The Dambuster Raids, or more correctly Operation Chastise is without doubt the most famous bombing mission of the Second World War (at least here in Britain). Over 75 years on everybody has heard about the ‘bouncing bomb’ and the hero pilot Guy Gibson. Most people, if they only know of one RAF Squadron, it will be the Dambuster 617 Squadron with their moto Apres Moi le Deluge (After me the flood).
The raid is well known with lots written about it, but in brief, it took place during the night of 16-17 May 1943. Nineteen specially modified Lancaster bombers took off from their Lincolnshire base at RAF Scampton in an attempt to breach the Möhne, Eder, Sorpe and three secondary target dams around Germany’s industrial Ruhr Valley.
The Möhne and Eder attacks were successful, the Sorpe Dam was a different type of dam requiring a different bombing technique and remained intact, and there was only a single unsuccessful attempt on one of the secondary target dams. Eight of the Lancasters were lost in the raid and 53 of the 133 crew members lost their lives. But the event, and a film made in 1955 has immortalised them forever. See my blog Testing and training for the Dambuster Raids – what’s left to see? (https://pleszak.blog/2018/06/13/testing-and-training-for-the-dambuster-raids-whats-left-to-see/).
The design, the bombing, the myth, the legend and the subsequent adulation is well documented, but the fate of the actual aeroplanes which made the raid such a success, less so.
Before receiving their purpose built Dambusting Lancasters 617 Squadron ‘borrowed’ 10 standard Lancasters from other 5 Bomber Group squadrons (as below) so they could immediately start their low-level training. All were returned to their original squadrons as 617 Squadron received their dedicated modified Lancasters.
Three 50 Sqn Lancasters (W4112, W4196, and W4823) which had been delivered to RAF Scampton probably in preparation for the formation of 617 Sqn were all destroyed on 15 March 1943 when a 57 Sqn Lancaster (W4834) exploded when it was having its bomb load removed.
The Avro Lancasters used were specially converted Lancaster B.III(S)’s delivered straight from the production line at Avro’s Woodford site. The ‘S’ signified that they were B.III Specials but they were also known as Lancaster Type 464 Provisioning to denote that they had been provisioned for the specific task of carrying the Vickers Type 464 ‘Upkeep’ Mine (better known as Barnes Wallis’s bouncing bomb). It is thought that they would (potentially) be returned to standard Lancaster B.III configuration – none were. For a bit more on Lancaster versions see my blog From Manchester to Lincoln via Lancaster – An aviation aristocracy family tree (https://pleszak.blog/2019/05/07/from-manchester-to-lincoln-via-lancaster-an-aviation-aristocracy-family-tree/).
In total 23 Avro Lancaster Type 464 conversions were produced, initially their registrations were suffixed with a /G to denote that these were secret and would have had an armed Guard at all times when not flying.
As stated above, 19 flew on the Dams raid and 8 of them were sadly lost. Following the raid none were fully returned to standard Lancaster B.III configuration as it was too difficult or too costly to refit the bomb bay doors.
I’ve listed below each of the 23 converted with pertinent details from delivery to their final fate, but in summary 15 continued to be used by 617 Squadron or other units, without bomb bay doors, for trials or training, some on bombing operations or SOE (Special Operations Executive) drops.
A further 2 were lost on operations after the Dams Raid and 2 more destroyed in training crashes.
8 were used in August 1943 for trials with forward rotating Upkeep mines at the Ashley Walk bombing range in the New Forrest near to Fordingbridge. The idea was that a sea launched Upkeep mine could roll up the beach and penetrate coastal defences and also potentially be used to attack strategic canals. Though the trials were successful the idea was taken no further. During the trial one of the Lancasters was caught in the slipstream of others in close formation and crashed.
A single Lancaster was used to dispose of a single Upkeep in April 1945 and 3 of the Lancasters were used on Operation Guzzle in August to December 1946 for disposing of the remaining 37 live upkeep mines in the Atlantic Ocean about 280 miles west of Glasgow.
All the remaining 11 were all unceremoniously scrapped post war.
- Minor corrections provided by Dr Robert Owen: 617 Archivist
- Details of 10 initial standard Avro Lancasters added and additional images
- Minor updates
Ashley Walk Bombing Range
Lancaster ED915 / AZ-Q Nose Art
For a minute by minute account of the Dambuster raid see my blog https://pleszak.blog/2022/05/16/operation-chastise-the-dambusters/
My other Dambuster / Lancaster related blogs:
Operation Chastise – The Dambusters a minute-by-minute account
THE HIGH PEAK DAMBUSTER
The day a Lincoln bombed a Lancaster, and a Meteor shot a Meteor shooting a Lincoln
Milk run over the Eder Dam
Lancaster bombers operated by the Soviet Air Force in WW2
From Manchester to Lincoln via Lancaster – An aviation aristocracy family tree
Testing and training for the Dambuster Raids – what’s left to see?
