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"Your parachute, Sir!"

In an exclusive interview with Dambusters veteran Johnny Johnson, he tells us the story of an accidentally deployed parachute and a misplaced compass card which caused Flight Commander Joe McCarthy to almost lose his nerve over.

"When our aircraft decided it had had enough and we knew there was only one reserve aircraft, Joe McCarthy says, 'For Christ's sake get out there quick before some other bugger gets it before us and we don’t get to go', so off we went," Johnny explains.

But on the way over, McCarthy caught his parachute handle, accidentally deploying it. "It didn't put Joe in any better frame of mind at all," says Johnny. "When we got to the aircraft there was no compass card for the last [compass] swing they'd done with the bomb on board."

Johnny Johnson

Johnny explained what a compass swing was. "The aircraft compasses are affected by all the metal in the aircraft and the bombs and everything else. So to get a true reading, the aircraft is turned through the various points on the compass and a ground compass makes the true reading and the difference between them is recorded which is used by the navigator in correcting his courses for the next leg."

With McCarthy starting to stir up quite a fuss over the missing compass card, Johnny said, "Joe, calm down for Christ's sake. If you don't, you're going to make a complete hash of the whole thing. Now pack it up, calm down," which he did.

While the Flight Sergeant retrieved the missing compass card he also picked up a replacement parachute for McCarthy, who had decided not to take a new one. As he handed it over he said, tongue in cheek, "your parachute, Sir."

This blog is dedicated to the memory of Pilot Officer Warner Ottley, a pilot with 617 Squadron on the Dambuster raid, who was killed in action on May 17, 1943.

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