Fifty-six men from 617 Squadron who carried out the Dambusters raid on 16 and 17 May 1943 failed to return and all were presumed dead. Three, however, managed to make miraculous escapes and were subsequently taken prisoner.
They were Pilot Officer Tony Burcher, Flight Sergeant John Fraser and Sergeant Frank Tees.
Rear gunner Burcher from New South Wales, Australia, and bomb aimer Fraser, from Canada, flew in Lancaster AJ-M on the night of the raid, piloted by 'Hoppy' Hopgood. Their Lancaster was hit twice: once on the way to the target and then once more whilst making their final attack on the Möhne Dam. Hopgood heroically lifted the nose of the aircraft and tried to gain altitude before it crashed in order to give his crew a chance of escape.
The already severely wounded wireless operator, Sergeant John Minchin, made it out along with Burcher and Fraser but was fatally injured in the fall. Burcher and Fraser were lucky to survive, having spent a matter of just a few seconds in the air before they hit the ground. Burcher, in fact, was badly injured as he hit his back on the tail of the Lancaster as he jumped from it. Burcher landed in a field and managed to hide in a ditch for three days before he eventually gave himself up.
The two men were eventually reunited at the German Prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft III, where they both ended the war.
Rear gunner Sergeant Frank ‘Freddie’ Tees, who was 20 years old at the time of the raid was the rear gunner in Lancaster AJ-C, piloted by Warner Ottley, in the third and final wave of aircraft from 617 to leave from Scampton. AJ-C never made it to its target and was shot down near Hamm. Tees was the sole survivor from the crew of seven and was badly burned. He required extensive treatment and remained a prisoner until the end of the war.
The blog is in memory of Flying Officer Charles Williams, a wireless operator for 617 Squadron, who was killed in action aged 34.
We have used information from Fighting High Publishing's book Dam Busters: Failed to Return, by Robert Owen, Steve Darlow, Sean Fest and Arthur Thorning, to help us write this blog. To find out more about the 53 men who died on the Dam Busters raid. You can buy a copy of the book on the Amazon website.