Aviation fans gather to see WW2 Lancaster bomber in skies over England

Britain salutes the Dambusters: Aviation fans gather to see a WW2 Lancaster bomber in the skies over England as memorial flight tours country in tribute on 80th anniversary of 617 Squadron’s legendary raids

  • Large crowds have been spotted with cameras to see the Lancaster bomber 
  • Battle of Britain Memorial Flight is commemorating Dambusters raids tonight 
  • Attack on Nazi Germany reservoirs took place on the night of May 16, 1943

Aviation fans gathered to see a World War Two Lancaster bomber fly over England as a memorial flight tours the country on the 80th anniversary of the 617 Squadron’s legendary raids. 

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight is commemorating the Operation Chastise attack on the Nazi Germany reservoirs which took place on the night of May 16, 1943.

The 617 Squadron carried out the raid which involved 133 aircrew and 19 Lancaster Bomber aircraft unleashing bouncing bombs to deal a major blow to Adolf Hitler.

Large crowds were seen standing with cameras as they prepared to witness the Lancaster bomber this evening. 

Tonight’s flypast involved one of the last two airworthy Lancaster bombers flying over the RAF Museum located on the former Hendon Aerodrome in Colindale, north London, then all 28 former Bomber Command bases in Lincolnshire.

Aviation fans gathered to see a World War Two Lancaster bomber in the skies over England as a memorial flight tours the country on the 80th anniversary of the 617 Squadron’s legendary raids

The UK’s only airworthy Lancaster bomber, PA474, was seen passing over Lincoln Cathedral this evening

The Lancaster bomber was seen taking off from her home base of RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire

Tonight’s flypast involves one of the last two airworthy Lancaster bombers flying over the RAF Museum

Pilots prepare for the memorial flight ahead of the 80th anniversary of the WWII Dambusters Raid

The plane began with a flight over the RAF Museum at 6.01pm.

The Lancaster then travelled north, arriving above the former Spitalgate airfield near Grantham at around 6.58pm, following a route around Lincolnshire ending at RAF Coningsby at around 8.07pm.

Where and when can you watch tonight’s Lancaster flypast? 

  • RAF Museum, Colindale, north London, NW9 5LL – 6.01pm
  • Spitalgate, Lincolnshire, NG31 9EW – 6.58pm
  • Fulbeck, NG32 3JE – 7.02pm
  • Swinderby, LN6 9US – 7.04pm
  • RAF Waddington, LN5 9NB – 7.07pm
  • Lincoln – IBCC, LN4 2HQ – 7.08pm
  • Skellingthorpe, LN6 0HX – 7.12pm
  • Scampton, LN1 2TH – 7.15pm
  • Dunholme, LN2 3QF – 7.16pm
  • Wickenby, LN3 5AX – 7.18pm
  • Faldingworth, LN8 3NW – 7.19pm
  • Ingham, DN21 5BU – 7.21pm
  • Hemswell Cliff, DN21 5TY – 7.22pm
  • Blyton, DN21 3PE – 7.24pm
  • Elsham Wolds, DN20 0NT – 7.30pm
  • Kirmington, DN39 6YH – 7.31pm
  • N Killingholme, DN40 3JL – 7.32pm
  • Grimsby, DN36 4RX – 7.37pm
  • Binbrook, LN8 6EG – 7.39pm
  • Ludford, LN8 6AD – 7.41pm
  • Kelstern, LN11 0RQ – 7.42pm
  • Strubby, LN13 0LN – 7.47pm
  • Spilsby, PE24 5BD – 7.51pm
  • East Kirkby, PE23 4DE – 7.53pm
  • Bardney, LN3 5TZ – 7.58pm
  • Fiskerton, LN3 4EZ – 8.00pm
  • Metheringham, LN4 3RD – 8.04pm
  • Woodhall Spa, LN10 6QG – 8.05pm
  • RAF Coningsby, LN4 4SY – 8.07pm

Flight Lieutenant Giles Croft, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight operations officer, said the team worked to produce ‘an achievable plan that allows us to showcase the Lancaster, commemorate the unsung heroes of Bomber Command and also incorporate the tasking we already had for the evening.’

He said the Lancaster sortie for the evening includes 34 flypast locations, ‘which is far more than we would normally plan in a single sortie’.

