As mentioned in my previous post, Canadians played a major role in the Dams Raid. “Of the 133 airmen involved in the raid, 30 were Canadian. Fourteen were killed during the raid; one became a prisoner of war. Exactly 50% of the Canadians who took off didn’t return. Four who survived were later killed in action during the war.” (Bomber Command Museum). I’m sharing just two of the many stories in this post.
One of the most well known of the Canadian group was not Canadian by birth. This was Joe McCarthy. Born in New York, he tried unsuccessfully tried to join the Army Air Corps. In May 1941, Joe’s friend Don Curtin, suggested they head to Canada to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. They were sent to the Manning Depot in Toronto. Joe trained in Goderich and Brantford, then received his commission in December 1941.
After Christmas, he sailed from Halifax; eleven days later, he and his fellow aircrew arrived in Liverpool. Further training took place with the No. 12 Advanced Flying Unit and the No. 14 Operational Training Unit. In September of 1942, he was assigned to No. 97 Squadron RAF; it was here that he met W/C Gibson. Just as McCarthy was completing his tour, he received a call from Gibson telling him that a new squadron was being formed and that he was inviting Joe and his crew to join. They made their first flight with the new squadron in March of 1943. After weeks of intensive and low level training, he and his crew almost failed to get airborne in the raid itself. The Lancaster he was assigned to was completely unable to function due to leaking hydraulics. He rushed his team to the spare plane, “T for Tom” and, after replacement of a missing compass deviations card, was airborne.
Joe was commander of Formation 2 in the Dam Busters plan, assigned to attack the Sorpe dam. Joe was the only one of his five plane wave to reach the dam. McCarthy tried twice to get a decent aim on his target. On the third attempt, during which “T for Tom” almost hit the water, the bomb exploded against the dam wall. While the wall survived, the parapet had been damaged.
F/L McCarthy was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his efforts.
The Fraser/Hopgood story is an interesting one, as well…
F/L John Fraser was an RCAF bomb-aimer from Nanaimo, BC. Prior to being selected to join No. 617, he had completed a tour of 30 operations with No. 50 Squadron.
John Hopgood ( “Hoppy” ) was F/L Fraser’s pilot. He was selected from the No. 106 Squadron, having served there with Guy Gibson, Wing Commander of 617 Squadron. Gibson wrote, “As soon as I saw him I thought, ‘What an ideal squadron type. I like that chap.'” (Bomber Command Museum of Canada)
Fraser and Hopgood were part of Formation No. 1; Fraser was Hopgood’s bomb-aimer…like all the attacking aircraft, Lancaster AJ-M flew to the Mohne Dam at an extremely low level. At one point, the rear gunner, Tony Burcher, saw an arc of high tension cable above his line of vision. “It seemed to drop away behind the aircraft as Hopgood gained height. ‘Right under the bloody things!’ exclaimed the front gunner. ‘Sorry about that,’ said Hopgood.
Soon afterwards, AJ-M was raked by ground fire. Burcher was hit in the groin and stomach. A searchlight blazed onto the aircraft but Burcher shot it out. Then a shell burst alongside and Hopgood feathered an engine that had been set on fire.
As well as Burcher being wounded, John Minchin, the wireless operator, had been hit in the leg and the front gunner did not respond over the intercom, having been seriously injured or killed. The flight engineer shouted, ‘Christ, look at the blood’ as he held a handkerchief to his pilot’s head. ‘I’m okay,’ shouted Hopgood. ‘Carry on and don’t worry.’
It was still an hour to the Mohne Dam and F/Lt Hopgood could certainly have returned to base with honour. But his character and determination was typical of those chosen for No. 617 Squadron and he pressed on to the target.
AJ-M was the second aircraft to attack. John Fraser recalled, ‘Gibson got away with it because he had the element of surprise. They (the guns in the towers) crossed up on us and the light flak battery came in on the side. We had to fly through the middle of it. I released the bomb. We were put on fire in the starboard wing. The one engine came on fire immediately. We flew on and the pilot gave the order to abandon the aircraft within about 25 seconds after we passed over the dam. I knelt facing forward over the escape hatch and I saw that the trees looked awful damn close. I thought there was only one thing to do and that was to pull the rip cord and let the pilot chute go out first and then let it pull the chute out and me after it and that’s what I did. I rolled out and the tail wheel whizzed by my ear. I swung to the vertical and within 2 or 3 seconds I touched the ground. While I was in the air, before I touched the ground, the aircraft crashed about probably 1500 or 2000 feet away from me.’
‘Get out you damn fool,’ Hopgood shouted to the rear gunner, ‘If only I could get another 300 ft. I can’t get any more height.’ He was struggling to get enough altitude so that some of his crew could escape. He knew that he would not survive. Burcher was struck by the tail plane as he jumped from the crew door. His back was broken but he survived.
A voice overheard on the squadron radio lamented, ‘Poor old Hoppy.’
The five crew members killed were pilot F/LT J.V. Hopgood DFC, flight engineer Sgt. C. Brennan from Calgary, wireless operator Sgt J.W. Minchin, gunner P/O G.H. Gregory, DFM, and navigator F/O Kenneth Earnshaw RCAF from Bashaw, Alberta.” (Bomber Command Museum of Canada)
“John Fraser found himself in a wheat field. He hid his parachute in a culvert and at dawn watched from a hiding place as hundreds of Germans came to see what had happened to the Mohne Dam. He snuck through the cordon that enemy soldiers had put in place around the area and headed towards Holland. After ten days he was captured, only 30 miles from the border.
He spent a week in solitary confinement. His spirit remained unbroken however, his interrogation record reporting comments such as, ‘Fraser refused to give details of the practice location’ and ‘Fraser is proud of his involvement in the Dams attack.’
F/Lt Fraser spent the next two years in four different P.O.W. camps, one of them being Stalag Luft III where he played a role in ‘The Great Escape.'” (Bomber Command Museum of Canada)
If you’re interested in yet another remarkable story, read about Fred Sutherland; this article was published in The National Post in 2013.