HE doesn’t like to be called a hero but no one is more deserving of the title than Squadron Leader George “Johnny” Johnson.
As a 22-year-old bomb aimer, the Flight Sergeant was on the courageous mission to blow a hole in a number of German dams during World War Two with “bouncing bombs”.
Here Johnny – awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal – tells the story of that daring night in extracts from his book The Last British Dambuster.
Read – The Greatest Generation
“If I concentrated on doing my job I didn’t have time to be scared.
“Lying on my stomach in my Perspex bomb aimer’s “office” in the nose of the Lancaster bomber, I could feel every movement of the aircraft.
“Closing in on the target was like lying in a lorry riding down a rutted track.
“From the rear turret I heard gunner Dave Rodger say: “Thank Christ for that!”
“As our bomber, call sign T-Tommy, pulled up and away, Dave now had a ringside seat. As the explosion threw a fountain of water up 1,000ft, he said: “Jesus — that spray has come into the rear turret.”
“We had arrived at the Sorpe Dam in clear moonlight on May 16, 1943. We should have been able to see the other Lancasters from 617 Squadron taking turns to line up bombing runs. But not only was no one else there, it was apparent none had been there either.
“The dam was still completely unscathed.
“There was no time to dwell on it. We still had a job to do.
“From the reservoir, the Sorpe Dam looked about 700 yards wide and had hills rising sharply to around 1,000ft on either side.
“We had trained for six weeks to bounce a bomb along the lake and demolish the dam, allowing millions of gallons of water to flood the area, wiping out agriculture and industry.
“All our training had been to knock out concrete dams like the Mohne and Eder.
“Sorpe was a different kind of dam, made of earth, and the bouncing bomb technique we had trained for simply wouldn’t work.
“Our skipper, 6ft 3in American Joe McCarthy, was going to have to fly the big, heavy, four-engined bomber like a fighter aircraft.
“Passing low over a church steeple in the small village of Langscheid, he would dive several hundred feet at 180mph, levelling off at 30ft above the top of the dam.
“We were used to being up at 10,000ft to 15,000ft. Being just 30ft from the ground was dangerous and required great skill.
“I had to release the bomb, packed with 6,600lb of Torpex explosive, in the centre of the dam.
“Joe would then have to pull up very rapidly and turn in time to avoid smashing into the hillside.
“And although we had good visibility, we were doing this at night. Now it was down to Joe and me.
“Flight engineer Bill Radcliffe would be keeping an eye on the gauges.
“Gunners Dave Rodger and Ron Batson would be looking out for fighters, which would be arriving at any moment.
“Surely someone in the village would have reported our presence by phone?