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Vernon Byers: failed to return

Canadian Pilot Officer Vernon Byers was the pilot of Lancaster 'K for King' on the night of May 16, 1943 as 617 Squadron launched its assault on the Ruhr dams.

Pilot Officer Vernon Byers. Image from 'Dambusters Failed to Return' published by Fighting High.

But his plane never made it to the target – the Sorpe dam. It was shot down with the entire crew lost, just off Texel on the coast of the Netherlands.

Byers was born in Star City, Saskatchewan in 1919. He was a keen sportsman at school and in March1941, when at first he enrolled with the Canadian Army, records show that he was assessed as ‘a healthy appearing young man desirous of transferring for active service with the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force). 

This happened soon afterwards and by the autumn, he had already learnt to fly and had a good number of hours under his belt.

He arrived in the UK in May 1942 and over the next few months learnt how to fly bombers.

However, by March 1943, Byers had only carried out two high-altitude bombing raids and a mine-laying operation at an altitude of 800 feet.

At this point he was recruited to 617 Squadron, which shows that the squadron was not composed of entirely experienced, 'crack' aircrew as is sometimes believed to be the case.

Byers's Lancaster set off at 2130 on the night of May 16 and headed across the North Sea, toward the West Frisian Islands on their way to the Sorpe dam.

The exact circumstances of the aircraft’s demise are unknown, but it is believed that it was caught by flak at around 22.57, off Texel, resulting in the loss of all crew on board:

  • Flying Officer James warner
  • Pilot Officer Arthur Whittaker
  • Sergeant Alistair Taylor
  • Sergeant John Wilkinson
  • Sergeant Charles Jarvie and
  • Flight Sergeant James McDowell.

This blog is in memory of Pilot Officer Vernon Byers.

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.

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