August 22nd, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 34
Looking Back - John Kinnear
Commemorating the Dambusters at Nanton
Looking Back
courtesy of Bomber Command Museum of Canada
Avro Lancaster standing guard at the Bomber Command memorial of 10,673 names
The Dambusters saga, as many of us know, is a remarkable story that I have delved into several times in earlier Pass Herald columns (see archives - May 2013 and Nov. 2016). Those articles covered the details of this unusual wartime effort and also profiled one of the Canadian members, Fred Sutherland, in yet another hair-raising adventure. I also discovered that one of the Dambuster crew was Daniel (Revie) Walker from Blairmore. I presumed I had explored this extraordinary story from just about every avenue including a local connection and its Canadian connection, but I have since discovered that there is so much more to this saga.

Through the last few years, as a historian, I have become a serious student of World War Two history and have absorbed, voraciously, hundreds of in-depth stories of this massive conflict. The history of the RCAF’s aerial bombardment of Germany, in conjunction with the United States, is a heart-breaking and powerful part of the overall effort to end the Nazi attempt at world domination. It makes for some tough reading. Its operation is generally referred to as Bomber Command.

In order to provide the pilots for this herculean effort, in 1939, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand and Australia signed an agreement creating the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). It was to be located in Canada and involved training Allied aircrews which included pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, wireless operators, air gunners, and flight engineers. Over 130,000 crewmen and women were trained in the next six years all across Canada and constituted one of our countries greatest contributions to the war effort.

One of the most important strategic bombers used in this effort was the Avro Lancaster’s, four-engine majestic machines that were flown in over 156,000 sorties against Germany. 3,249 of them were lost throughout the war. Its development and use is a fascinating story unto itself and one I will “get into” some day.
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In 1986 the Nanton Lancaster Society was formed to take care of FM 159, a Lancaster bomber built in 1945 in Malton, Ontario and shipped overseas. It was returned to Canada from Britain at war’s end. It then saw service for five years as a reconnaissance plane out of Greenwood, Nova Scotia and Comox, British Columbia before it was flown to RCAF Vulcan in 1960 to be scrapped. It was bought and saved and sat for the next twenty five years on display in Nanton before that society took up the job of “taking care” of the Lanc.

In 1991 a facility was built to house FM 159 and has been expanded several times to what one sees today. According to Karl Kjarsgaard, a director at Bomber Command Museum of Canada, their facility is the definitive museum in Canada that presents the Bomber Command story. Karl, a professional pilot and dedicated member of the museum, has been working tirelessly for 13 years on various projects there. Their website ( is chockablock full of information and makes for fascinating reading.

Karl also heads the Halifax 57 Rescue Project, an ambitious effort to recover and rebuild a Halifax bomber. The Halifax was the main heavy bomber flown by the RCAF during the war and of the 6,176 built not one was placed in a museum. So Karl’s team is busy working on the recovery of one that crashed in the Baltic Sea offshore Sweden. It is a huge effort that will take many years to recover, reassemble and restore this aircraft that Kjarsgaard says needs to be standing next to the Lanc. Of the 10,673 names of Canadian airmen lost and listed on the museum’s memorial wall, 6,000 were flying in Halifax’s. Think about those numbers for a moment!
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So on the weekend of August 24/25th the Bomber Command Museum of Nanton is commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Dambusters story with a two day gala event. On the Friday evening the riveting video done by Ken Brown in 1993 entitled “The Dams Raid” will be played. Along with this there will be Lanc. cockpit tours, the 4 Wing RCAF Band from Cold Lake, a night run of the bombers V-12 Merlin supercharged engines and a book signing by Ted Barris. Barris is the author of the just released book: “The Dambusters: Canadian Airmen and the Secret Raid Against Nazi Germany.” Ted Barris is an accomplished writer, journalist and broadcaster and author of the best-selling book The Great Escape.

On the Saturday there will be more engine runs of the Bristol Hercules and Fleet Fawn engines, a rerunning of the video, more opportunity to meet Ted Barris and listen to his 1 hour program about the thirty Canadians on the Dambuster raid in the early afternoon in the main hangar. Attending the event will be forty family members of the Canadian Dambusters. There were 30 Canadians amongst the 113 members of the 617 Dambuster Squadron. Fourteen of them did not come home. One that did was Fred Sutherland from Rocky Mountain House and it is hoped that this now 93 year old war hero will be in attendance.

Alongside all this there will be a display entitled “The Dambusters – The Legendary Raid in Art” which is the museum’s spectacular collection of nineteen original paintings depicting the Lancasters in action. But it gets better. The Lancaster’s identification: “Ian Basalgette Memorial Lancaster (F2-T)” has been temporarily replaced with the lettering AJ-M, the call sign for the 617 Lancaster ED925 that was piloted by F/L Johnny Hopgood.
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Hopgood’s Lancaster was hammered by flak but managed to release its bomb at the Mohne Dam site. His plane caught fire and crashed on the other side of the dam killing five of the crew of seven. The bomb skipped over the dam and landed on the power station which it destroyed, at the very moment of Hopgood’s crash. Eventually the crews of AJ-P and AJ-A delivered their skipping bombs perfectly and finally the Mohne gave way.

For the occasion AJ-M has been rigged with a technically exact replica of the Upkeep mine - bomb with the Upkeep code name used for the skipping bombs that the Lancaster’s were equipped with. The drum-shaped Upkeep’s were spun backwards before releasing to control their skip across the dam waters. The logistics of that release are mind-blowing.

Each Lancaster had to line up perpendicular to the dam and fly in through punishing flak at a mere sixty feet off the water at the exact speed of 240 mph. A lot of testing and ingenuity came into play to accomplish this. Special spot lights were shone down from under the planes to the water at a specific angle. When the spots met together on the dam’s surface it meant the plane was exactly at sixty feet, a distance that altimeters just could not read.

Even more interesting was how it was determined when to release the bombs. They had to be let go an exact distance from the dam (1400-1450 feet). A special bomb sight was crafted, a simple looking but effective V-shaped wooden sight with white pegs on the ends of the V. The bomb aimer held it up towards the two towers on each dam (the Mohne and the Eder) and when the pins on the bomb sight lined up with the towers they were the correct distance away for release. Simple trigonometry.
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Bomber Command volunteers, spearheaded by Ken Hill, have worked diligently to reproduce thirty exact replicas of this Dambuster bomb sight to be sold at the event. Thirty were made to commemorate the thirty Canadians that were part of the Dambuster raid of RAF 617 Squadron.

The sighting arms of each one of these devices were sent to England to be personally signed by George (Johnny) Johnson, a bomb aimer on one of the crews and the last living British member of 617. The only other member alive today of those 133 gallant men is Fred Sutherland. A donation of $500 or more will reward you with a numbered and limited edition bomb sight, letter of authenticity, information package and a charitable donation receipt for income tax deduction.

So this is an event well worth considering. A chance to get up close to the Lancaster and explore the amazing story of the Dambusters. I will be there with bells on covering this important commemoration. There is, as I mentioned in 2016, also a personal connection for me to all this. One of those lost in the Mohne attack was a young flight engineer, twenty one years of age, by the name of John Kinnear. He and his crewmates of AJ-B, piloted by Bill Astell, were lost early on in the attack when their plane hit high tension wires and crashed at Marbeck killing all aboard. They are all buried at the beautiful Reichwald Forest Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Germany
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August 22nd, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 34
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