The marked grave which dares not speak its name

Some seventy-odd years ago, nineteen Lancaster bombers of R.A.F. 617 Squadron took off on a mission which, many hoped, could drastically alter the war in favour of the Allies. They hoped, by use of a special weapon, to breach three of the Ruhr dams when they were at their highest level of water storage. The weapon was a product of Sir Barnes Neville Wallis, and it became the precursor of many of the exceedingly effective weapons which issued from the agile mind of this superb scientist. The bomb was built in the shape of a drum, and dropped with the case spinning in reverse to the motion of the aircraft. The idea was that the spinning bomb would hit the waves and then ‘bounce’ forward, dropping, bouncing and slowing on the water as the bomb advanced.

The trouble with the attack, which had to be carried out at an extremely low altitude and in a straight line, was that the bomber could be tracked and attacked by seriously-accurate German anti-aircraft fire during the predictable approach path. The Moehne, Eder & Sorpe dams were chosen as targets, and the Lancasters of 617 Squadron, modified to carry the three ton weight of the bombs which had to be held partly outside the bomb-bay as the spin had to be applied before the bomb was released, set off on their mission. The Moehne and Eder dams were successfully breached, albeit with heavy loss to the attacking squadron; with eight of the nineteen bombers failing to return, and fifty-three fliers in total died during the operation.Squadron Leader Guy Gibson received the Victoria Cross, there were also five D.S.O.’s, ten D.F.C.’s and four Bars, two Conspicuous Gallantry Medals and eleven Distinguished Flying Medals and one Bar.

It was hoped that the resultant torrents of water would damage war industries, halt electricity generation, clog rail routes and damage the German war effort. The actual effect was rather different; in that the electricity supplies were back in business due to an emergency pumping system built by a forward-looking German generation industry; the great percentage of deaths were actually of P.O.W.’s, and the rail system was rebuilt where damaged in typical German quick-time, mainly by the use of slave labour. The surprising outcome was a rapid decline in food production, as large areas of arable land were flooded, as well as huge numbers of farm animals killed. German civilian morale suffered greatly. British morale went sky-high, as the pictures of the broken dams were shown in cinemas and in the newspapers.

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old.

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.  

R.A.F. Scampton is to close and be sold off to accommodate a housing estate.

Some may ask why I write of a bombing raid so very long ago, and of the R.A.F. base from which those heavily-laden bombers took off. The truth is that the only memory at the base is a small Museum site, and a grave. But it is a very special grave, it is surrounded by barriered railings, and has been carefully tended for those seventy years since the raid. The grave holds the remains of Wing Commander Guy Gibson’s pet labrador, which also was the Squadron’s mascot. The dog was killed by a speeding car on the night that Gibson led that raid.

The black labrador’s name?

The marked grave which dares not speak its name

 

8 comments for “The marked grave which dares not speak its name

  1. Mudplugger
    July 25, 2018 at 8:02 pm

    One wonders how the authorities would handle a massive public petition to re-inter that noble animal now in Westminster Abbey, complete with its original headstone, as a lasting token tribute to the sacrifices made by those gallant crews?
    Answers on a postcard to PC Central . . . . .

    • rapscallion
      July 26, 2018 at 9:31 am

      I think we all know the answer to that Mudplugger – we’d all be branded “waythists”, Oh ‘ang on . . .

  2. Pcar
    July 25, 2018 at 9:25 pm

    Mike,

    Nice article. Thanks

    Re-development is always difficult when a grave connected to an historic hero/event is involved.

    If grave moved, a memorial should replace it – like Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh.

    As for where to re-inter, are there any Castles in England which are still military bases like Edinburgh Castle?

  3. ASM
    July 26, 2018 at 10:21 am

    Apparently, the RAF doesn’t have “Bases,” it has “Stations.”

    https://thinpinstripedline.blogspot.com/2018/07/end-of-term-announcements-thoughts-on.html

    As this writer notes, there are lots of RAF stations with comparable history that got sold off, RAF Church Fenton, and RAF Binbrook, for example, and that mostly was simply turned back into farmland.

    As he notes, for given sum of money, less stations mean the RAF can operate a damn sight more aircraft than it apparently does right now.

  4. July 26, 2018 at 1:27 pm

    Nicely put together.

  5. richard
    July 26, 2018 at 5:12 pm

    I remember reading that Nigger was not at all popular as he had a habit of urinating on peoples’ legs and so, just before his grave was filled in, the compliment was returned.

    • Pcar
      July 26, 2018 at 11:25 pm

      Nigger was, therefore, an exceedingly dominant dog – an alpha dog.

      • July 29, 2018 at 12:52 pm

        Heh!

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