Recently Lilydale Squadron was honoured when a sprightly 90 year old lady made herself known to us at a promotional stand at the Chirnside shopping centre. The lady, Iris Wilkinson, told us about her late husband, Ray Wilkinson. Ray was a rear gunner with the famous ‘Dambusters’ Squadron that raided several water storage dams.
On the night of the raid, Ray flew with pilot Townsend in an Avro Lancaster aircraft known as AJ-O ‘Orange’. They were part of the third wave to take off and their mission was to attack the Ennepe Dam.
They were one of the fortunate ones that made it back to England, although came under heavy fire and lost an engine. They were the last to land back at the airfield and were met by Commander in Chief of Bomber Command, ‘Bomber Harris’. Whilst they did drop their bomb at the dam, it only inflicted very minor damage. Ray, along with the rest of the crew, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for their remarkable efforts.
In 1955, Iris and Ray attended the premier of the film. ‘The Dam Busters’, where they met Barnes Wallis and his family. Barnes was the genius that designed the unique bouncing bombs.
We were thrilled to hear about such an historic event from someone, who at the time, was so close to the brave men involved.
Taking off just after midnight F/Sgt. Townsend flew their plane AJ-Orange, which was part of the third wave, towards the heart of Germany. The flak was extremely heavy, as the enemy had been alerted by the first two waves of attack. Doug in the front turret hosed enemy positions with his machine guns. As he pumped away at their searchlights he was glad for the extra rounds he had “borrowed”. Lancaster AJ-Orange target was the Ennepe Dam, near Dortmund. With a thick mist rising from wooded valley they had difficultly in locating the target. Three times they overshot the dam. On the forth run at 3.37am the bouncing bomb was released at less than 100ft above the water
As the plane circled the lake discharged a huge spout of water in to the air followed by vast ripples spreading towards the Dam. It had fallen short but they were pretty confident that the shock waves would do some damage. As they turned for home the fast approaching dawn made the return trip extremely dangerous. They could clearly see the breached Möhne dam and the Germans could clearly see them. Flying dangerously low, hugging the contours of the landscape, avoiding unexpected landmarks and pylons they flew through a barrage of distinctly unfriendly anti-aircraft fire.
When they got to the Dutch coast the Germans turned the large coastal guns on to them. The plane was badly damaged and one of its engines was knocked out, but taking evasive action they made it out to the safety of the North Sea. They arrived back to base at 6.15am. Flying downwind and into the sun they had a rather bumpy landing as the last plane back. Casualties were shockingly high. Eight of the original 19 Lancaster bombers were damaged or shot down, and of the 133 aircrew, 53 were killed and three captured.
*image from the Dambuster blog, original source unknown http://dambustersblog.com/category/douglas-webb/