Friday, 16 May 2008

Pictured: Lancaster bomber in dramatic flypast to mark 65th anniversary of Dambusters raid

16th May 2008
Soaring over the green water of a Peak District reservoir the veteran Lancaster makes another swooping arc through the air.The Second World War bomber was the centrepiece of a thrilling flypast to mark the 65th anniversary of the Dambusters raid today.

Crowds packed the riverbank as the historic Lancaster - similar to the one used by the RAF’s 617 Squadron to successfully bomb two German dams in 1943 - flew three times along the Derwent valley.

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Bombs away: The world’s only flying Lancaster makes a low pass over the Derwent Dam

The Derwent dam was used by the Dambusters to train ahead of their mission to destroy three dams in Germany’s Ruhr valley.

Today Squadron Leader Les Munro, the last surviving pilot from the mission codenamed Operation Chastise, was one of the guests of honour attending the service.

As the distinctive roar of the Lancaster’s engines echoed across the lake, Squadron Leader Munro joined enthusiasts to relive memories of the daring raid, which used the celebrated “bouncing bomb” invented by Barnes Wallis.

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Historic: The Lancaster bombers soars over spectators during its flypast yesterday

Also taking part in the fly-past were a Spitfire, a Hurricane, two Tornado fighters from the present 617 Squadron, and a Dakota transport plane.

All the planes flew from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire to take part in the anniversary fly-past, which was preceded by a special memorial service on top of the Derwent dam at 10am.

Squadron Leader Munro was accompanied by Michael Gibson, the nephew of Wing Commander Guy Gibson, who led the Dambusters.

During the service 88-year-old Richard Todd, who played the wing commander in the 1955 film The Dam Busters, laid poppies on the water of the reservoir.

On May 16 1943, 19 aircraft set out to destroy three dams in the Ruhr valley - the Mohne, the Eder and the Sorpe - and so damage a vital source of power to the key industrial area of Germany.

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lancasterCrowds throng the riverbank as the Lancaster completes its anniversary flyby

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Fighter support: A Supermarine Spitfire, top, and a Hawker Hurricane in formation

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The mission was hailed a success after the Mohne and Eder were breached. But eight aircraft and 53 crew were lost during the raids.

Richard Todd, who played Wing Commander Guy Gibson in the 1955 film The Dam Busters, scattered poppies on the water of the reservoir during the service.

Two wreaths were also laid in the gatehouse of the Derwent Dam.

He said: “It’s the most wonderful sight, watching the old Lancaster flying over the dam. It’s a wonderful sight and sound.

“It’s very exciting, moving and memorable, I just wish the weather had been a little bit kinder. It’s very cold but luckily it’s good enough for the fly-past to take place.”

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Commemoration: Douglas DC-3 transport aircraft takes part in today’s anniversary

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Andrew Wallis, a musician from Huddersfield, 46, is the grandson of Sir Barnes Wallis, the aircraft engineer who devised and planned the raids.

He said: “We’re very humbled in thinking that all these people lost their lives so that we could be here today. “My grandfather was always very upset about what happened, how many of the pilots and air crew died.

“It pained him for the rest of his life, that he felt in some way responsible.

“I’m trying to suppress my emotions in some way otherwise I would end up bursting into tears.

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Wing Commander Guy Gibson of 617 squadron, boarding Lancaster G

Royal approval: Air Vice-Marshall Ralh Cochrane, Wing Commander Guy Gibson, King George VI and Group Captain John Whitworth discuss Operation Chastise

“For me, it’s the humbling side of it and the fact that I feel some small part of it all. It takes great people to keep everything going. Humanity as a whole is so fragile.

“When the Lancaster went over, it was very exhilarating, the sound, the history.”

After the wreaths were laid at exactly 10.30am, the Lancaster bomber came into view at the top of the Derwent Valley and flew low at 100ft in between the two towers of the dam. It then banked away before circling to return over the dam again.

On its third fly-past it was accompanied by two Tornado planes from today’s 617 Squadron. After its final fly-past, a Spitfire and a Hurricane flew over the dam and finally a Dakota transport plane flew past as hundreds of air enthusiasts and servicemen and women watched.

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Aftermath: The wrecked Mohne Dam with the massive breach caused by the Dambusters 617 Squadron

Deadly: A prototype of the so-called ‘bouncing bomb’ developed by Barnes Wallace

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