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david leigh-smith
283 articles

On This Day…May 16th.

May 16, 2019 · in Photo Collections · · 21 · 2.4K

I can't think of any better way of trying to capture the story of the than just letting Guy Gibson himself describe the critical moments of that that famous raid on May 16th, 1943...

“Terry turned on the spotlights and began giving directions – ‘Down-down-down. Steady-steady.' We were then exactly sixty feet.”

“Pulford began working the speed; first he put on a little flap to slow us down, then he opened the throttles to get the air-speed indicator exactly against the red mark.
Spam began lining up his sights against the towers. He had turned the fusing switch to the ‘ON' position. I began flying.”

“The gunners had seen us coming. They could see us coming with our spotlights on for over two miles away. Now they opened up and their tracers began swirling towards us; some were seen bouncing off the smooth surface of the lake.”

“This was a horrible moment: we were being dragged along at four miles a minute, almost against our will, towards the things we were going to destroy. I think at that moment the boys did not want to go. I know I did not want to go.”

“I thought to myself; ‘In another minute we shall all be dead – so what? I thought again, ‘This is terrible – this feeling of fear – if it is fear.' By now we were a few hundred yards away, and I said quickly to Pulford, under my breath, ‘Better leave the throttles open now and stand by to pull me out of the seat if I get hit.' As I glanced at him I thought he looked a little glum on hearing this.”

“The Lancaster was really moving and I began looking through the special sight on my windscreen. Spam had his eyes glued to the bomb-sight in front, his hand on his button; a special mechanism on board had already begun to work so that the mine would drop (we hoped) in the right spot.”

“Terry was still checking the height. Joe and Trev began to raise their guns. The flak could see us quite clearly now. It was not exactly inferno. I have been through far worse flak fire than that; but we were very low.”

“There was something sinister and slightly unnerving about the whole operation. My aircraft was so small and the dam was so large; it was thick and solid, and now it was angry. My aircraft was very small. We skimmed along the surface of the lake, and as we went my gunner was firing into the defences, and the defences were firing back with vigour, their shells whistling past us. For some reason, we were not being hit.
Spam said, ‘Left-little more left-steady-steady-steady- coming up.' Of the next few seconds I remember only a series of kaleidoscopic incidents.”

“The chatter from Joe's front guns pushing out tracers which bounced off the left-hand flak tower - Pulford crouching beside me - the smell of burnt cordite - the cold sweat underneath my oxygen mask.”

“The tracers flashing past the windows – they all seemed the same colour now – and the inaccuracy of the gun positions near the power-station; they were firing in the wrong direction.”

“The closeness of the dam wall - Spam's exultant, ‘Mine gone!”

“Hutch's red ‘Very Lights' to blind the flak gunners. The speed of the whole thing. Someone saying over the RT, “Good show, leader. Nice work.”

“Then it was all over, and at last we were out of range, and there came over us all, I think, an immense feeling of relief and confidence.”

A total of 133 Allied aircrew left for the raid aboard 19 Lancaster bombers, led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, 53 men were killed and three were captured.

@uscusn Chuck Villanueva's excellent tribute on iModeler

Aboard the USS San Jacinto (CVL-30), Lieutenant Commander Albert B. Cahn gives the signal to a (VT-51) TBM-1C Avenger to take off for an exercise, 16th of May 1944.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill inspects the British 9th Armoured Division from a prime spot aboard a Covenanter tank of 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards, Suffolk, England. 16th May 1942.

Not all nose art is created equal. A beautiful piece of artwork on the P38j ‘Bambi' (338th Fighter Squadron) which is seen here parked up in Ridgewell Aerodrome, England.

The B-17 immediately behind Bambi's front landing gear is ‘Chug-a-Lug IV' of the 381st Bomber Group.

A few months after this photo was taken, Chug-a-Lug was posted Missing in Action after being hit by flak in a mission over Hamburg.

Crew; Julius Levitoff (bombardier), Joe Ward (Flight engineer/top turret gunner), Alf Kreutz (Radio Operator), Gil Menendez (Ball turret gunner), Carl Gates (Waist gunner), Tony Skrinski (Tail gunner), and Bruce Hillard (Waist Gunner) all survived the crash and were all taken Prisoner of War. Co-pilot John Champion and Navigator Joe Byrnes were Killed in Action. Missing Air Crew Report 10154. CHUG-A-LUG (IV).

The Japanese armoured deck aircraft carrier Taiho, pictured between May 16th,1944 at Tawitawi, Borneo. This phot was taken shortly after her commissioning, with Shokaku class carrier in the background.

We'll see a lot more of the Taino next month on ‘OTD...'

As with the Blenheims, there's a lot of photos of abandoned B1 tanks in May 1940. Here, a Belgian civilian and a German soldier study an abandoned French Char B1 heavy tank, Ermeton-sur-Biert, Belgium, 16th of May, 1940.

This Scuttled French Char B1 heavy tank has been left in Beaumont, Belgium, 16th May 1940.

German T-34 ‘Trophy Tank' under wraps in Diemjansk, Russia. May 16th, 1942.

