Obituaries of some other Dambusters

Links to obituaries of people involved in the Dams Raid which can be found online are shown on the Dambusters weblog. This page contains some older obituary material published in the press which is not available online.

Basil Feneron
Harold (Mick) Martin
David Shannon
Paul Brickhill

The Times
Tuesday 23 November 1993
Basil Feneron

Basil Feneron, who as a flight engineer took part in the Dambusters raid of 1943, died on November 18 at his home in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, aged 73. He was born in 1920.

BASIL FENERON, who had joined the RAF in 1940, flew in the Lancaster bomber AJ-F ''F Freddy'' which attacked the Sorpe dam in the small hours of May 17, 1943. The third of the targets on 617 squadron's list, the Sorpe was almost completely obscured by mist by the time ''F Freddy'', piloted by the Canadian flight sergeant Ken Brown, with Feneron operating the throttles, dived down into the narrow valley to make its bombing run.

Brown made eight attempts, during each of which Feneron had to slam on full throttle to get the aircraft out of the valley in one piece. But on none of them could the target be seen clearly enough to warrant releasing one of Dr Barnes Wallis's precious bouncing bombs, so on a ninth run ''F Freddy'' dropped a cluster of incendiaries on a wood by the side of the dam. This burnt beautifully, momentarily dispersing the mist and enabling the dam to be seen clearly.

On the tenth run the bomb was released, scoring a direct hit. But though the Sorpe was badly damaged it was not breached, as the Mohne and Eder dams had been, earlier in the night.

Feneron, who, like his skipper was also a flight sergeant, then played his part in nursing the Lancaster's four Rolls-Royce Merlin engines on the perilous flight home at low level, with dawn already threatening to illuminate the scene and the enemy's night fighters hungry for targets. Unscathed, ''F Freddy'' touched down on the grass runway of its base at Scampton, Lincolnshire, at 0533 hours, one of the last of the raiders to return.

Feneron flew on 12 more raids with 617, which, after the Ruhr dams raid, was retained by ''Bomber'' Harris as a precision bombing squadron. Among the missions in which Feneron took part was a raid on Italian power stations which were at such extreme range that the aircraft had to fly on to airfields in North Africa. In January 1944 he was commissioned and became an instructor.

He leaves his widow, Jean, and two children.

Copyright 1993 Times Newspapers Limited


The Times
Friday 4 November 1988
Air Marshal Sir Harold Martin
Low flying expert behind the Dambuster raid; Obituary

Air Marshal Sir Harold (Micky) Martin, KCB, DSO and Bar, DFC and two Bars, AFC, the RAF's greatest wartime exponent of low level bombing, died yesterday at the age of 70.

Though his name is less familiar to the public than those of men like Guy Gibson and Leonard Cheshire, to those who flew with him Micky Martin was the exemplar of the low-flying skills which were so daringly demonstrated in the famous Dambuster raid of May 1943.

Martin possessed in abundance those qualities which are the hallmark of the best fighting troops. He was swashbuckling and brave, with scant respect for authority, but with a compelling desire to be at grips with the enemy. But his bravery had nothing about it of bravado. He was highly professional and knew that gallantry was of no avail without skill and tactical sense. As a flight, and, later, squadron commander, his insistence upon rigorous flying standards enabled many young pilots to stay alive who might otherwise have died.

Martin was one of the most important members of the 617 Squadron team which Gibson assembled especially for the Dambuster raid. Born in Sydney on February 27, 1918, he had been pronounced unfit to fly in Australia, because of asthma, but he worked his passage to England, where he joined the RAF in 1940.

As a pilot in the days of Bomber Command's early attempts to hit targets and avoid getting shot down, he quickly appreciated the effectiveness of low flying as a method of evading enemy fighters, and he applied himself with relentless concentration to mastering the skills required.

To fly with Martin aircrew needed nerves of steel. On one occasion his Hampden bomber returned to base with a length of power line wrapped round one of its wings. When he went on to Lancasters his bomb aimers soon became used to the sight of foliage disconcertingly close beneath their noses.

As a result, by the time the Ruhr dams raid was mooted early in 1943, Martin was one of the most experienced 'on-the-deck' pilots in the RAF. He was therefore a natural choice to help in training for an operation which meant flying all the way to the target at 150 feet, and bombing from exactly 60ft to ensure that the dambusting weapon, the revolutionary 'bouncing bomb', devised by Barnes Wallis, could clear the anti-mine nets and hit the dams at the right angle.

In the weeks leading up to the raid 617's Lancasters were out night after night, roaring over the countryside at ever lower and lower level, stampeding the flocks in the fields, and causing floods of angry letters to pour into RAF Scampton.

