Menu Donate Request our help

Helpline: 0300 102 1919

"There were so many empty chairs it just wasn't true"

Of the 19 aircraft that took off on the night of 16 May 1943 for Operation Chastise, eight were shot down or crashed and tragically 53 of the 133 aircrew were killed. The returning crew were hailed as heroes but the losses were heavily felt. In this guest blog, the last remaining British Dambuster Johnny Johnson recalls the sombre mood in the Sergeants' Mess after the raid.

"The ghastly thing of the whole evening was that 19 aircraft had taken off and three had returned for various reasons. Of the 16 that went on, only eight came back and that was a tremendous loss for one squadron, for one night's raid.

"And whilst the bars were open in the messes and drinking was going on, I'm quite convinced that drinking was not because of any success there’d been on the raid, but in commiseration with those that wouldn't be coming back to us after that raid and there were so many empty chairs it just wasn't true.

"Many of the WAAF waitresses were in tears because I think some of their boyfriends were amongst those that weren't coming back.

"The Chief said, 'You better go back to bed girls, you may feel a little better in the morning' and they did just that.

"I have to say, strange as it may seem, I enjoyed my war. I felt what I had joined for in the first place was to get at that so and so Hitler and that was why I enjoyed it so much - getting done what I thought needed to be done.

"I am extremely grateful to the RAF Benevolent Fund for its wonderful work looking after veterans as well as the present day air force. They provide them sometimes with a home, sometimes with money, and always with care. I'd like to thank them for all they do and may they still continue to do so for many years."

Help us thank Dambuster Johnny Johnson for all that he did during the Second World War – leave a message for our Book of Gratitude.

Related articles:

Sign up to receive the RAFBF e-newsletter