25th August 2018 | Nanton, Alberta. The first day ended with a bewitching spectacle as the 4 Wing Band from Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake played pop music favourites from the 1960s and 1970s. Under the watchful gaze of the CF-100 Canuck’s witch nose art a reddish-orange moon positioned itself just above the starboard wing of Bomber Command Museum of Canada’s venerable and popular Avro Lancaster heavy bomber.
Wisps of smoke, which likely emanated from hundreds of fires to the west in British Columbia and one in the vicinity of nearby Calgary, eerily passed across the face of earth’s satellite as the military musicians performed.
Bomber Command Museum of Canada (BCMC) held a two-day ‘Dambusters 75th Anniversary Commemoration’ that was in recognition of one of the most famous bombing missions of the Second World War. This bold undertaking took place in 1943 and was designated as Operation Chastise.
Over the course of the night of 16–17 May 1943, No. 617 Squadron of the Royal Air Force (RAF) successfully struck dams in the Ruhr River valley and thereby caused significant damage to the industrial region and simultaneously provided the Allies with a much needed boost in morale. Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) aircrew were amongst the specially selected attacking force.
Notably, an intrepid American by the name of Joe McCarthy, who was serving with the RCAF, piloted one bomber and survived the dangerous flight.
Over the course of the months prior to August, BCMC technicians and engineers modified the facility’s Lancaster to the same specifications of the Operation Chastise aircraft. In 1943, 23 such Lancasters were built to carry the “Upkeep” bouncing bomb, which was specially designed for the dam busting raids. BCMC removed the bomb bay doors and struts were fashioned and fitted to the lower fuselage to carry the simulated Upkeep weapon.
An electric motor was fitted to spin the bomb, and lamps were installed to replicate the critical ultra-low altitude measurement which enabled the attainment and maintenance of accurate height for the RAF planes over the surface of the water during nighttime. Furthermore, the mid-upper .303-calibre gun turret was removed by the staff of volunteers. By 22 August BCMC’s ‘Lanc’ had become the only extant ‘Avro Lancaster B III Special Type 464’ in the world.
On Friday morning a motorcyclist stopped by BCMC, which is bordered by the southbound lane of Alberta Provincial Highway 2. The rider spiritedly walked over to a museum member from Florida to chat. The biker was British and had spotted the Lancaster. “Marvellous!” exclaimed the Englishman, who was in the midst of a trans-Canada journey. “Might I have a photo with the Lanc?” He handed a cell phone to the Floridian, who complied with the unexpected request. Satisfied with the photos, the man said,” Thanks, mate” and strolled back to the cycle and roared off.
RCAF Lieutenant-Colonel Brian Zimmerman was present on both days, and on Saturday RAF Flight Lieutenant Ayden Feeney graciously represented the Royal Air Force.
Feeney observed the running of a Bristol Hercules engine, a type utilised on Handley Page Halifax heavy bombers, and the officer also sat in the front cockpit during the running of a WWII Fleet Fawn trainer. During the main presentation session Feeney charmed the gathering and received very appreciative applause.
Afterward, author Ted Barris officially debuted his new book, which is titled Dam Busters: Canadian Airmen and the Secret Raid Against Nazi Germany, before a capacity crowd that included some 40 members of Dambuster crews’ families. Barris’ presentation held the audience’s interest, and the journalist autographed copies of the work before and after his talk. The volume sold briskly on both days.
Hundreds attended the event, which was the subject of an August 23 CTV feature. The crowds were not disappointed.
Sources and Suggested Readings
Barris, Ted. Dam Busters: Canadian Airmen and the Secret Raid Against Nazi Germany. Toronto: Harper Collins Publishers, 2018.
CFB Cold Lake
Jack Widdicombe: From combine to Lancaster and back