Flight Lieutenant Croft added: ‘We will try to “make up the time” by reducing most events to a single overflight so that we can meet our fixed time over the RAF Museum in Hendon but still manage a tour of the Lincolnshire Bomber Command Airfields prior to landing before sunset.

‘I personally can’t wait to see our Lancaster over her home turf, against the same backdrop she would have had in the 1940s. I just hope that backdrop is clear evening skies with less than 15 knots crosswind.’

Tomorrow, a commemorative service will take place at St Clement Danes Church on the Strand in London, also known as the Central Church of the RAF, at 5pm.

Those invited to the service include representatives from the areas around the Mohne, Eden and Sorpe dams which were attacked by Operation Chastise.

Retired Wing Commander, Dr Andrew Walters, chairman of the 617 Association, said: ‘The service will focus on the human aspect and reconciliation.

‘We are inviting a wide range of guests associated with the Dams Raid, including the Chief of the Air Staff, Commonwealth and German Air Attachés, the Mayor of Möhnesee, representatives of related charities, manufacturers associated with Op Chastise, aviation authors, surviving veterans, and relatives of the Dams crews from across the Commonwealth.’

However, there will be no aerial tribute over the British dams where the crews trained – unlike similar flypasts in 2003 and 2013.

And the gothic, turreted Derwent and Howden dams themselves are now under threat as part of a plans for a super-reservoir in the Derbyshire Peak District, which could see them disappear beneath rising waters.

Large crowds were seen standing with cameras as they prepared to witness the Lancaster bomber this evening

People watch as the Lancaster bomber flies across the sky 

Some 53 squadron members died during the raids, when they flew only 60ft above water, while 1,300 people were killed in resulting flooding

The lack of a flypast over the dams and the threat to the sites has been met with concern from Dambusters’ families.

Operation Chastise: Wing Commander Guy Gibson and the legendary Dambusters raid of 1943 

On May 16, 1943, 19 aircraft set out to destroy three dams in the Ruhr valley – the Mohne, the Eder and the Sorpe.

The idea was to damage a vital source of power to the key industrial area of Germany.

The strategic targets not only supplied hydro-electric power, and water for steel-making, but also supplied drinking water.

The squadron was assembled by Wing Commander Guy Gibson with only 11 weeks to prepare for their mission – using special bouncing bombs, invented by Barnes Wallis.

They were not told that they would be bombing the Ruhr valley until six hours before the raid began, following weeks of practice over Peak District reservoirs.

On the night of the mission – codenamed Operation Chastise – the 113 crewmen took off in three waves along two different routes to bomb the dams.

Gibson attacked first at the Möhne at 12.28am, but five bombs were dropped before it was breached.

The first wave’s three remaining aircraft with bombs then attacked the Eder which finally collapsed at 1.52am. Aircraft from the other two waves bombed the Sorpe but it remained intact.

Although the mission was hailed a success, eight aircraft and 53 crew were lost during the raids.

Both the 60th and 70th anniversaries saw a vintage Lancaster from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight making hugely-popular fly-pasts above the dams, attracting up to 10,000 people.

On the 75th, although bad weather meant the main flypast over the dams was cancelled, celebrated Dambusters Squadron Leader George ‘Johnny’ Johnson, who died last December aged 101, was taken on a Lancaster flight over the site days later.

Geoff Gosling, 75, whose late father, Cyril was part of ground crew for the German missions but was onboard testing flights over Derbyshire, said: ‘It would have been nice for them to fly over the testing dams. It’s tragic the fly-over won’t be there for the 80th anniversary.

‘It’s a crying shame really but I guess the commemorations will get smaller as time goes by.’

Mr Gosling, whose father regularly attended anniversary flypasts before he died in 2019 aged 96, added: ‘My dad would be heartbroken if the dams were damaged or lost. The water company need a rethink. We can’t lose them. They’re part of our history.

‘I stood with him for one of the last anniversaries before he died. It was thrilling when the Lancasters went over.’

Felicity Rowbotham, 76, niece of Victoria Cross-winning Wing Commander Guy Gibson, also called for the Derbyshire reservoirs to be saved.

She said: ‘I wouldn’t be happy about this because it would be a loss. It’s unlikely the bomber training could have gone ahead without the dams.