In his beloved 'P for Popsie', Martin was always at hand, to pass on invaluable advice over the intercom to the squadron's pilots as they got used to hair-raising manoeuvres, dodging pylons, treetops and power lines in the darkness. On a notable occasion, having returned to base with portions of a tree lodged in his aircraft's anatomy, one pilot observed shakenly to Martin: 'Christ, this is bloody dangerous'.

On the evening of May 15, after flying 2,000 hours of practice sorties which had involved the dropping of 2,500 practice bombs, the raid was ready to go. Eighteen Lancasters rolled out onto the runways at Scampton, the belly of each bulging with the secret weapon which was to test the meticulously thought-out defences of three of the Ruhr's great dams, the Mohne, the Eder and the Sorpe.

To attack a heavily defended target at low level, flying at a fixed speed, and showing the spotlight altimeter beams which were necessary to guarantee a consistent height was a formidable proposition, and the gunners in the Mohne's flak towers were soon busy. Gibson went in first and delivered his bomb satisfactorily. His second-in-command, Hopgood, was shot down during his approach, and his bomb burst harmlessly. Then it was Martin's turn; coming in hard and low he bombed with pinpoint accuracy.

But the dam still held, and as successive aircraft bombed, Gibson and Martin flew up and down the Mohne lake, drawing the German fire and spraying the flak towers with bursts from their own turrets.

At last, peering through the mist which had settled over the scene, they were aware that the parapet had crumbled, and soon a torrent of water began to pour through an ever widening breach. The code word for the dam's destruction Nigger was flashed back to the Group Operations Room at Grantham, where Barnes Wallis, until then regarded with some suspicion as men of genius often are, heard it with delighted relief.

Though the raid, which also breached the Eder dam and damaged the Sorpe, causing widespread destruction, did not deal the mortal blow to the Ruhr's power and water supplies that had been intended, it nevertheless caught the public imagination for its combination of scientific planning and cool courage, and has passed into Royal Air Force mythology.

Martin remained with 617 for a year after the dams raid, becoming acting commanding officer and passing on his knowledge to a succession of pilots who joined the Squadron. Leonard Cheshire, one of 617's most successful commanding officers and a low level expert himself at the time he took over from Martin, has attested: 'Much of what I learned about operational low flying I owed to Mick'.

After a raid on the Antheor viaduct in the South of France, during which his bomb aimer was hit by flak and killed, as he was making the approach, Martin was rested from operations for a while. But he was impatient to get back, and wangled his way onto 100 Group of night intruding Mosquitoes, where his skills were again put to good use.

Before the war was out he had added another Bar to his DFC.

But peacetime did not mean an end of the medals for Martin. On April 30 1947, piloting a Mosquito with Squadron Leader E. B. Sismore as navigator he set up a record for the flight from London to Cape Town, covering the 6,717 miles in 21hr 31 min, at an average speed of 310mph. This feat gained him an Air Force Cross, and was not in fact surpassed until the jet age, when a Canberra bomber set a new mark.

Though granted a permanent commission only in 1945, Martin had an immensely successful post-war career, and he rose to high rank. He commanded 2nd Allied Tactical Air Force and RAF Germany from 1967 to 1970, and retired in 1971 after a year on the Air Force Board as Air Member for Personnel.

Martin leaves his widow, Wendy, and two daughters.

Copyright 1988 Times Newspapers Limited


The Times
Friday 16 April 1993
David Shannon

David Shannon, DSO, DFC, who flew on the celebrated Dambuster raid of May 1943, died at his home in Sydenham, South London, on April 8 aged 70. He was born at St Umley, Park, South Australia, on May 27, 1922.

A YOUTHFUL figure who could have passed as a 16 year-old, Flight-Lieutenant David Shannon was already a veteran bomber pilot by the time Guy Gibson chose him to join the newly-formed 617 squadron in the spring of 1943. Gibson himself did not know at that stage what the target for the special unit was to be. Secrecy surrounding the raid and its objectives was among the best of the war. Not until she saw his picture in the paper after it was all over, did Gibson's own wife know what he had been up to, and that two of the great Ruhr dams had been destroyed by a lone squadron in a single night. He had told her he was ''resting'' in a training squadron, after a hectic period on operations.

Shannon had already served with Gibson, who knew a lot about this 20-year old Australian's superb qualities as a pilot. These were put to the proof during the raid itself when Shannon's was the first Lancaster to attack the second and largest of the Ruhr dams, the Eder, after the Mohne had already been breached.

This was the most difficult of the squadron's objectives. The Eder dam lay in a fold of hills which meant that the approach over water at 60ft was only possible after the steepest and most hair-raising of dives. To add to the hazard, a thick fog rolled over the surface of the lake. It was a test not only of skill but of heart. Five times Shannon attempted to claw his way down to the lake only to find himself flying too fast and too high at the crucial moment when the ''bouncing bomb'' devised by Dr Barnes Wallis should have been released, at a precise speed and height.

