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Famed raid on dams.

Byline: MIKE KELLY

CHOCKS away - these words in an RAF logbook which could have come straight out of a Biggles annual were written almost 70 years ago and marked the beginning of one of the most famous air raids in RAF history.

On the night of May 16, 1943, 19 Lancaster bombers took off from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire for three primary targets in Germany - the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams.

The attack was code-named Chastise and was led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson.

There were 133 crew in all who flew that night including Brits, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and an American. Among the British contingent was Flight Lieutenant Bill Garget of Forest Hall, Newcastle, Flight Sergeant Vivian Nicholson of Sherburn Village near Durham and Flight Engineer Ivan Whittaker of Walkerville, Newcastle.

Earlier this month, Flt Sgt Nicholson's logbook of the raid came up for auction. It included comments like "Bomb dropped. Wizard," in the "general observations" column of the book as his shuddering Lancaster bomber dodged Nazi anti-aircraft guns.

The logs were generally used to record flight data, but it seems he could not help himself. He wrote "Chocks away", mentioned above, when he took off from RAF Scampton, in his aircraft called Johnny.

After months of training and preparation, the planes, which were split into three formations, flew at an altitude of just 30 metres to avoid radar detection. Just how low the Lancasters flew during the attack is demonstrated by the fact that one had to turn back as it had hit the sea on the journey to mainland Europe and lost its bomb.

Gibson led the first attack and, at just before 1am, the Mohne Dam was breached. An hour later, so was the Eder Dam. The Sorpe Dam was attacked by planes from the reserve force but, though hit, it held out.

The attack had huge propaganda value and made Gibson a national hero, but it came at a high cost.

Eight planes were destroyed, 53 airmen killed and three captured.

Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross while 33 others members of 617 squadron were also decorated. Ivan Whittaker was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Vivian Nicholson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal and Bill Garget the Distinguished Service Order.

The strategic value of Operation Chastise has since been doubted because the breached dams were quickly rebuilt. However, as well as the morale boost it provided there was an unforeseen benefit which could have helped turn the war.

As Dam Busters expert Dr Iain Murray of the University of Dundee explained: "A lot of the workers who were building the coastal defences at Normandy at the time were diverted to help repair the dam.

"As a result, on D-Day the Normandy defences had not been completed.

"If they had been, you have to wonder what sort of impact that would have on the invasion."

CAPTION(S):

LOG Flight Sergeant Vivian Nicholson MEMORIES Above, members of the RAF who took part in the Dam Busters raid on Germany during the Second World War

DARING An artist's impression of Lancaster bombers from the RAF's No 617 Squadron attacking the Mohne Dam
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Apr 22, 2013
Words:525
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