Dambusters hero's rare notes on RAF's most famous mission

‘Bomb dropped, wizard!’: Dambusters hero’s rare notes written coolly while his Lancaster bomber was flying at 60ft under heavy Nazi fire give gripping insight into RAF’s most famous mission

  • Rare navigation sheets were filled in by Sergeant Vivian Nicholson in 1943
  • Some 78 years after the Dambusters raid the notes have now come to light
  • Sergeant Nicholson’s aircraft sent a final bomb down on the Mohne Dam 

Rare navigation sheets which provide a gripping blow-by-blow account of the Dambusters raid in World War Two have come to light 78 years after the RAF’s most famous mission.

They were filled in by Sergeant Vivian Nicholson who was a navigator on one of the 19 Lancaster bombers that took part in Operation Chastise on May 16, 1943.

His aircraft, piloted by Flight Sergeant David Maltby, finished the job off after a separate bouncing bomb weakened the wall of the Mohne Dam in Germany.

As well as jotting down technical information such as wind speeds and directions, Sgt Nicholson used short phrases to offer a ‘real-time’ commentary of the highly-dangerous mission.

They describe the nerve-shredding approach to Germany’s Ruhr Valley as they were fired on by the enemy before dive-bombing their target at 60ft.

Rare navigation sheets which provide a gripping blow-by-blow account of the Dambusters raid in World War Two have come to light

The 20-year-old, from Sherburn, County Durham, scribbled down ‘bomb dropped, wizard’ as it bounced along the surface of the reservoir before exploding against the dam wall.

Sergeant Vivian Nicholson (pictured) was a navigator in Operation Chastise 

The notes read: ‘IFF on – Test Spotlight – IFF off – Bomb Fused – Evasive Action – Leader Turns – GEE Jammed something chronic – Flak fired at aircraft evasive action taken – Turning Point Identified Evasive Action – Switch on VHF Contact OK – Circling – Flak not too light – Receive OK – Flak – Bomb Dropped Wizard – Evasive Action – GEE still no dice – Flak North Coast and Searchlight – GEE faint but workable – Orange Colour of Day – Landed base.’

Wing Commander Guy Gibson led the raid as the Mohne and Edersee dams were breached using Barnes Wallis’ ‘bouncing bomb’, striking a huge psychological blow against the Germans.

It came at a huge personal cost as 53 out of the 133 men involved were killed.

Sgt Nicholson’s documents are part of an archive relating to 617 ‘Dambusters’ Squadron which has emerged for sale with auctioneers Antony Cribb, of Newbury, Berks, for £7,000.

The log sheet, used for each operation, recorded routes taken, changes in bearing and other key details such as times of fixes.

It also features photos of the squadron’s heroes and the aftermath of the damage inflicted by the raid on the German industrial region.

A couple of images show the burst dam, while others capture the devastation from above.

Antony Cribb said: ‘Sgt Nicholson was the navigator on J-Johnny which was piloted by Flt Lt Maltby, one of 19 Lancasters which took part.

‘Most navigation sheets are very matter of fact, with details on wind speeds and directions, but he was given a much more detailed description of the raid.

Sergeant Nicholson is circled. He used short phrases to offer a ‘real-time’ commentary of the perilous mission

‘Reading it makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck.

‘It’s incredible that the handwriting is so neat considering they were dive-bombing at 60ft while being shot at.

‘The medals of Dambusters heroes always sell for serious money but they were awarded after the event.

‘These sheets were on the plane and made it to and back from Germany.’

Sgt Nicholson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for his exploits during Operation Chastise, which he received at Buckingham Palace.

But the seven-man crew of his plane was killed four months later when the aircraft crashed into the North Sea in heavy fog while returning from an aborted Tallboy bombing raid on the Dortmund-Elms Canal in the North Rhine.

Sgt Nicholson’s body was never found.

As a teenager Sgt Nicholson worked as an apprentice in his family’s joinery business before volunteering to join the RAF at the outbreak of World War Two. 

The sale takes place on July 20.

The Dambusters: How bouncing bombs – and incredible flying by RAF pilots – flooded the Ruhr valley and delivered a crucial blow to the Nazi war machine 

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

The dams were heavily fortified and needed the innovative bomb – which bounced on the water over torpedo nets and sank before detonating.

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

The Mohne and Eder Dams in the industrial heart of Germany were attacked and breached by mines dropped from specially modified Lancasters of No. 617 Squadron.

The Sorpe dam was was also attacked by by two aircraft and damaged.

A reconnaissance photograph of the Eder Dam taken two months after the famous Dambusters raid shows a 96 foot breach in the dam

A fourth dam, the Ennepe was reported as being attacked by a single aircraft (O-Orange), but with no damage.

Up to 1,600 people were estimated to have been killed by floodwaters and eight of the 19 aircraft dispatched failed to return with the loss of 53 aircrew and 3 taken prisoner of war.

Wg Cdr Guy Gibson, Officer Commanding No. 617 Sqn, was awarded the VC for his part in leading the attack. 

The raid, orchestrated by Guy Gibson and the RAF’s 617 ‘Dambuster’ Squadron, was seen as a major victory for the British, and Wing Commander Gibson is recognised as one of the war’s most revered heroes. 

Their success was immortalised in the classic 1955 film The Dambusters, its thrilling theme tune and gung-ho script evoking the best of British derring-do.

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