Shannon circled again to take stock of the situation while Maudslay, another of 617's pilots, had a go. He dropped his bomb but failed to get out of the valley afterwards and crashed into the hillside, killing himself and his crew. Steeling himself again, Shannon made a sixth and then a seventh approach and this time placed his bomb exactly where it should have been, snug against the dam wall, underwater. Gibson's formation had only one bomb left, carried in the Lancaster flown by Les Knight, another young Australian. After Knight, too, had made two failed attempts Shannon advised him over the radio: ''Come in down moon and dive for the point, Les''. Taking this cue Knight dropped his bomb perfectly. Suddenly the wall of the dam cracked; 212 million tons of water went racing down the valley at 30ft a second. The pilots, circling above in awed fascination, watched as a car, racing to get clear, was engulfed by the surge.

David Shannon was the son of an Australian farmer and MP. After leaving school he worked in insurance before joining the Royal Australian Air Force in 1941. He then came to Britain where he joined Guy Gibson's 106 squadron as his first operational posting. After flying on 26 raids he won his first DFC.

When Gibson, then expecting a rest from bombing operations after flying 173 missions, was told to form a new squadron at Scampton, Lincolnshire, for ''something special'', he had no hesitation in taking Shannon with him. In a squadron strong on glamour which started at the top with the dashing Gibson Shannon stood out. Tall, slim and elegant, he was a romantic figure. Very soon he added to this image by falling in love with one of the station's prettiest WAAFs, Anne Fowler. But he could be a venomed-tongued leader, ruthless in his chastisement of professional shortcomings among his aircrew.

Weeks of low level training now followed as 617 squadron accustomed themselves to flying at lower level than any squadron had done before. Finally, when, on the evening of May 16, 1943, Anne Fowler noticed that the crews for that day's ''night flying programme'' were being served with eggs the tell-tale sign of an ''op'' she realised that a raid was on.

Shannon flew with Gibson in the first of three formations which totalled 19 aircraft. Its first aim was to attack the Mohne Dam which it successfully breached, with three of its bombs as yet unexpended. When the codeword ''Nigger'' a tribute to Gibson's black labrador which had been killed by a car the night before had been flashed back to Grantham to signify the success of this first objective, Gibson flew on with Shannon and his remaining crews to attack the Eder. After only two bombs the dam wall broke open and the codeword ''Dinghy'' told headquarters that the second main objective had been achieved. Gibson and Shannon now turned for home leaving a third dam, the Sorpe, to be damaged by the mobile reserve commanded by 617's big American, Joe McCarthy. It was an astonishing success for such a small force. But the price was high: 56 men missing out of the 133 who had flown out on that night.

Back on the ground, breakfast for the survivors soon turned into a very alcoholic party which stretched on through lunch, dinner and beyond. At some point Shannon proposed to Anne and was accepted but only after she had insisted he get rid of the magnificent moustache he had grown to make himself look older.

Shannon was awarded the DSO for his part in the raid. His medal was presented to him by the King on his 21st birthday, the monarch complimenting him on how ''well preserved'' he was for his age.

Gibson was rested from operations at that point, but for Shannon it was the beginning of a long association with 617, under Gibson's successors: George Holden, ''Micky'' Martin and finally Leonard Cheshire. Shannon flew on 617's toughest assignments and most of them were very tough. ''Bomber'' Harris had decided to use 617 as a ''sniper'' squadron, tackling low-level assignments other squadrons would have found impossible. Among these were the costly sorties to try to breach the strategically important Dortmund-Ems canal. From one of these raids only three out of eight aircraft returned.

When Leonard Cheshire took over 617 and perfected low-level marking techniques, Shannon became one of his most trusted pilots. He took part in the accurate surgical operations against the Gnome-Rhone factory at Limoges and the Juvisy marshalling yards. After D-Day he helped Cheshire mark for the devastating raids on the German E-boat pens. These used another Barnes Wallis invention, the 12,000lb Tallboy ''earthquake'' bomb, which created tidal waves in the pens, pulverising the E-boats and eliminating a dangerous threat to Allied shipping supplying the Normandy beachhead.

One operation Shannon was not sorry he could not participate in was Cheshire's humanitarian scheme to drop food parcels to PoWs in Stalag Luft III deep inside Germany on Christmas Day 1943. Cheshire's idea was that he, Martin and Shannon should sneak in over the camp, drop the parcels and nip out again over the Baltic before the flak defences woke up. Shannon and Martin were even less cheerful about the notion when Cheshire told them that the drop would take place in daylight and that the guns would be taken out of the aircraft to enable them to carry more food parcels. It was a recipe for suicide and Cheshire's two flight commanders hinted as much to their optimistic leader. Luckily for them the plan was utterly vetoed at a higher level. It was thought a certainty that the PoWs would be mown down by German guards as they rushed out to pick up the parcels since their captors would assume it was an arms drop. A crestfallen Cheshire simply could not understand Shannon's gasp of relief when this decision was announced.

