On the night of May 16, 1943, a squadron of bombers set out from Britain to conduct strikes against heavily fortified dams in the Ruhr Valley of Germany, using bombs that bounced on the water before exploding. Of the 133 crew members who started the mission, only 77 returned.There he is; front and center with his crew.
The last surviving pilot of those who came back was John Leslie Munro, who died Tuesday at 96 in Auckland, New Zealand.
His death, announced by the New Zealand Bomber Command Association on its Facebook page, elicited tributes from around the world, including in Britain and in his native New Zealand, for his role in the daring “Dambusters” mission that struck at the industrial heartland of the Nazi war effort and lifted Allied morale.
Mr. Munro, who was known as Les, was part of the Royal Air Force’s 617 squadron, which was assigned to destroy three dams with specially designed bombs shaped like cylinders that had to be dropped from about 60 feet.
During the mission, the Lancaster bomber piloted by Mr. Munro was hit by flak. The plane’s communications abilities were destroyed, and he was unable to attack the dams. But he managed to fly to safety despite a large hole in the aircraft’s body.
Mr. Munro was “very modest about what he did during the war,” the BBC quoted Dave Homewood of the New Zealand Bomber Command Association as saying. “I think he was pretty proud to have been part of the Dambusters, although he was disappointed he never got to drop his weapon.”
According to accounts of those who survived the mission, called Operation Chastise, the pilots and crew members had only a few weeks to prepare, and they learned of their targets just hours before the raid. The dams in the Ruhr Valley supplied hydroelectric power and water for steel making, and were therefore important to Hitler’s war machine.
Carve our an hour if you can - here is a nice documentary of the mission.