Kiwi 'Dambuster' goes to UK for raid anniversary

01:43, Jan 31 2009

New Zealander Les Munro - the last surviving pilot from the famous British "Dambusters" bombing raid - will be among a few invited guests at today's celebration to mark the 65th anniversary of the raid.

Mr Munro, 89, of Tauranga, travelled from New Zealand to Englan attend the anniversary celebrations.

His was one of only 11 Lancasters that returned from the raid in May 1943.

His Lancaster, W-Willie, was damaged by flak over Holland and turned back to England still carrying its bouncing bomb, but the New Zealander went on to win the DSO and DFC and reach the rank of squadron leader.

"It's a great feeling to be able to come back and meet comrades from that time," he said.

"It's also been a great honour to engage in the 60th anniversary of the activities.


"It was a proud moment for me to be able to meet the Queen and I was happy to be able to show her photographs of her father greeting me in 1943."

Only a small group of people will be invited to England's Derwent Dam - where 617 Squadron practised before the raid - to watch the flypast after an estimated crowd of 85,000 caused chaos on the 50th anniversary.

The squadron was formed in 1943 after warplane designer Barnes Wallis developed a bouncing bomb, designed to spin backwards at 500 revolutions per minute, skipping over torpedo nets, before detonating against the dam face.

To be effective, the bomb had to be dropped from close range and at very low altitude, and the airmen mounted angled spotlights so they could see the beams intersect on the water surface when they were at the precise height.

The bombers - each with a crew of seven men - made a low-level attack on the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams in the Ruhr Valley, which supplied Germany's industrial production.

The raid, in full moonlight, came at a high cost as 53 aircrew were killed and another three were taken prisoner. One other New Zealander flew on the dams raid.

West Coaster Len Chambers, DFC, was wireless operator on Australian Micky Martin's Lancaster. He died in Westport in 1985.

Academy award-winning director Peter Jackson has said he is producing a $66 million remake of the classic 1954 movie The Dam Busters.

He has done test shots in New Zealand of a Lancaster bomber, is building 10 replicas, and has met RAF veterans - including Mr Munro - from the raid.