced over the crest and hit the dam’s power station with an enormous explosion.
Hopgood ordered his crew to prepare to abandon the aircraft. He opened the throttles to summon all the power that his doomed aircraft could give. With little hope remaining he gave his final order to jump.
Two of his crew, Fraser and Pilot Officer Tony Burcher, knowing the height they were at gave them little chance, pulled their chutes inside the Lancaster. Fraser made a successful escape but before Burcher could jump there was a terrific explosion and he was thrown out; he hit the tailplane and broke his back.
At a mere two hundred feet above the ground, they were two of the lowest successful bailouts during the war. Both he and Fraser would become POWs for the remainder of the war.
As they fell towards the earth, M-Mother's blazing wing collapsed and the aircraft fell, taking Hopgood and his remaining crew down with her.
According to Wing Commander Guy Gibson: "He had no nerves, he loved flying .... I should say, 'Hoppy' was probably the best pilot on the Squadron."
Hopgood was 21 years old and this blog is dedicated to his memory.
To find out more about the painting, visit Simon Atack's website.