The Canal Raids

The 617 Sqn raid on Ladbergen in 1943

The 617 Sqn raid on Ladbergen in 1943 The raid was originally planned for the night of the 14/15th September but, when halfway to the target, the weather plane reported that the target was obscured and the Lancasters were recalled. Whilst turning at low level over the sea, David Maltby (one of the Dambuster originals) made a miscalculation and his Lancaster cart wheeled in to the sea with the loss of all onboard. In this picture Sqn Ldr Maltby is being introduced to King George VI following the dam raids.


 

In the minutes before and after midnight of the 15/16th September eight 617 Sqn Lancasters took off from their base at Coningsby, Lincolnshire. On this raid the place of David Maltby was taken by Flt/Lt Harold 'Mick' Martin.


 

Once more, at low level, the Lancasters headed for Ladbergen. As they flew over the German border town of Nordhorn (in Dutch spelled Nordhoorn) George Holden's Lancaster (which contained four of Guy Gibson's Dambuster aircrew) was hit by flak positioned on top of this textile factory. W/C Holden had chosen to climb to avoid a church tower and presented a clear view of his Lancaster to the gun crew. EE144 crashed close by, the terrible explosion killed several civilians on the ground and almost brought down two of the other Lancasters.
 


 

Lancaster EE130 piloted by F/Lt Ralph Allsebrook was hit by flak as it flew over the junction of the Dortmund Ems and the Mittelland Canals. The Lancaster tried to make an emergency landing but collided with the roof a house and then a crane on the canal bank before crashing into the water. The next day the Germans found that the crew had all been decapitated by the impact with the crane.



EE130 being recovered from the canal (image courtesy of Chris Ward, author of Dambuster Crash Sites).

The tranquil setting of the location today disguises the horror of the events in 1943.
(see The German defences)


 

Ralph Allsebrook (3rd from the left) was ex-Hampden aircrew who had converted to Lancasters. Until his death he had lived a charmed life, surviving a collision with a barrage balloon over Sheffield and a ditching in the sea. He had been awarded the DSO and the DFC.
 


 

Lancaster JA898 piloted by F/Lt Harold Wilson was hit by flak and crashed on the banks of the canal in Ladbergen. The local flak commander had been forbidden to open fire because of Luftwaffe activity at nearby Handorf. However, the commander could read the squadron code letters of F/Lt Wilson's Lancaster and so, after several low passes, he opened fire. 
The image below shows the wreckage of the Lancaster.
 



Image shown by kind permission of Chris Ward (author of Dambuster Crash Sites)

This is the same area today. The land bordering the canal has been extensively altered since the war and an exact comparison is now virtually impossible.
 


 

Lancaster JB144 flown by F/Lt Knight was severely damaged by fir trees whilst flying low around the target. The Lancaster's two port engines were put out of action and there was damage to the control surfaces. He asked for permission to jettison his bomb and to try and return home. He quickly realised that this would be impossible and he climbed as high as possible and ordered the crew to bail out.
F/Lt Knight then attempted a forced landing near Den Ham. Unfortunately, the Lancaster hit a bank and he was killed. His crew either evaded capture or were taken prisoner. F/Lt Knight's crew had made the final breach of the Möhne Dam.



A hearse taking away the remains of F/L Knight can just be seen to the left of the crowd gathered behind the wreckage.

The above image is reproduced with the kind permission of Mr. P.C. Meijer from the Dutch Air War Studygroup 1939-1945.
www.studiegroepluchtoorlog.nl
 


 

The fifth and final Lancaster to be lost that night was JA874 piloted by F/O William Divall. Records show that his Lancaster crashed some distance from the target at Steinbeck (near Recke). Poor weather conditions led to F/O Divall searching an area of the Mittelland Canal to the north of the actual target area. He was reported, on fire, having been hit by flak flying east to west parallel to the canal.
The Tallboy was dropped on the northern bank and a few seconds later the Lancaster ploughed into the ground with the majority of wreckage falling into the canal.



The gap in the trees on the northern bank where F/O Divall crashed (image courtesy of Chris Ward, author of Dambuster Crash Sites.

The rear turret, with its unfortunate occupant, was catapulted away from the crashsite and lay close to a local farmhouse. All were killed.


 

This was indeed a black night for 617Sqn and they were never used in a low level attack of this nature again. The attack on the canal was not successful. The canal banks were not breached and a high price had been paid for this failure. Only three of the eight Lancasters made it home that night.
 

The 617 Squadron badge
 

Information received from Deena Wardle:
One of the three Lancasters to return safely was Lancaster EE131 piloted by P/O Geoff Rice.
The rest of the crew were Sgt E Smith, F/O R Macfarlane, Sgt Gowrie, F/S Thrasher, Sgt Maynard and F/S Temple.
My uncle (F/S Clifford Morley) was incorrectly recorded in the ORB as being F/S Harley.

Her Uncle was posted into 617Sqn from 49Sqn to act as the nose gunner. This position was manned for the Ladbergen raid. He described the experience as one that he "wouldn't like to repeat".



The logbook page signed by S/L Harold "Mick" Martin.