Fringe Box



Photographer Gets Chance to Experience What It Was Like To Be A Dambuster

Published on: 15 May, 2013
Updated on: 15 May, 2013

Exactly 70 years ago on May 16-17 1943 aircraft of the RAF’s 617 Squadron undertook Operation Chastise – a daring World War II raid breaching the German Möhne and Edersee Dams, causing catastrophic flooding of the Rhur valley and villages in the Eder Valley, while the Sorpe dam was partly damaged. The famous ‘bouncing bombs’ were used and the heroic effort has become known as the Dambusters Raid.

The Avro Lancaster bomber over Brooklands Museum on Sunday, May 12. Photo by Dani Maimone.

The Avro Lancaster bomber over Brooklands Museum on Sunday, May 12. Photo by Dani Maimone.

Writer, photographer and PR consultant DANI MAIMONE was at Brooklands Museum near Weybridge on Sunday and photographed the flypast of an Avro Lancaster as part of the events to mark the 70th anniversary of the raid. It was at the Vickers factory at Brooklands where the bouncing bomb, designed by Barnes Wallis, was developed.

Here Dani recalls the chance she had a few years ago to fly in the same aircraft on a specially arranged photo-shoot.

The sound and sight of the lovely Avro Lancaster bomber doing a low flypast over Brooklands Museum last weekend to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the famous Dam Busters raid of 1943 brought back some powerful memories.

Several years ago I was incredibly privileged to fly in the Lancaster on an air-to-air photographic session for the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF).

The weather was perfect. Blue sky, the odd patch of cloud and light winds made it a perfect day for hot-air ballooning – my more usual mode of aerial transport. However, on this particular day I was doing something far removed from ballooning. I was about to embark on the flight of my life and I couldn’t quite believe my luck.

I was both excited and nervous at the same time. I had already had the pleasure of meeting Richard Todd the dashing actor who, in the 1955 film The Dam Busters, played Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC DSO DFC, RAF. Gibson was the first CO of the Royal Air Force’s 617 Squadron, which he led in the Dambusters raid resulting in the destruction of two large dams in the Ruhr area of Germany.

Dani with actor Richard Todd (left) and xxx

Dani with actor Richard Todd (left) and Sqn Ldr Colin Patterson, OC BBMF.

I am flying with Sqn Ldr Colin Patterson, OC BBMF the pilot of the Lancaster accompanied by Sqn Ldr Chris Stevens, Spitfire Vb AB910 maneuvers following closely behind.

Sadly the Hurricane IIc LF363 has refused to start and on this occasion is unable to join us. I squeeze into the rear turret of the Lancaster and the doors are closed behind me. I feel quite alone. My cameras are ready. I hear Colin going through the pre-flight checks and then suddenly the roar of the magnificent Rolls-Royce Merlin engines fills my ears.

One by one they start up until all four are purring nicely. As Colin opens the throttles the Lancaster begins to vibrate noticeably and the Merlin’s unique throaty roar transports me back in time to the realities of World War II and the brave young men who fought battles from where I am sitting. Some of them as young as 17 years old!

The aircraft hurtles down the runway at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire where it is based, the tail comes up and we are airborne over Lincoln.

Suddenly the Spitfire is before me – it’s about 30ft away and I start taking pictures, marveling at her beauty. We are flying to RAF Leuchars in Scotland a 90-minute journey with some fly pasts on the way. In no time at all we are over York and then the Yorkshire Dales. We are at 1,500ft and it feels amazing to be flying over the countryside in such a magnificent aircraft.

Dani Maimone in RAF gear ready for Lancaster bomber flight.

Dani Maimone in RAF gear ready for Lancaster bomber flight.

Some of the journey takes us over water, the east coast and I revel at the site of the Spitfire over the water. With some difficulty I move from tail turret to make my way to the mid-upper gun position. Easier said than done when you are wearing RAF flying kit complete with helmet and an array of heavy cameras.

It’s not easy getting about in there and I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like trying to get out in an emergency if you were shot down. I take in the view. I can see along the fuselage of the aircraft and have nothing but admiration for the beauty of her lines. This is real flying, heady stuff, with serious pilots and no sophisticated avionics.

Sadly the journey is almost over and we descend for a low flypast over RAF Leuchars. I can see the crowd gathered waving in admiration. Colin banks round, lines up for finals and we make a perfect landing. As we taxi off the runway to our allotted spot we park up next to another iconic aircraft, the Vulcan XH558. The Merlins pop and crackle and finally come to a stop. One of the ground crew gives me the thumbs-up as I extricate myself from the aircraft. I must have had a great grin all over my face because all I can say as I climb out is “fantastic!”

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