George "Johnny" Johnson RIP - farewell to the last of the dambusters
Squadron Leader George "Johnny" Johnson, DFC, MBE, the last survivor of the members of RAF 617 squadron who took part in Operation Chastise, the raid on the German dams during World War two, has died at the age of 101.
We have lost one of the last of a generation of heroes.
Squadron Leader Johnson, who was born in Lincolnshire and lived in Bristol, was just 21 when he took part as a bomb-aimer in the 1943 operation, known popularly as the Dambusters Raid. The RAF used Avro Lancaster bombers to drop experimental bouncing bombs developed by the engineering genius Barnes Wallis which could hurdle over the anti-torpedo nets protected the dams in the Ruhr Valley. By destroying the dams, the raid, released huge quantities of water into areas beings used to produce weapons for the Nazi war machine.
It was an immensely difficult and dangerous operation and fifty three of the 133 British and Canadian aircrew who took part were killed. The skill and bravery of the pilots who flew at night, at an altitude of about a hundred feet or less over enemy territory is astonishing. They flew so low that one hit the sea, which tore off the underslung bomb, and scooped up seawater into the fuselage, while another crashed after hitting electricity cables.
The aircraft that did make it to the dams pressed home their attacks with a reckless disregard for their own safety. The results certainly impressed the world at the time - two dams were breached, and a third damaged.
There has been some controversy about how much damage the raid did, but in James Holland's recent book, "Dam Busters: The Race to Smash the Dams," he argues that "it is time to put the record straight". He insists that the damage was "absolutely enormous" and it was "an extraordinary achievement".
He points out that every bridge for 30 miles below the breached Mohne dam was destroyed, and buildings were damaged 40 miles away. Twelve war production factories were destroyed, and around 100 more were damaged. Thousands of acres of farmland were ruined.
Germans instantly referred to it after the raid as the "Mohne catastrophe". Albert Speer admitted that it was "a disaster for us for a number of months". German sources attribute a 400,000-tonne drop in coal production in May 1943 to the damage caused.
"Johnny" Johnson's family said he died peacefully in his sleep on Wednesday.
Celebrating his 100th birthday in November last year, he told the BBC: "I've had a very lucky life in every respect."
After 22 years of service in the air force, he worked as a teacher in Newark in Nottinghamshire.
He and his wife Gwyn later moved to Devon, where he became a councillor.
Author, war veteran and friend John Nichol said: "I was looking through some pictures of all of the times I'd met Johnny and I think in every single one he and I had got a glass of something in our hands and we're raising a toast to something or someone.
"That is how I'll remember Johnny, a man who loved life, who served his nation and loved a glass of red wine."
Lisa Harding, an aviation photographer and archivist for the Petwood Hotel in Lincolnshire - once home to 617 Squadron - said she was "heartbroken" having met Mr Johnson on several occasions.
"He was a truly humble man who was always quick with his praise for everybody else with him in Bomber Command and who described himself as just doing his job, and his relentless fight for Bomber Command veterans to get the medal that they deserved," she said.
Rest in Peace.