A PILOT from Leamington and his crew who lost their lives in the famous ‘Dambusters’ mission are to be honoured with a memorial where their plane came down.
Squadron Leader Henry Maudslay was a member of the RAF’s 617 Squadron who flew in Operation Chastise in 1943 to blow up dams in the industrial Ruhr valley, which became immortalised as the Dambuster raid when the targets were destroyed using the bouncing bomb devised by Barnes Wallis.
During the raid on May 16, Henry’s Lancaster aircraft was damaged and later brought down by anti-aircraft fire. Henry was just 21-years-old, and his six-strong crew were among 53 airmen who died in the raid.
A memorial will be unveiled at Emmerich am Rhein, on the German Dutch border, on Friday (May 17) – the anniversary of when the bomber, code name AJ-Z, ED937/G, was shot down in the early hours of the morning.
AJ-Z had attacked The Eder Dam without success and was believed to have been severely damaged when a mine exploded on top of the dam directly underneath the Lancaster.
In the famous film, The Dam Busters, AJ-Z was depicted as crashing into a hillside, but in reality Henry managed to guide the damaged plane back as far as the Dutch border.
But it then strayed off course and flew over a heavily fortified oil installation, and was brought down by enemy fire. It crashed in a farmer’s field killing all aboard – five Englishmen and two Canadians.
German gun carrier Johannes Doerwald, then just 16-years-old, was credited with the shooting down of AJ-Z. Although now in his 90s, Herr Doerwald will be attending the ceremony to pay his respects and meet relatives of the crew.
The memorial is down to the efforts of German war historian Marcel Hahn, with help from British aviation enthusiast Mark Welch, who have both long been fascinated by the fate of AJ-Z.
The pair met during another Dambuster memorial unveiling a few years ago where they discovered their common interest in AJ-Z and their shared desire to see a memorial at the site of the Lancaster’s crash.
Marcel spent hours in the field to find out where exactly the aircraft had crashed. He identified many relics now in museums.
Marcel said: “These parts are relics against forgetting. Each piece is a mini memorial and a talking point when people see it so that in itself keeps the memory the story alive of these brave young men.”
Of the seven planes shot down on land – one other was lost at sea – only AJ-Z is without a memorial.
Mark said: “I have been interested in the dams raid by 617 Squadron since reading Paul Brickhills book when I was 12, a long time ago!
“The sheer bravery and skill of the crews required to breach the dams is almost incomprehensible. To fly a heavy four engined bomber, in the dark, at 60 feet whilst being shot at amounts almost to a suicide mission.
“Whilst losses were high, the fact that the objectives of the raid were largely achieved using at the time, the heaviest bomb ever carried by an aircraft which had to then be spun to skip across water is for me, simply mind blowing.”
Those set to attend the memorial unveiling will include family members of the crew together with representatives of RAF and 617 Squadron.
A blue plaque can be seen on the Vicarage Road birthplace of Henry Maudslay in Lillington.