‘I think there needs to be greater consideration of whether it really is necessary or whether the water company could look at alternatives.

‘The story of the Dambusters, whatever one feels about war, is part of our national heritage.’

Meanwhile, relatives of George ‘Johnny’ Johnson and bouncing bomb inventor Barnes Wallis also said it was important the Dambusters are not forgotten. As well as the reservoir raids, they ‘did so much else’, close family members say.

Some 53 squadron members died during the raids, when they flew only 60ft above water, while 1,300 people were killed in resulting flooding. The entire operation relied on the use of the ‘bouncing bomb’, designed by aeronautical engineer Wallis.

A Lancaster bomber from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight performs a flypast over the Derwent Reservoir on May 16, 2013 to mark the 70th anniversary of the Dambusters raid

A Lancaster over the Derwent Reservoir on May 16, 2008 to mark the 65th anniversary 

A Lancaster over the Derwent Reservoir on May 16, 1988 to mark the 45th anniversary

Charles Johnson, son of ‘Johnny’ Johnson, said: ‘The one thing that the raid did was to raise the country’s morale to enormous heights.’

Lancaster bomber facts

  • LENGTH: 69ft 6in
  • WINGSPAN: 102ft
  • POWER: 1,640 hp each
  • ENGINE: 4 x Packard Merlin 224
  • MAXIMUM SPEED: 275mph
  • CRUISING SPEED: 210mph
  • SERVICE CEILING: 25,700ft
  • RANGE: 2,530 miles

Mr Johnson said the family were also ‘proud’ of his father’s 35 years working in the mental health sector, as well as with children with special needs in education.

Barbara Wallis, Barnes Wallis’s daughter-in-law, said he should also be remembered ‘for all the other work he accomplished. Like on the airships, the Wellington bomber, his research into supersonic aircraft.’

It is unclear why tomorrow’s flypast does not include Derwent dams, with the RAF saying no security arrangements were in place for expected crowds, while Severn Trent, the water firm which runs the reservoirs, said it had not been approached.

An RAF spokeswoman said: ‘As we do not have control over events on the ground in Derbyshire and an event has not been externally organised to facilitate large crowds gathering that we could then organise a flypast for, it would not be practical to draw a crowd to the area.’

An insider said Severn Trent Water would have been ‘very supportive’ of a flypast and was ‘surprised no contact’ was received from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

Squadron Leader George ‘Johnny’ Johnson was Britain’s last surviving ‘Dambuster’ before his death in 2022. He poses for a photograph in 2018 to mark the 75th anniversary of the raids

The crew of 617 Squadron board a Lancaster bomber in 1943. Pictured from left, Richard Trevor-Roper, John Pulford, George Deering, Frederick Spafford, Robert Hutchison, Guy Gibson and Harlo ‘Terry’ Taerum

A reconnaissance photograph of the Eder Dam in Nazi Germany taken in July 1943, two months after the Dambusters raid, showing a 96ft breach in the dam

A Severn Trent spokesperson said: ‘The decision to undertake any commemorative event would be at the discretion of the BBMF. Neither the National Park Authority nor Severn Trent have been approached by the BBMF to support such a flight in 2023.’

READ MORE: Grave of Dambusters hero’s dog could be moved from RAF Scampton amid plans to house migrants at the site 

The company – which last year made a £274.1million pre-tax profit but was Britain’s second-worst water firm for leaks – has launched a consultation on plans to increase storage in the Derwent Valley to meet ‘unprecedented demand’ and make up for leaks.

Initial plans involve a fourth reservoir on moorland or a new, higher dam downstream of the iconic Derwent and Howden dams, which would then disappear as the waters rose.

Both ideas were met with local anger due to potential environmental damage.

Severn Trent, whose shareholders include private equity groups and the Qatari Investment Authority, is due to submit new proposals to the Peak District National Park Authority in July.

Its spokesman said: ‘We’re working through a range of feasibility designs as part of the water resources management plans, which are required by law to future-proof water provision in decades to come.’

On Sunday, the International Bomber Command Centre museum, near Lincoln, launched Men of The Dams, a tribute to the Dambusters to mark the anniversary.

It involves metal figures of the 53 crew who lost their lives, which have been produced by a collaboration between British artists Dan Barton and Simon Smith.

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