Last surviving Dambuster turns 100: RAF aimer George ‘Johnny’ Johnson who targeted Nazi damn on famous WWII bouncing bomb mission in 1943 celebrates his centenary today
- Squadron Leader George ‘Johnny’ Johnson took part in Operation Chastise
- Raid targeted dams in the Ruhr Valley in industrial heart of Germany
- Was Johnson’s job to target the Sorpe Dam, and he demanded nine dummy runs
The last surviving member of the famous Dambusters raid celebrated his 100th birthday today.
Squadron Leader George ‘Johnny’ Johnson was a bomb aimer during the incredibly dangerous Operation Chastise in 1943.
Mr Johnson was aged just 22 when, as part of the RAF’s 617 Squadron, he took part in the raid, which targeted dams in the Ruhr Valley in the industrial heart of Germany with bouncing bombs.
The attacks released thousands of tonnes of water into areas which were crucial to Germany’s war effort.
It was Mr Johnson’s job to target the Sorpe Dam in the raid, and he demanded nine dummy runs to ensure he hit his target.
The operation has gone down in history as being among the most successful aerial assaults of the Second World War.
Mr Johnson, who was born the village of Hameringham, near Horncastle, Lincolnshire, in 1921, now lives at a care home in Bristol.
The last surviving member of the famous Dambusters raid celebrated his 100th birthday today. Squadron Leader George ‘Johnny’ Johnson was a bomb aimer during the incredibly dangerous Operation Chastise in 1943. Above: He was awarded an MBE by the Queen in 2017 after a long-running campaign backed by TV presenter Carol Vorderman
Mr Johnson was aged just 23 when, as part of the RAF’s 617 Squadron, he took part in the raid, which targeted dams in the Ruhr Valley in the industrial heart of Germany with bouncing bombs. Above: Mr Johnson (front left), with his Lancaster Bomber crew in 1943
Nicky van der Drift, chief executive of the International Bomber Command Centre, in Lincoln, told Lincolnshire Live: ‘Everyone in the IBCC team wishes Johnny the most magical birthday.
‘His support throughout the years with talks, signings and sales of his book gave a fantastic boost to the project, one that will never be forgotten.’
Johnson joined the RAF in June 1940, just over a year after the start of the Second World War.
Before taking part in the Dambusters raid, he met his wife, Gwynn, who passed away in 2005.
Johnson’s first mission was in August 1942 and, in November of that year, he completed training to be a bomb aimer.
He completed a tour with 97 Squadron and then transferred to 617 Squadron for the highly secret Operation Chastise, which took place on the night of May 16-17 in 1943.
Drawing on hand-picked crews from Britain, the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, the squadron’s mission was to damage several dams in Germany’s Ruhr valley that provided a vital source of power to the country’s industrial region
The bouncing bombs themselves were developed by aircraft engineer Barnes Wallis.
The attacks released thousands of tonnes of water into areas which were crucial to Germany’s war effort. It was Johnson’s job to target the Sorpe Dam in the raid, and he demanded nine dummy runs to ensure he hit his target. Above: The damage inflicted on the Eder dam
What made it so dangerous was that, to be successful, the Dambusters had to fly at a height of 60ft, so the specially-adapted mines they were carrying – codenamed Upkeep – would bounce over the water before hitting the dams’ walls and sinking 30ft.
The mines would then explode, causing the dams’ walls to be breached and releasing millions of tonnes of water into the valleys below.
The Dambusters trained by flying over the Derwent reservoir and a dam in the Lake District.
On the night of May 16 1943, 19 Lancaster bombers, led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, set off for Germany with the aim of destroying the Mohne, the Eder and the Sorpe dams.
The bombs they were carrying weighed four tonnes each.
Their mission was hailed a success after two of the dams, the Eder and the Mohne, were breached, releasing 300 million tonnes of water.
With the Sorpe dam, it was decided because of the way it had been built that that it needed to be targeted directly, rather than with bouncing bombs.
Mr Johnson, who was born the village of Hameringham, near Horncastle, Lincolnshire, in 1921, now lives at a care home in Bristol
Johnson’s team were given no time to practice but he still had to hit the dam’s wall. Much to his crew’s annoyance, he therefore insisted that that they fly over the dam nine times before dropping the bomb on the tenth.
The team did hit the dam, but it wasn’t breached. However, the water released by the two breached dams damaged 92 Nazi factories and destroyed a further 12.
Overall, 133 Allied aircrew took part – 90 from the RAF, 29 from the Royal Canadian Air Force, 12 from the Royal Australian Air Force and two from the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
A total of 53 servicemen lost their lives and another three were taken captive.
The squadron’s bravery earned it 33 decorations, including the Victoria Cross for Wing Commander Gibson.
It was also credited with providing a major boost for the morale of troops, and in 1955 led to the film The Dam Busters, starring Sir Michael Redgrave.
After the mission, Johnson was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Medal at Buckingham Palace.
He was awarded an MBE by the Queen in 2017 after a long-running campaign backed by TV presenter Carol Vorderman.
Johnson remained in the RAF until 1962 and had risen to the rank of Squadron Leader by the time of his retirement.
Johnson became a primary school teacher and had three children with his wife.
The Dambusters: How bouncing bombs – and incredible flying by RAF pilots – flooded the Ruhr valley and delivered a crucial blow to the Nazi war machine
On May 16, 1943, 19 Lancaster bomber crews gathered at a remote RAF station in Lincolnshire for a mission of extraordinary daring – a night-time raid on three heavily defended dams deep in Germany’s industrial heartland.
The dams were heavily fortified and needed the innovative bomb – which bounced on the water over torpedo nets and sank before detonating.
To succeed, the raiders would have to fly across occupied Europe under heavy fire and then drop their bombs with awesome precision from a mere 60ft above the water.
The Mohne and Eder Dams in the industrial heart of Germany were attacked and breached by mines dropped from specially modified Lancasters of No. 617 Squadron.
The Sorpe dam was was also attacked by by two aircraft and damaged.
A reconnaissance photograph of the Eder Dam taken two months after the famous Dambusters raid shows a 96 foot breach in the dam
A fourth dam, the Ennepe was reported as being attacked by a single aircraft (O-Orange), but with no damage.
Up to 1,600 people were estimated to have been killed by floodwaters and eight of the 19 aircraft dispatched failed to return with the loss of 53 aircrew and 3 taken prisoner of war.
Wing Commander Guy Gibson, Officer Commanding No. 617 Sqn, was awarded the VC for his part in leading the attack.
The raid, orchestrated by Guy Gibson and the RAF’s 617 ‘Dambuster’ Squadron, was seen as a major victory for the British, and Wing Commander Gibson is recognised as one of the war’s most revered heroes.
Their success was immortalised in the classic 1955 film The Dambusters, its thrilling theme tune and gung-ho script evoking the best of British derring-do.
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