Guy Gibson, 617 Squadron & the Dam Busters Trail, Steenbergen
Updated: Jul 1, 2020
I assume most of us are familiar with the story of Guy Gibson and The Dams Raid?
The Dam Busters Raid
On the evening of the 16th – 17th May 1943 Wing Commander Guy Gibson led the newly created 617 Squadron of the Royal Air Force on a bombing raid to destroy 3 dams in the Ruhr Valley. Code-named Operation Chastise they would use the new ‘Bouncing Bomb’ to destroy the heavily protected area.
Since 1942 Barnes Wallis had been working on plans to design and produce a bomb that could skip across water and although he initially thought it may be better used to attack battleships, research found that it was better suited to destroy the Dams in the Ruhr Valley which were so vital to Germany's Industrial Area. The feeling was that the destruction of the Dams would cause massive disruption to war production in Germany.
Extensive tests on the new barrel shaped bomb code-named ‘Upkeep’ had to be carried out which revealed that it had to be dropped at a particular speed & height to enable it to spin backwards across the water before hitting the Dam wall. This all meant that modifications had to be made to the Lancaster Bombers and Aircrews capable of carrying out the operation had to be found.
617 Squadron (Initially code-named Squadron X) was created and led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson. Gibson set about finding the best Air Crews for the operation, all the time being sworn to secrecy. 21 Air Crews were found and contained men who came from throughout the Commonwealth.
The Air crews commenced training and although they did not know what they were training for they knew it was going to be something big.
The 3 targets were the Mohne & Sorpe Dams which were upstream from the Ruhr Industrial Area and the Eder Dam as a secondary target. The hope was that the loss of electrical power and water in the area would slow down or halt industry. There was also the potential for severe flooding if the dams were destroyed.
At 2128hrs on the 16th May 1943, 19 of the Avro Lancasters took off from Scampton in 3 formations. Gibson in the first wave was the first to attack the Mohne Dam at approx. 0028hrs, but 5 aircraft had to drop their bombs before the Dam was breached. The remainder of these aircraft went on to attack the Eder Dame which collapsed at approx. 0152hrs. In the meantime, Lancasters from the other 2 waves went on to bomb the Sorpe Dam but it only sustained minor damage.
Of the 133 Aircrew that took part in the Dams Raid 53 were killed and a further 3 were captured and taken as Prisoners of War.
It is thought that between 1300 & 1600 people were killed in the resulting flood. The water supply was cut off for about a month which slowed down German production of tanks, ammunition etc.
The whole operation would be reported in the British press and would help to boost the moral of the British people.
The Aircrew who did survive quickly became heroes and Guy Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the Raid.
Guy Gibsons Death
On the Evening of the 19th & 20th September 1944 whilst Guy Gibson was serving as the Base Operations Officer with 627 Squadron, himself and Squadron Leader James Warwick took off in their Mosquito from Coningsby to attack Rheydt. Gibson was the Master Bomber on the raid and it was confirmed that his instructions were heard throughout the raid.
However on the return trip his aircraft crashed in Flames at Steenbergen, South Holland according to a witness on the ground. It is possible that the aircraft was damaged by flak either over the target, on the return journey or that it may have developed engine trouble.
Gibson and Warwick were killed in the accident. Both are buried at the Roman Catholic Cemetery at Steenbergen.
The Dam Busters Trail
With my interest in Bomber Command and having read Guy Gibson's Autobiography when I found that he was buried in Steenbergen I had to visit on my next trip to Holland.
Checking how we would travel there from Tilburg where we normally stay during our annual visit, I discovered there was a ‘Dambusters Trail’ in the town.
The walk is 2.9km long and starts at the end of the towns main street. Although the trail says it starts at Hotel Aarden it appears to no longer be there along with a small museum which has been contained in one of its rooms. The Hotel looks to have been replaced by Hotel Brasserie De Kaai though there is a display board opposite which tells you more about Guy Gibson and the Walk.
The next location on the Trail is the War Memorial in the City Park. The Pedestal displays a propeller of a British Air Force Aircraft and has commemorative plaques to Gibson & Warwick. There is also a tourist plaque nearby which gives further information
From the park the trail takes us to the Roman Catholic Cemetery where a British Post Box is contained within the wall to the side of the gate. This post box and another plaque detail the bravery of Gibson & Warwick. Within the cemetery Commonwealth War Graves commemorate Gibson & Warwicks lives where many people have come and left small crosses and poppies. Someone has also left a figurine of a black Labrador next to Gibson's grave signifying his beloved dog.
The trail then leads us onto the crash site which took a bit of finding as it is in the middle of an industrial estate! On Mosquitostraat lies a union jack within the paving and the year 1944, beside this is a plaque telling you that this was the location of the crash and it gives details of both men.
A walk around the Industrial Estate reveals further street names relating to Gibson, Warwick and the Air Force including Gibsonstraat, Warwickstraat, Lancasterstaat & Liberatorstraat.
I even came across a house where the occupier creates statues from wood, in the front garden are 2 crafted WW2 aircrafts.
Did you have a family member who served with Bomber Command during World War 2?
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