Squadron Leader George 'Johnny' Johnson, MBE, DFM, served in the Royal Air Force for 22 years. During a distinguished career that took him all over the world, Johnny was selected to be part of the elite 617 Squadron or 'the Dambusters' as they famously became known. In this guest blog, Johnny tells us about the moments leading up to dropping the bomb on the Sorpe dam on the night of 17 May 1943.
It was a top-secret mission to hit the Ruhr valley, the industrial heartland of Germany, causing massive disruption to German war production. The Dambusters raid was as audacious as it was dangerous. The meticulously planned mission, headed by Wing commander Guy Gibson, set off at 21.38 from RAF Scampton on 16 May 1943.
Johnny Johnson, was a 21-year-old bomb aimer aboard the Lancaster, piloted by Flt Lt Joe McCarthy, an American pilot, tasked with destroying the Sorpe dam.
Lying in the nose of the aircraft, at just 60 feet, Johnny recalled: "We were half an hour late taking off and as we were flying along there was a goods train chugging along and from the front Ron said 'Can I have a go Joe?' [at targeting it] and he opened up with these little 303s.
"What we didn't know, was it wasn’t just a goods train, it was an armoured goods train and it replied with rather more than 303s! We knew we had been hit, we heard it and we'd felt it but it didn’t seem to impede the aircraft so we pressed on.
"When we found the Sorpe, that was when the trouble really started. From the marking point from our start to the dropping point it was seven seconds.
"There were several attempts before the bomb was finally dropped. If I wasn’t satisfied I called ‘dummy run’, if Joe wasn’t satisfied, he just pulled away. After about the sixth or seventh attempt, the boys from the rear turret said, 'Won't somebody get that bomb out of here?'
"And I had to realise how to become the most unpopular member of crew in double quick time. Neither Joe nor I said anything to each other, but I'm sure we both realised that the lower we got the easier it would be to estimate the dropping point.
"There was no bomb sitting, it was pure estimation. On the tenth run, we were down to thirty feet and when I said, 'Bomb gone', 'Thank Christ' came the response from the rear turret! It was nose up straight away so I didn't see the explosion and we headed home."
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