All the Dambuster Dams
26 thoughts on “What happened to the Lancasters used on the Dambuster Raid?”
Excellent piece of research, presented in an easy to read format!
I’m a great niece of F/O Victor Folkersen, Navigator. He, his crew, and an instructor died on a night training flight in Lancaster W4929, on Sept 5/43, out of RAF Winthorpe while with 1661 HCU. That Lancaster was one of the 10 borrowed ones to start the Dambusters training. I see in your chart, you are missing it’s code. It was coded AJ-J while with 617, and then at the time of the crash it was GP-R.
Excellent article on the fate of the modified Lancasters. Well done. Was it always intended that 19 were to be used on the Dams’s Raid? Or, was it 19 because some aircraft were unserviceable and 19 was the maximum available? I know one aircraft was damaged during an Upkeep trial just before the raid and could not be repaired in time for the raid itself. Perhaps the number was determined by how many crews were available, not availability of machines?
My understanding was that originally there were to be 30 Lancasters converted but this was reduced to 23. This was for two flights of 10 aircraft and three for trials. Initially there were 22 crews including Gibson, two were removed from the squadron and only one replaced and on the night of the raid two crews were stood down possibly due to illness but it has been said Gibson didn’t think they were up to it which left the 19 crews used in total. One of the squadron Lancasters was damaged at Reculver so bad it couldn’t be used on the night (AJ-X) and the spare AJ-Z was used by Maudslay instead. Also, AJ-Q had a problem on startup and couldn’t be used but fortunately AJ-T had finished its trials and had been flown up to Scampton as a spare and was used on the raid by McCarthy.
Thanks for such a prompt and comprehensive reply. So it was crew availability/suitability which determined the number used on the raid. I had thought that maybe 20 were planned and went to 19 because of damage at Reculver but I now know that there were reserve aircraft to compensate for that.
My interest in Chastise has been rekindled after attending the Victoria Taylor’s virtual lecture hosted by the RAF Museum in the autumn, plus the recent three parter by Dan Snow on Channel 5. Thanks again.
I saw both Victoria’s lecture and The Dan Snow programme, which were both good though there were a few (in my opinion) errors in Dan’s. I’m currently writing about one of the Dambusters who came from near where I live in the Peak District. If you are around Manchester when the Covid restrictions are over I will be doing some talks on it.
Thanks. Please let me know when you are giving a lecture and I will see if I can attend (maybe combine it with a visit to the Peak District). Dan Snow’s programme was rather sensationalised to have broader appeal. Victoria’s lecture was interesting and entertaining but in a learned way so had more gravitas.
Another question. During the Upkeep trials which took place in daylight, what method was used to achieve the correct height above the water? Altimeters would have been unsuitable for the same reason as they could not be used at night. Would the converging searchlights (used at night) have been visible on the surface of the water during the day?
They had real problems using the spotlights during the day. They had their final flying training dropping concrete filled Up at Reculver from 11 -13 May but had trouble judging their height. Munro and Maudslay dropped theirs too low and both badly damaged their Lancasters. Munro’s (AJ-W) was just about repaired in time, but Maudslay’s (AJ-X) was so badly damaged that he had to use the spare (AJ-Z) for the raid itself. If you send me your email, twitter, or FB id I’ll send some videos of both accidents. – Frank
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Please also let me know when you are giving your lea tires, although I realise nothing will happen for several months because of Covid.
Hello. It is sometime since we were last in touch. I hope you are well. I received an email from someone with questions about the Dambusters raid. He got my email address from one of my posts I made to you on a similar subject. He has questions about crash locations. He lives in the Netherlands and has planned a camper van trip to Germany to the places. Could I send you his email address in case you can help him? I hope you can. Thanks. David
Yes please do. I’d be happy to respond. – Frank
Thanks for such a fantastically quick and helpful response! Rather than provide the email address via this reply, which I assume will be posted on the board, I think that for privacy purposes it would be better to send the address to an email address rather than this method. If you agree, please send me an email address to which I can reply. Of course, if you prefer to conduct communication via the board, I can ask the requestor if he will let me do this. In fact, he might be quite pleased to have something on the board as this might attract input from others.Thanks again!
Hi again. The person asking about the crash sites is happy for me to provide you with his email address via this forum. His name is Erik and email address is Jellema104@hotmail.com
For anyone else reading this post, Erik wants information on crash locations of Lancasters lost on the Dambusters raid. He wants to visit them on a road trip. I am sure he would like to hear from anyone with information.
Thanks for your help.
Thanks. I sent you a reply but did not click on notifying me of new comments. I would like to try to attend one of your lectures so please let me know when these are to be delivered.