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.)