Guy Gibson — Tom Briggs — 15th August 2016.

Guy Gibson
Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC.

Guy Penrose Gibson was born in Simla, British India on 12th August, 1918.
He died at Steenberg, Holland on 19th September, 1944 aged 26.
He is famous for taking part in Operation Chastise, better known as the ‘Dambusters Raid’.

Tom Briggs first heard about Gibson, when he was 10, from Wilfred Pickles on his wire­less pro­gramme “Have A Go”, and later learned more from Paul Brickhill’s book, “The Dambusters” (pub­lished in 1951) and the film about the raid, star­ring Richard Todd (made in 1955).

When Gibson was 6 years old his par­ents sep­ar­ated and his mother brought him back to England where he went to pre­par­at­ory school and later to St. Edwards School, which was a board­ing school. It seems that he did not have any close family bond­ing and learned to look out for him­self at school. He was a ‘loner’ and did not mix well with others, and did not do well aca­dem­ic­ally.

At 18 he applied to join the RAF and was at first rejec­ted because of his height, but later was accep­ted. He trained as a pilot.

War came in 1939 and he flew some sorties in Blenhiem Beaufighters and then flew Lancaster bombers.

He later joined 617 Squadron and it was chosen for Operation Chastise, the raid on the dams. He was a stick­ler for making sure that everything under his con­trol went accord­ing to his wishes and treated NCOs and ground crews with con­tempt. He was brusque and could not see how his atti­tude affected other people. This atti­tude may have been because he had flown many mis­sions by this time and, at the back of his mind, knew that one day his luck would run out.
Although Richard Todd played Gibson as a friendly English gen­tle­man, Gibson was not well liked, par­tic­u­larly among the lower ranks and ground crews who called him “The Bumptious Bastard”.


The squad­ron trained hard for the oper­a­tion and flight crews were care­fully selec­ted for the raid. The spe­cial ‘boun­cing bomb’ had to be spun in reverse at 500 revs and dropped from exactly 60 feet above the water sur­face, in the dark, at a par­tic­u­lar dis­tance from the dam wall. To ensure the cor­rect height each plane had two spot­lights point­ing down­wards whose beams inter­sec­ted 60 feet below the fusel­age. The beams had to inter­sect at the water sur­face, but this meant that the plane was show­ing light as it made its bomb­ing run.

On the even­ing of 16th May, 1943, nine­teen Lancasters took off from RAF Scampton to try to breach the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams.
The Mohne and the Eder were breached and the code words “Nigger” and “Dinghy” were radi­oed back to base.
Eight Lancasters did not return and 56 crew mem­bers were lost. This was a ter­rible figure that dev­ast­ated Barnes-Wallis when he heard it.

[Although “Nigger” is a word that nowadays is non-PC, it was the name of Gibson’s black Labrador dog. Gibson did not get on with people but his dog was his con­stant com­pan­ion, even sleep­ing in his billet at night (against reg­u­la­tions!). Unfortunately the dog was killed in a hit-and-run acci­dent on the same even­ing as the raid took off for the dams. However much this dis­aster affected Gibson it did not stop him from doing his duty and flying on the raid. He chose the code name for the suc­cess of breach­ing the Mohne dam by using his dog’s name.]

After the suc­cess­ful oper­a­tion Gibson was awar­ded the Victoria Cross and was now a celebrity. He was on one of the first broad­casts of ‘Desert Island Discs’ where he reques­ted “Ride of the Valkeries”.
The RAF decided he should not fly again so that he would sur­vive the war. He came to the notice of Churchill, who invited him and his wife to Chequers for dinner. Churchill got him to stand for elec­tion as the Conservative can­did­ate for Macclesfield and in August,1943, took him to a con­fer­ence in Ottowa because he saw him as a man of the highest cal­ibre as he had a VC, 2 DSO and 3 DFC. In the USA the President awar­ded him the Legion of Merit.

When Gibson returned from the USA he wanted to fly again, and flew a Mosquito on an active raid to Munchen-Gladbach in the role of Master Bomber, although he had not much exper­i­ence with the Canadian-style Mosquito. His nav­ig­ator was not famil­iar with this plane also. On the way back from the raid the plane crashed at Steenberg in Holland.
There were many the­or­ies why this happened but it may have been that he did not switch from an empty fuel tank to full one because he couldn’t find the switch.

His death was kept from the public for sev­eral months and he was not posted miss­ing until 29th November.

(A very inter­est­ing talk and not a Powerpoint present­a­tion, I’m glad to say.)