BBMF Lancaster flypasts sortie for the ‘Dams Raid’ 80th anniversary on 16th May 2023

Header Image: BBMF Lancaster PA474, in beautiful evening light, over the former Bomber Command airfield of RAF Kirmington, now Humberside Airport, on 16th May. The Lancaster completed multiple flypasts over Lincolnshire in tribute to “The Dambusters” and all those who served with Bomber Command.

Mounted as a special tribute to the “Dambusters”, who set off from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire to attack major dams in the heart of Germany, 80 years ago on 16th May 1943, the epic BBMF Lancaster sortie on the evening of 16th May 2023 was a resounding success.

Taking off from Coningsby at 1715 hours local, BBMF Lancaster PA474 flew south to perform a flypast over the RAF Museum at Hendon on the northwest outskirts of London, before returning north to conduct flypasts over each of the former wartime Bomber Command airfields in Lincolnshire, “Bomber County”. In addition, the Lancaster overflew the former No 5 Group Headquarters at St Vincents Hall, Grantham, where, on the night of 16-17th May 1943, Air Chief Marshall Arthur Harris, the AOC-in-C of Bomber Command, with Barnes Wallis, the inventor of the ‘Upkeep’ “bouncing bomb”, and other high-ranking RAF officers, awaited the coded radio messages informing them that the Möhne and Eder dams had been breached. Harris is reputed to have said to Barnes Wallis: "Wallis, I didn't believe a word you said about this damn bomb, but you could sell me a pink elephant now".

The Lancaster over RAF Ingham, Lincolnshire, at 7.21 pm on 16th May. Some dramatic skies during the evening added to the poignancy of the occasion, but made it more difficult for the Lancaster crew. (Photo: Brian Hall)

The Lancaster also overflew the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln, where a special event was being held with a concert and supper to commemorate the ‘Dams Raid’. In the grounds of the IBCC 53 metal figures have now been installed representing the airmen of 617 Squadron killed during the raid. They have been meticulously crafted from photographs of the men and they stand alongside the figures of Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, the leader of the raid, and Barnes Wallis.

BBMF Lancaster PA474 over the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln, with Lincoln Cathedral in the background and the newly-erected art installation with the figures of the 53 airmen of 617 Sqn who lost their lives on the ‘Dams Raid’ in May 1943. (Photo: IBCC)

With a total of 34 venues to overfly, far more than would normally be planned in a single sortie, the Lancaster returned to Coningsby to land as the sun was setting, some three hours after taking off.

Lancaster PA474 landing at sunset on 16th May 2023 at the end of its epic sortie. (Photo: Paul Adams)

It was wonderful to see so many hundreds of people at the various venues, who all understood the significance of this special event and wanted to be part of it, to see the Lancaster overfly and remember the fallen. The BBMF is proud to be able to commemorate the bravery, dedication and sacrifice of all those who served with RAF Bomber Command and, on the actual evening of the 80th anniversary of Operation Chastise, particularly those who flew on the remarkable ‘Dams Raid’, especially those who paid the ultimate price.

The BBMF Lancaster navigator for this special sortie was Squadron Leader Rich Hartley. He had to plan the route and produce the maps for this epic series of flypasts and navigated the Lancaster to the numerous pinpoint ‘targets.’ Rich has kindly agreed to write an article giving his personal view of the sortie for the next Official Club magazine, the 2023 Autumn Journal, which will be published in October. As an ex-617 Squadron Tornado GR4 navigator, the sortie was particularly poignant for him. Watch out for his inside story in the Autumn Journal, available only to Club members.

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