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Battle of Britain Memorial Flight take to the skies for the 80th anniversary of Operation Chastise

On the evening of the 16th May 2023, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) took to the skies to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Operation Chastise, commonly known as the Dambusters Raid, which took place in May 1943.

Lancaster PA474 on take-off at RAF Coningsby. Photo credit: RAF Coningsby Photo Section. 

Op Chastise was an attack on the Ruhr Dams, taking place during the night on the 16th - 17th May 1943, where 617 Squadron of the Royal Air Force (RAF), carried out the raid which involved 133 aircrew and 19 Lancaster Bomber aircraft. 617 Squadron was formed at RAF Scampton on the 21st March 1943, and 24 year old Wing Commander Guy Gibson was personally selected to lead it by Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris, the Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command.

On the night of the raid, 19 specially modified Avro Lancaster B Mk III, carrying “Upkeep”, later more commonly known as the “Bouncing Bomb” set off from RAF Scampton to Germany. The Bouncing Bomb was effectively a 9250lb cylindrical mine or depth charge containing 6,600 lbs of Torpex underwater explosive and three hydrostatic pistols set to explode at 30ft below the surface. The crews, who had trained to operate their bombers at heights above 15000’, with a measured approach to the target allowing accurate navigation, were put through an intensive training programme involving extensive low-level flying and cross-country navigation eventually moving on to do the same thing at night, flying at 150’ over water. 133 aircrew took part in the raid, however sadly 53 were killed and 3 became prisoners of war.

The view from the Lancaster cockpit. Photo Credit: Sqn Ldr Matt Moore

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, based at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, continue to maintain a number of historic war time aircraft in airworthy condition in order to commemorate those who have fallen in the service of this country. One of those aircraft is Lancaster PA474, one of only two of these iconic aircraft still in airworthy condition today.

Flt Lt Paul “Ernie” Wise led the bomber aircrew who had the privilege of flying this commemorative sortie on the evening of the 80th Anniversary. On his return, Ernie said:

“Tonight was an immensely special occasion. We launched our Lancaster to join vast amounts of people in commemorating the 80th anniversary of Operation CHASTISE, The Dambusters Raid. We, at the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, felt that the most appropriate way we could honour this landmark anniversary was to put our iconic Lancaster Bomber into the sky for as many people to see and hear as possible. The significance of the sortie was at the forefront of our minds throughout the entire three-hour flight. 80 years ago the Lincolnshire sky was filled with nineteen Lancaster Bombers destined for the Möhne, Sorpe, and Eder Dams. The resonance of Merlin engines prominent as the aircraft departed from RAF Scampton. Tragically, eight aircraft did not return, with 53 aircrew killed and 3 aircrew taken as POW. Tonight’s flight paid tribute to the mission, and the devastating sacrifice that Bomber Command suffered. Our task was to fly 33 commemorative flypasts ranging as far South as the RAF Museum at Hendon before returning North to Bomber County. Most of our flypasts tonight were focussed within Lincolnshire, as we daisy chained our flight path to ensure that we overflew the many Bomber Command airfields within the County, whilst also able to pay our respects at the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln.

We at the BBMF have been eagerly awaiting tonight, but whilst also nervously monitoring the weather and praying for favourable conditions to allow the task to go ahead. There has been an enormous amount of interest in the event both from the UK and overseas, which is heart-warming. Tonight was especially poignant for the team with the recent passing of our dear friend Johnny Johnson MBE DFM. His words were even more significant tonight within the Lancaster cockpit as the night drew on, “When you can see Lincoln Cathedral, you know you’re home”. A truly evocative sight.

Lest We Forget.”

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