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One year since the last living Dumpster: George Johnny Johnson celebrates his birthday


The last surviving member of the famous Dambusters raid celebrated his 100th birthday today.

Squadron Leader George ‘Johnny’ Johnson was a bomb target during the very dangerous Operation Chastise in 1943.

Johnson was only 22 years old when, as part of the RAF’s 617th Squadron, he participated in the bombing raid on the levees in the Ruhr Valley in the industrial heart of Germany with boomerangs.

The attacks released thousands of tons of water into areas that were crucial to the German war effort.

Johnson’s job was to target Surbie Dam in the raid, and he demanded nine mock rounds to make sure he reached his target.

History has recorded this operation as among the most successful air attacks of World War II.

Mr Johnson, who was born in the village of Hamringham, near Horncastle, Lincolnshire, in 1921, now lives in a nursing home in Bristol.

The last surviving member of the famous Dambusters raid celebrated his 100th birthday today. Squadron Leader George ‘Johnny’ Johnson was a bomb target during Operation Chastise in 1943. Above: He was awarded the MBE Medal by the Queen in 2017 after a long-running campaign backed by TV presenter Carol Vorderman

Johnson was only 23 years old when, as part of the RAF's 617th Squadron, he participated in the bombing raid on the levees in the Ruhr Valley in the industrial heart of Germany with boomerangs.  Above: Mr. Johnson (left in the foreground), with the crew of a Lancaster Bomber in 1943

Johnson was only 23 years old when, as part of the RAF’s 617th Squadron, he participated in the bombing raid on the levees in the Ruhr Valley in the industrial heart of Germany with boomerangs. Above: Mr. Johnson (left in the foreground), with the crew of a Lancaster Bomber in 1943

‘Everyone on the IBCC team wishes Johnny the most magical birthday,’ Nikki van der Drift, CEO of Lincoln’s International Bomber Command Center, told Lincolnshire Live.

“His support over the years with talks, autographs and the sale of his book gave a wonderful boost to the project, a boost that will never be forgotten.”

Johnson joined the RAF in June 1940, just over a year after the start of World War II.

Before participating in the Dambusters raid, he met his wife, Gwynn, who died in 2005.

Johnson’s first assignment was in August 1942, and in November of that year, he completed training to be a bomb target.

He completed a tour with the 97th Squadron and then transferred to the 617th Squadron for the highly classified Operation Chastise, which took place on the night of May 16-17, 1943.

Relying on carefully selected crews from Britain, the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, the squadron’s mission was to destroy several dams in Germany’s Ruhr Valley that had provided a vital source of energy for the country’s industrial region.

The boomerang itself was developed by aircraft engineer Barnes Wallis.

The attacks released thousands of tons of water into areas that were crucial to the German war effort.  Johnson's job was to target Surbie Dam in the raid, and he demanded a mock nine runs to make sure he reached his target.  Above: Damage to the Edir Dam

The attacks released thousands of tons of water into areas that were crucial to the German war effort. Johnson’s job was to target Surbie Dam in the raid, and he demanded a mock nine runs to make sure he reached his target. Above: Damage to the Edir Dam

What made it so dangerous was that, to succeed, the Dambusters would have had to fly 60 feet, so the specially-conditioned mines they were carrying — codenamed Upkeep — would bounce off the water before hitting dam walls and sinking 30 feet. .

The mines then explode, causing the dam walls to break through and release millions of tons of water into the valleys below.

Dambusters were trained by flying over Derwent Reservoir and a Dam in the Lake District.

On the night of May 16, 1943, 19 Lancaster bombers commanded by Wing Commander Guy Gibson set out for Germany with the goal of destroying the Mohn, Eder and Surby dams.

The bombs they were carrying weighed four tons each.

Their mission was hailed with success after two dams, Idir and Muni, were breached, releasing 300 million tons of water.

With Surbie Dam, it was decided because of the way it was built that it should be targeted directly, and not with bouncing bombs.

Mr Johnson, who was born in the village of Hamringham, near Horncastle, Lincolnshire, in 1921, now lives in a nursing home in Bristol.

Mr Johnson, who was born in the village of Hamringham, near Horncastle, Lincolnshire, in 1921, now lives in a nursing home in Bristol

Johnson’s team was not given time to train but still had to hit the dam wall. To the annoyance of his crew, he insisted that they fly over the dam nine times before dropping the bomb on the tenth.

The team hit the dam, but it wasn’t breached. However, the water released by the breaching dams destroyed 92 Nazi factories and destroyed another 12.

In all, 133 Allied crews took part – 90 from the RAF, 29 from the Royal Canadian Air Force, 12 from the Royal Australian Air Force, and two from the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

A total of 53 soldiers were killed and three others captured.

The squadron’s bravery earned him 33 medals, including the Victoria Cross for Wing Commander Gibson.

He was also credited with providing a major boost to troop morale, and in 1955 led to The Dam Busters starring Sir Michael Redgrave.

After the assignment, Johnson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal at Buckingham Palace.

He was awarded the MBE by the Queen in 2017 after a long-running campaign backed by TV presenter Carol Vorderman.

Johnson remained in the RAF until 1962 and had risen to the rank of squadron commander by the time of his retirement.

Johnson became an elementary school teacher and had three children with his wife.

The Dambusters: How Bouncers – and the Incredible Flying of RAF Pilots – Flooded the Ruhr Valley and Dealt a Decisive Blow to the Nazi War Machine

On May 16, 1943, 19 Lancaster bomber crews gathered at a remote RAF station in Lincolnshire for an unusually daring mission – a night raid on three heavily defended dams deep in Germany’s industrial heartland.

The dams were heavily fortified and needed an innovative bomb – bouncing on the water over torpedo nets and sank before exploding.

To succeed, the raiders would have to fly across occupied Europe under heavy fire and then drop their bombs with astonishing accuracy from a mere 60 feet above water.

The Mohn and Eder dams in the industrial heart of Germany were attacked and breached by mines dropped from specially modified Lancaster 617th Squadron.

Surbi Dam was also attacked by two planes and was damaged.

A reconnaissance image of the Edir Dam taken two months after the famous Dambusters raid shows a 96-foot hole in the dam.

A reconnaissance image of the Edir Dam taken two months after the famous Dambusters raid shows a 96-foot hole in the dam.

The fourth dam, Ennebeh, was reported to have been attacked by a single aircraft (O-Orange), but without damage.

Up to 1,600 people were killed by the floodwaters, and eight of the 19 planes failed to return with the loss of 53 aircrews and 3 POWs.

Wing Commander Jay Gibson, 617th Sqn Commanding Officer, was honored on the VC for his role in commanding the assault.

The raid, orchestrated by Jay Gibson and the RAF’s 617th ‘Dumpster’ squadron, was considered a major victory for the British, and Wing Commander Gibson is known as one of the war’s most respected heroes.

Their success was immortalized in the classic 1955 film The Dambusters, and its brilliant tune and spirited screenplay evoke the best of British daring.



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