Alphen, Netherlands, 7 January. Yesterday I visited the graves of Wing Commander Guy Gibson and Squadron Leader Jim Warwick in Steenbergen not far from my home. Gibson was a boyhood hero of mine. In May 1943 he led the famous Dambusters raid by 617 Squadron which breached the Eder and Mohne dams in western Germany using bouncing bombs that skipped across the reservoirs like pebbles. Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross for Operation Chastise, Britain's highest award for gallantry.
He was killed with with his Navigator Warwick in a two-engined RAF Mosquito fighter-bomber on 19 September, 1944 acting as Master Bomber for a heavy bombing mission. There is some controversy about how this ace pilot with 170 missions to his name met his end. One view is that unfamiliar with the Mosquito Gibson may have simply run out of fuel, although that seems unlikely. Another view is he was shot down by a German Me262 jet fighter but there is little evidence a Luftwaffe jet was over Steenbergen that night.
Most likely is that Gibson and Warwick were shot down be friendly-fire. The rear-gunner of a Lancaster bomber returning from a mission over Rheydt near Monchengladbach reported seeing a twin-engined Dornier behind and below his Lanc at about the same time and place as Gibson's Mosquito went down and fired some six hundred rounds at the target which then disappeared. Understandably twitchy about German night fighters friendly-fire was not uncommon given the losses RAF Bomber Command were still suffering at the hands of the Luftwaffe in late 1944.
The Mosquito seems to have gone into a vertical dive because at the crash-site the plane buried itself some 9m/9.5 yards into very heavy Brabant clay. When the remains were recovered by the Dutch people they thought at first only one airman was in the wreckage so badly mangled were the remains. However, the discovery of a third hand and socks with the name Gibson embroidered on them told another story.
Today, Gibson and Warwick rest in a peaceful cemetery on the edge of Steenbergen. As ever, the Dutch people treat the graves with the utmost respect, solemnity and dignity. It is the Dutch way. At the site of the crash there are today three streets; Gibsonstraat, Warwickstraat and Mosquitostraat with a union flag made out in tiles at the exact point of impact.
It is now over seventy years since Gibson and the 125,000 other members of RAF Bomber Command lost their lives in the struggle to free the whole of Europe from Nazism, including Germany. The price was high and many innocent civilians died because of the British and American bombing but such was the scourge of Nazism it had to be eradicated...and must never return in whatever form.
Gibson's last recorded words over the radio were, "OK. Fine. I am going home". Thank you, Gentlemen.
Lest We Forget!