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Aces of Aviation

Avro Lancaster B Mark III of Guy P. Gibson

Avro Lancaster B Mark III of Guy P. Gibson

Avro Lancaster B Mark III (Special) from the 617th Squadron of the RAF, piloted by Wing Commander Guy P. Gibson, the 16th and 17th May 1943.

Wingspan: 31.09 meters.

Length: 21.18 meters.

Height: 6.10 meters.

Engine[s]: Four Packard Merlin of 1460 horsepower.

Maximum speed: 460 kilometers/hour.

Service ceiling: 6705 meters.

Range: 4070 kilometers.

Armament: Eight Browning M1919 0.303-inch machine guns; one 4200-kilogram Upkeep bomb.

Probably the most famed of all the bomber commanders of the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, Guy Gibson was awarded the Victory Cross for his role on the command of the 617th Squadron of Lancaster bombers against the dams of Möhne and Eder, during the night from the 16th to the 17th May 1943. Albeit his name is indissolubly linked to this action, Gibson had already a good reputation as one of the most experienced bomber pilots of the RAF. During three years and half of service he fulfilled about 71 bomber missions and 99 fighter sorties, receiving four condecorations to heroism.

Born in 1918 in Simla, India, Guy Gibson was incorporated to the RAF in the late 1937 and destined to the 83th Squadron. At the outbreak of the war he was piloting the Handley Page Hampden bomber, and in November 1940 he was transferred to night fighters, serving during two months in a squadron equipped with Bristol Beaufighter. After a brief time out of active duty he was awarded the command of the 106th Squadron, equipped with Avro Lancaster heavy bombers. In the late 1942 he had earned the Distinguished Service Order and a bar for the Distinguished Flying Cross.

It was on the mid March 1943 when it was decided the creation of the 617th Squadron, a bomber unit trained to attack the large dams on West Germany with a special type of heavy bombs devised by Doctor Barnes Wallis. These contraptions, called "Upkeep", had been designed to bounce over the water until hitting the vertical faces of the dams. It was thought that the destruction of the dams of Möhne, Sörpe, Eder and Schwelme would cause not only a vast flooding throughout the Ruhr Basin, but also ruin the German war industry by destroying vital hydroelectric plants. As aforementioned, Gibson was awarded the command of the 617th Squadron.

In that famous bombing carried out during the night from the 16th to the 17th May 1943, nineteen Lancaster bombers led by Gibson, each of them carrying on their bays one Upkeep 4200-kilogram bomb, set course towards very precise targets. At 00:28 o'clock, Gibson dropped the first bomb upon the Möhne, and after the attack of the fifth Lancaster the dam was definitely broken. Gibson led then the surviving bombers towards Eder, where three bombs sufficed to destroy the dam. However, the bombers that attacked Sörpe and Schwelme did not manage to destroy their targets. During the whole duration of the attack, Gibson was flying at low altitude over the enemy anti-aircraft defenses to divert their fire away from the other Lancaster while they performed their attacks. Still, from the nineteen bombers which had taken off eight did not return.

Eventually, Gibson was killed the 19th September 1944 when he was returning from a bombing mission over Rheydt and Moenchen-Gladbach. During many years it was said and believed that his aircraft had been shot down by enemy anti-aircraft fire, but eventually a more painful truth came to light. Ironically, the tail gunner of a Lancaster bomber had believed that the Mosquito aircraft which was approaching his bomber by the rear, inexplicably without sending any identification, was a Junkers Ju 88.