The 19 Lancasters of 617 Squadron that set off on the night of the Dambusters raid on May 16 and 17, 1943 flew in three waves. Although they set off first, leaving from 9.30pm onwards, the five Lancasters that were detailed to attack the Sorpe Dam were called the second wave.
Wing Commander Guy Gibson's nine aircraft, heading for the Möhne and Eder Dams constituted the first wave.
Of the five aircraft in the second wave that left Scampton, only one of them made it to the target – Lancaster AJ-T for Tommy, piloted by American Joe McCarthy. Of the other four, two were forced to turn back and two more were shot down.
New Zealand pilot Les Munro was crossing the Dutch coast when his Lancaster was hit by flak. The intercom system that allowed the crew members to talk to one another was completely disabled and the crew decided to turn back.
Pilot Officer Geoffrey Rice in Lancaster AJ-H for Harry misjudged his altitude across the North Sea and hit a wave. He managed to keep the aircraft in the air but lost his Upkeep and so also returned back to Scampton.
Canadian Vernon Byers, piloting AJ-K for King, was caught by flak at around 22.57, off the island of Texel, resulting in the loss of all crew on board.
And Flight Lieutenant Robert Barlow’s Lancaster AJ-E for Easy hit an electricity pylon near Haldern in Germany. All crew were lost. Their Upkeep did not detonate in the crash which meant that it fell into enemy hands.
Only Joe McCarthy’s crew was left to journey to the Sorpe Dam. Bomb aimer Johnny Johnson remembers that it was hard to find it and, once they got there, it took ten runs to get in the right position for him to drop the mine. He recalls:
When the mine exploded it was a terrific sight. We were nose up at that stage and turning. The explosion was between our aircraft and the moon and Dave Rodger in the rear turret had a clear view.
They had inflicted significant damage on the dam – though it was not breached -so they turned and headed back to Scampton.
"When we got home," says Johnny Johnson, "I think we were satisfied that we had done what we went to do."
This blog is dedicated to the memory of Flight Sergeant Charles Roberts, a navigator with 617 Squadron on the Dambuster raid, who was killed in action.