Header image: George ‘Johnny’ Johnson (left,) ‘Dambusters’ bomb aimer, and George Dunn (right), Halifax and Mosquito pilot, in the BBMF ‘Lancaster Lounge’ on 1st June. (photo: Clive Rowley)
Four Bomber Command veterans visited RAF Coningsby and the BBMF on Thursday 1st June 2017. The purpose of their visit was to speak to an audience of personnel from RAF Coningsby about some of their experiences flying in heavy bombers during World War Two.
Sqn Ldr George ‘Johnny’ Johnson DFM will be known to many readers as one of only two of the original 617 Squadron ‘Dambusters’ still alive (the other is gunner Fred Sutherland who lives in Canada). ‘Johnny’ served as an air gunner on Lancasters with 97 Squadron at Woodhall Spa until he retrained as a Bomb Aimer. He returned to 97 Sqn to fly in the crew of American pilot Joe McCarthy and completed his full tour of 30 ‘ops’. Selected to join the newly-forming 617 Squadron in March 1943, he flew on the ‘Dams Raid’ with Joe McCarthy, attacking the Sorpe Dam. He received the DFM for his part in the raid and was commissioned in November 1943. He flew a further 19 missions with 617 Sqn and then became a bombing instructor until the end of hostilities. At the end of the war Johnson qualified as a navigator, so he could receive a permanent commission, and subsequently flew Avro Lincolns with 100 Squadron and Avro Shackletons with Coastal Command, before retiring from the RAF in 1962. He is now 95 years old.
Flt Lt George Dunn DFC is now 94 years old. During World War Two he flew a total of 44 ‘ops’ with Nos 76, 608 and 104 Squadrons, 30 in Halifax bombers over targets in industrial Germany and 14 in Mosquitos bombing Berlin. He took part in the Peenemunde Raid in August 1942 when a late change of plan switched his squadron from the fourth to the first wave. The fourth wave lost 46 aircraft! After the war George continued to fly for the RAF until 1947, testing a number of aircraft types including Mosquitos, Spitfires, Hurricanes and Mustangs for a maintenance unit in Ismailia, Egypt. In 1948 he returned to his pre-war employment with Pickfords, the removal firm.
Flt Lt Rusty Waughman DFC AFC Legion d’Honneur flew the special 101 Squadron radio counter measures Lancasters, with an eighth German-speaking Special Duties crew member aboard, from Ludford Magna on the Lincolnshire Wolds. He was posted to the Squadron in November 1943 and completed a full tour of 30 ‘ops’, which began during the Battle of Berlin. Surviving a mid-air collision, only to write the aircraft off on landing, Rusty and his crew had a miraculous escape on a subsequent flight when their aircraft was blown upside down, over the target at Mailly-le-Camp; they also survived the Nuremberg raid on 30th March 1944, when 97 aircraft were lost including about one quarter of 101 Squadron’s strength that night. Rusty left the RAF in 1952 and he is now 94 years old.
Wing Commander John Bell, MBE DFC Legion d’Honneur was a Lancaster Bomb aimer on Bob Knight’s crew with 619 and then 617 Squadrons. John flew a total of 50 ‘ops’, including 29 with 617 Sqn, many in the Lancaster named ‘Thumper Mk III’ (the BBMF Lancaster’s previous ‘identity’), dropping several of the huge ‘Tallboy’ bombs in the process. John subsequently became an accounts officer and then a photographic interpreter during the Korean War. He is now 94 years old.
Having relaxed in the BBMF ‘Lancaster Lounge’ and renewed acquaintances with BBMF friends, the veterans moved to the Station’s main briefing room where they addressed an audience of over 110 service and civilian personnel from the Station, including 30 visiting American servicemen. Each of the veterans presented for 15 minutes: ‘Johnny’ Johnson talked about his experiences on the ‘Dams Raid’, George Dunn about the Peenemunde Raid, Rusty Waughman about the disastrous Nuremberg raid in March 1944, and John Bell about his ‘Tallboy’ attack on the V-weapon site at Wizernes. The audience had plenty of questions at the end and all clearly felt that the opportunity to hear these amazing stories, first-hand, from these remarkable men was a chance not to be missed.