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D-Day 80: The legacy of Operation Taxable airman



In Memory D-Day news RAF Family

To mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day this June, Roy Eaton shares a guest blog about his uncle Len Eaton, a Wireless Operator who served as part of Operation Taxable and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for completing 50 Operations.

Len Eaton in uniform

My uncle, Leonard Eaton, was born on 16 March 1906, one of seven children. He was 33 years old when the Second World War was declared and applied to join the RAF in 1940. He enlisted on 22 July 1940 at RAF Padgate as RAFVR Aircrew. After spending time training in Cheshire and RAF Feltwell, he was moved to Blackpool where he became classed as an Aircraft-hand/Wireless Operator. He remained in Blackpool until 14 February 1941.

From Blackpool he moved to No1 Signals School at Cranwell and promoted to Wireless Operator (2nd Class) on 2 May 1941. Following 14 weeks at Cranwell, he went to No 7 Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit at Castle Bromwich.

On 14 February 1942 he moved to No 1 Air Gunnery School at Pembrey and reclassified as LAC and Wireless Operator Grade 2. It was there that he received his Air Gunners Flying Badge and was promoted to Sergeant on 28 March 1942. He then went to 14 OTU at RAF Cottesmore, where despite being in training, Len’s wartime flying was about to start.

On 30 May he took part in a raid on Cologne and on 1 June a raid on Essen. With a total of eight hours flying time, he returned to training. He completed his training on 1 August and joined 207 Squadron at Bottesford. After five weeks he moved to 106 Conversion Flight to prepare for flying in Lancasters.

On 21 September he joined 97 Squadron, his home for the next six months. Len joined Joe McCarthy’s crew and completed 18 operations before moving to 617 Squadron on 25 March 1943. His 19th operation was the raid on the Sorpe Dam on 16 May 1943, the famous Dambusters Raid. Len was the oldest of the Dambusters crew aged 37 at the time.

Len continued with 617 Squadron until he completed his first tour - 30 Ops on 10 – 11 March 1944 – and completed his second tour on 4 July 1944.

During his time with 617, he took part in Operation Taxable and operations involving the Tallboy attacks on the German V1 and V2 rocket sites. The goal of Operation Taxable was to deceive the German high command into believing that the main Allied invasion force would land at Pas-de-Calais instead of Normandy, thereby diverting German reinforcements and resources away from the actual invasion site.

He left 617 Squadron on 29 July 1944 and was commissioned as Pilot Officer and awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal. He joined 84 Operation Training Unit (OTU) on 4 August before moving to 14 OTU some six weeks later.  

After over 300 hours on bombing missions over Europe, he was grounded as an instructor. According to a letter written to his brother Walter, he didn’t enjoy it and was desperate to get back in the air.  

On 22 December 1944 he got his wish and was posted to 242 Squadron as Wireless Operator/Air Gunner. 242 Squadron was part of Transport Command. By early January 1945 they were flying Wellingtons and converted to Stirlings in February 1945. Len was promoted to Flying Officer on 30 January 1945.  

Len was released from 242 Squadron on 4 September 1945 and discharged on 30 October. He relinquished his commission on 10 February 1954 and was finally discharged from the reserves.

He continued to live with his mother after the war and worked as a clothing agent. Not long after she died in 1964, he introduced his 'lady friend' who he had been kept secret because his mother didn’t approve.

Len died suddenly at home on 22 March 1974, six days after his 68th birthday.

Roy said: “Len didn’t consider himself a hero, he was just an ordinary bloke from Manchester and never spoke about any of his experiences after the war. I think it is important to recognise the efforts and sacrifices made by so many men and women to ensure the freedom that we now enjoy.”

You can read more remarkable stories from our D-Day 80 series here.