One of the great many Bristol Blenheims (MkIV, RAF 53 Squadron) shot down in the early days of the Wehrmacht's roll across Western Europe. 16th of May, 1940.

, the 16th of May 1943, three P-47 groups flew sweeps of the Dutch and Belgian coasts, baiting the Luftwaffe into a fight.

Major Josef Priller led the Stabs in his FW190 (above) and the III./JG 26 east, while the II./JG 26 patrolled the French coast. At the same time fighters of JG 1 with their (in)famous leader, Kommodore Major Hans Philip, scrambled from Woensdrecht but were bounced while climbing by P-47s from the 78th FG.

Hitting the Fw 190s below and shooting down the Kommaneur of the II./JG 1, Hauptmann Dietrich Wickop who was KIA (FW 190 -‘Black 1' - with personal emblem, and unusual tail markings of his Bf109, seen below).

Priller arrived at the fight, chasing down the attacking Thunderbolts. One Jug was seen to crash into the Scheldt Eustary (pilot F/O Charles R Brown taken POW) but (unusually) the RLM refuted his claim, which would have been his 88th victory. In one attack three highly experienced German pilots were shoot down by the ‘bear baiting' Jugs.

Priller's Wurger as made by our own Tom Cleaver @tcinla

May 16th 1940, Morane Saolnier 406 attacked on the ground by the Luftwaffe at Maubeuge.

Source: Flight May 16th 1940

Reader reactions:
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2 additional images. Click to enlarge.

21 responses

  1. Low level bombing... in a Lanc...plenty of ack, night...say no more.

    As always, great job, David

  2. Great selection David - like the painting especially - I think it captures the drama, terror and the Heath Robinsonness of the whole operation.

    • Thank you, David. What I find fascinating is that EVERY single day, there’s amazing events, stories, and images. Some days are a little harder to ‘report’ on, but very few. Extraordinary days, which maybe says something about why we modelers are so interested in war.

  3. like David i love the art...great story about the dams raid...i love the tenacity of the whole U.K. peoples from the pretty, gritty housewife who steps out on her front porch and boots a piece of debris over the side... to Sept. 15,1940 and the genius leadership of Dowding, Mallory and Churchill...i was just reading about the civilian aircraft repair shops mostly manned by women where a pilot might fly a spit in, in the morning, then fly it back out that evening/ same day service...everybody was on the same wavelength aside from a few "Haw Haws"... talk about Leni R's "triumph of the will" in spades...downed German pilots must have felt like rats in a trap...persona non grata...growing up one of our sayings was don't grab a hold of nothin you can't let go of

  4. I saw a documentary on History Channel about RAF pilots practicing to recreate the Dams Raid as part of a computer simulation. They were trained on how the mission was flown by the original pilots and the tactics involved. They did not manage to do it on the first run of the simulation. The fact that Guy Gibson and his fellow Dambusters managed to complete their mission successfully is a true testament of the tenacity and valour of the men of Bomber Command.

  5. Wow... what a story about the raid on the dams. I too remember watching a television show on the History Chanel where they were training a modern day flight crew to fly a Lancaster and drop bombs from it. I can only imagine what it must have been like.

    Brave souls all of them...

    This one is another excellent posting, and some beautiful models built by our fellow readers.


  6. I think I must have seen a different show, where they did the runs in a Douglas DC4.

    Appreciate the support, Louis. Nice to read those positive waves, baby.

    • I had my information wrong David. @dirtylittlefokker

      The TV show I was talking about was called "Bomber Crew" and it was made in 2004. They filmed it at RAF Duxford.

      It was a 4 part series, and had 5 modern day descendants of WW2 RAF bomber crews, training as their grandfathers would have. They were flying in a Lancaster... I think you would enjoy watching the series. These persons got to experience firsthand a little of what their ancestors did. The most amazing thing was how the pilot commented on just how much physical strength it took to "manhandle" a Lancaster around in the air...

      They trained for different positions. Bombardier, pilot, gunner, navigator, radio operator and so on. Try to watch it if you can. I do think you would enjoy it .

  7. “The chatter from Joe’s front guns pushing out tracers which bounced off the left-hand flak tower – Pulford crouching beside me – the smell of burnt cordite – the cold sweat underneath my oxygen mask.” ...yow. That's some epic writing. I'll bet Guy got good marks in his Comp & Lit class!

    David, really one of your better posts in my estimation. Once again, the blow by blow epic followed by the one-liner giving us the butcher's bill. That is the very angst and fascination that makes most of us prefer building tanks to tractors, battleships to pleasure boats, and warbirds to graceful commercial airliners.

  8. David, I think Gibson has a writing style that manages to cut to the very heart of fear and death. You have a sense he is describing memories of moments of pure emotion; visceral and sensory.

    Ha, and you’ve seen through my primitive ‘style’ - I’ll try to shake things up a little.

    Once again, I’m grateful that you take the time to both read through these posts and leave comments, especially such complements as these.

  9. Again, thank you, brother.

  10. Thank you David, your OTD posts are always a highlight of my day.

  11. Rick, you are very kind; thanks for the thought and the support.


  12. Nothing primitive about your "style" David! It's good "reporting" and we all appreciate it!

  13. Thanks, Jeff. You are a gentleman.

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