Shannon ended his war with two DSOs and two DFCs. Thereafter he had a number of jobs: he worked in oil in Colombia and Kenya and farmed in Suffolk. He had been working on preparations for the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Dambuster raid, in May. He was senior member of the committee of the 617 Squadron Association.

His first wife predeceased him and he is survived by his second wife, Eyke, and by a daughter of his first marriage.

Copyright 1993 Times Newspapers Limited


The Guardian
April 1991
Inescapable fears of the wartime hero:
Obituary of Paul Brickhill

PAUL Brickhill was an Australian whose tales of wartime heroics in Europe such as The Great Escape and The Dam Busters became all-time best- sellers. Born in Melbourne, Brickhill's first job was as a journalist with the Sydney Sun. However, when war broke out in 1939, he joined up with the Royal Australian Air Force, was sent to Canada to train as a pilot and from there to England to join a fighter squadron. After some months with Fighter Command his squadron was sent to North Africa. The squadron pushed west with the Desert Air Force into Tunisia but Brickhill was shot down in March 1943 and captured while attacking German defences along the Mareth Line.

In prison camp in Germany, his greatest trial was acute boredom. But he waged a two- pronged offensive against it: by helping organise escape attempts and by collecting stories from his fellow prisoners about their more hair-raising exploits. In 1944 those two activities came together when Brickhill helped organise the famous mass escape from Stalag Luft III, in the aftermath of which 50 recaptured prisoners were executed.

After the war Brickhill resumed his career as a journalist, first in Europe, covering among other things the Nuremberg trials, then to New York and back to Sydney in 1948.

By then he had already published Escape To Danger (1946, with Conrad Norton) based on his prison-camp stories. It was suggested that one of them - about the mass escape - might merit a book of its own. The Great Escape was published in 1951, and later the same year The Dam Busters, the story of 617 Squadron and its various pinpoint bombing raids. Apart from an anthology of PoW stories, Escape Or Die (1952), Brickhill's other main work was Reach For The Sky (1954), the story of Douglas Bader.

If his books now seem somewhat old-fashioned, they nevertheless remain concisely written, gripping narratives, and form a body of work that helped define some of the major sub- genres (PoWs, The Few, Bomber Command) of the popular historiography of the second world war. Revisionists might chip away at this solid if popular myth but Paul Brickhill helped pour the concrete. John Ellis

David Langsam writes: For millions growing up in the fifties and sixties, Paul Brickhill's three great books were the tales of heroic derring do. Under his spell, this writer played truant to meet Douglas Bader and later skipped classes to gain a pilot's licence.

But Brickhill's own story was not so romantic. After the massive success of his books and their films, he retired to an apartment overlooking Sydney Harbour, where he was a virtual recluse sitting in his wing-back, clutching a glass of diet cola and smoking cartons of cigarettes, gazing out of the window. His books, translated into scores of languages, lined a small bookcase.

He had old friends and his family and went for walks, but he had shied away from the glare of publicity, even in the fifties when his fashion-model wife Margot Slater (from whom he later parted) worked for Norman Hartnell. When I asked to interview him he said it was only my Tiger Moth endorsement that allowed me through the door.

Brickhill was a broken man who had passed his time in personal turmoil, but with great dignity. He told me about his breakdown: after the war, like many others, he had problems readjusting. Finding the courage to climb on to a bus was hard - a far cry from dusting himself off after his parachute dragged him through a minefield in Tunisia.

In 1956, suffering from high blood pressure in Florence, he developed what he called 'the horrors', which he attributed to medicationwith Reserpine. Rising from his chair, his face red, his knuckles white, and steadying himself, he said, 'I'd have to go to the doctor for an intravenous injection of the stuff every second day just to hang on. For the next two years I couldn't get myself organised and when I began to come out of it, I discovered that I had entirely lost my easy conscience as a writer. For 25 years I couldn't even write a simple letter. Sometimes I would have a clear day . . . but to structure a book and get down to it - impossible.'

He sat by the window, a tired man, no words to say. The war was long forgotten and there were no more stories to tell.

In 1982 he had a new book on the way. All the research done and 80 per cent written, he said. Inspired by a poem in a quasi- Christian educational text, he was confident that he would find a publisher for his first major work in 30 years. It was not to be. We chatted about writing and flying and the interview came to an end.

With a twitch of his moustache and a shake of his left index finger he bade farewell in best RAAF tradition: 'Now mind, no line shooting, all right?' - and went back to his chair by the window.

Paul Chester Jerome Brickhill, born December 20, 1916; died April 23, 1991.

Copyright 1991 Guardian Newspapers