Dambusters bomb sight replicated at the Bomber Command Museum of Canada
By John Chalmers
A unique project of the Bomber Command Museum of Canada at Nanton, Alberta, has seen the making of 30 copies of the simple wooden bomb sight used by the Royal Air Force’s 617 Squadron during the legendary Operation Chastise—the famous “Dambusters” bombing raid of May 16-17, 1943.
Created as a fund raising project to support the museum’s expansion, the bomb sights were made as part of the museum’s commemoration of this year’s 75th anniversary of the famous raid on the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe dams on rivers of the Ruhr valley in Germany in the Second World War.
The bomb sights are available directly from BCMC. Contact the museum online or call 403-646-2270 to find out how you can acquire a numbered and limited edition bomb sight, letter of authenticity, information package and an income tax receipt for your charitable donation.
Made of stained mahogany wood like the bomb sights used during the war, the replicas are exact copies of the simple Y-shaped device used for aiming and dropping the bouncing bombs in what is regarded by some as the most daring bombing raid of the war.
How the sight works: The bomb aimer held the sight and looked through the round opening, with the legs of the Y pointing away from him. When the two white pegs at the end of each leg of the Y lined up with the towers of the dam, the aircraft was within the correct range and the bomb was dropped. The goal was to drop the bomb at 400 yards (366 metres) from the dam.
“Of the 133 air crew members who served in the Dambusters raid, 30 were Canadians, so each one of our replicas commemorates one of those men,” says Karl Kjarsgaard, a director of the BCMC. “The replicas are being made available to collectors, museums and individuals who wish to acquire a significant artifact and symbol of the bombing operation.”
Each replica bomb sight is signed on a sighting-arm component by Squadron Leader (retired.) George Leonard “Johnny” Johnson, MBE, DFM. Squadron Leader Johnson was a bomb aimer on the Dambusters raid and is the last living British member of the Royal Air Force’s No. 617 Squadron. He flew as a member of the crew of Wing Commander Joe McCarthy, DSO, DFC, CD, of the RCAF. “Big Joe” McCarthy was an American who joined the RCAF. After the war, he became a Canadian citizen and served in the RCAF until the late 1960s.
The only other living member of the Dambusters crews is Fred Sutherland of Rocky Mountain House, Alberta. He flew as an RCAF air gunner with 617 Squadron. Four months after the Dambusters operation, Fred and all his Lancaster crew bailed out over Holland after a mishap with the aircraft. His story, and his escape to freedom, is told in Wartime Wednesdays, an internet series wartime stories by Elinor Florence (English only).
“Great assistance in our BCMC bombsight project came from Bob Mehi, a historian in Ontario,” says Mr. Kjarsgaard. “Bob researched and built a prototype of the Dambuster bombsight for our museum, which was sent to us in early May 2018.”
The bomb sight replicas were built by volunteers at BCMC, spearheaded by Ken Hill, and assisted by Mr. Kjarsgaard, Rick Everett, and Brian Wynker.
In addition to producing the bomb sights, the Museum recognized the participation of Canadians this summer by placing the markings of a Lancaster on which three Canadians flew in the raid on the museum’s Lancaster. The Lancaster bears the call letters AJ-M of 617 Squadron’s Lancaster ED925, which was piloted on the raid by Flight Lieutenant John Hopgood, DFC.
Recommended reading: The Dambusters: Canadian Airmen and the Secret Raid Against Nazi Germany by Ted Barris, published in August 2018.
The crew of Lancaster ED825/AJ-T sit on the grass under stormy clouds. From left to right are Sergeant (later Squadron Leader) George Leonard “Johnnie” Johnson (British); Pilot Officer Donald Arthur MacLean, navigator (Canadian); Flight Lieutenant Joseph Charles “Joe” McCarthy, pilot (an American serving in the RCAF—he later became a Canadian citizen and had a post-war RCAF career); Flight Sergeant Leonard Eaton, gunner (British). In the rear are Sergeant Ronald Batson, gunner (British); and Sergeant William Gordon Radcliffe, engineer (Canadian). All are members of the Royal Air Force’s 617 “Dambusters” Squadron, photographed at RAF Scampton on July 22, 1943. PHOTO: Imperial War Museum, TR 1128
Meticulous work by volunteers at the museum produced 30 replicas of the original Dambusters bombing sight, exact in every detail. In January 2015, an original bomb sight used in the 1943 raid sold in England for £41,000—equal to nearly $72,000 Canadian today! PHOTO: John Chalmers
Karl Kjarsgaard, a director of the Bomber Command Museum, holds the prototype bomb sight replica, which was reproduced in 30 copies. PHOTO: John Chalmers
These photos show the various components of the replica bomb sights. The small piece with the hole in it is the eyepiece used by the bomb aimer. PHOTO: Karl Kjarsgaard
Partially assembled bomb sights in various stages of production. PHOTO: John Chalmers
Queen Elizabeth II presents Squadron Leader George Leonard “Johnnie” Johnson, one of two Dambusters still alive as of September 2018, with the MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in November 2017. Then-Sergeant Johnson was a bomb aimer on the 1943 Dambuster raid and is one of only two survivors of the raid still living. Squadron Leader Johnson signed the replica Dambuster bomb sights that the Bomber Command Museum of Canada has created as a fundraising project. PHOTO: Forces Network (www.forces.net.news), PA-33619869
The Lancaster at the Bomber Command Museum of Canada is seen on June 3, 2018, during the visit of Canadian Aviation Historical Society members as part of their annual convention. The bomb doors were removed so that a bouncing bomb replica could be displayed beneath the aircraft. PHOTO: John Chalmers
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