The famous Dam Busters raid (Operation Chastise) on the German-held Möhne dam on May 17, 1943 – the first using the bouncing bomb – remains a subject of fascination and the 1955 British epic war film starring Richard Todd and Michael Redgrave has done much to engender interest in the actual historical event ever since.
For collectors, this is particularly the case. Items with a Dam Busters connection will command many times their intrinsic value as normal object.
Here we pick out six sales of items sold at auction in the last five years showing the continuing high demand for items linked to the operation.
1. Button launcher – £39,500
The button from the Lancaster bomber of 617 Squadron that released the ‘bouncing bomb’ which destroyed the Möhne Dam was sold in July 2017 after being offered at auction for the first time.
The Bakelite button was pressed by bomb aimer John Fort on board Lancaster bomber ED 906 AJ-J, the fifth aircraft to attack the dam, which was piloted by Squadron Leader David Maltby.
Together with other items from the plane, the button was given by Maltby to the prep school where his father Ettrick was headmaster, Hydneye House, which had a small museum.
Offered at JP Humbert, it took £39,500 against an estimate of £25,000-40,000.
2. Last surviving Dam Busters pilot medals – £75,000
Les Munro was the last surviving Dam Busters pilot. In March 2015, his medal group was due to appear at London auction house Dix Noonan Webb with an estimate of £40,000-50,000, to raise money for the RAF Benevolent Fund's upkeep of the Bomber Command Memorial in London.
Before the sale, Mr Munro accepted Lord Ashcroft's offer to donate £75,000 to the fund in return for giving his decorations and medals to a museum in the RAF veteran's native New Zealand.
Mr Munro, who was 95 at the time, was one of only two New Zealanders to have taken part in the raid.
3. Mahogany ‘Dann’ sight – £41,500
This original mahogany 'Dann' sight used during the Dam Busters raid on the Möhne dam in May 1943 appeared at JP Humbert Auctioneers of Towcester in January 2015. It was thought to be the only surviving example of those used during the raid.
The curious triangulation instrument – the two arms were placed at an angle to line up with the towers at either end of the dam so that the bomb could be dropped at precisely the right distance from it – was the brain child of Wing Commander Dann. It was employed by bomb aimer John Fort on board the AJ-J, the fifth aircraft on the mission piloted by David Maltby.
The 'bouncing bomb' guided by this sight was the one that successfully breached the Möhne dam.
Along with other items, it was given to Ettrick Maltby, David's father, after the raid, for display at the museum in Hydneye House, a prep school he owned and ran. When the school was sold in the mid 1950s, it passed to the new headmaster and thence to the vendor, a former pupil.
The item was verified by George 'Johnny' Johnson, one of the last surviving members of the Dam Busters raid.
4. Flight Lieutenant’s DFC and DFM – £120,000
Also in March 2015, Sherborne auctioneers Charterhouse offered the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM) pair awarded to Ft Lt Richard Trevor-Roper. He was also a member of 617 Squadron, more commonly known as The Dam Busters.
Ft Lt Trevor-Roper was gunnery leader, flying as rear-gunner in Guy Gibson's lead Lancaster ED932 AJ-G, and won the DFC for his part in the Möhne Dam attack on May 16-17, 1943. He received the DFM (gazetted December 23, 1941) as a sergeant with 50 Squadron.
Having come to the auction from his family, they doubled the top estimate to make a hammer price of £120,000.
5. Log book – £6800
A Second World War bomber command Distinguished Flying Medal and Bar winner’s flying log book went under the hammer at Marlow’s in September2017. Bidders vied for the book over the phone and online.
Estimated at £4000-6000, it was finally knocked down for £6800.
The book was compiled by warrant officer Eddie Leavesley. However it was the connection to Guy Gibson that seems to have given the book its strongest appeal. Gibson was the wing commander on Leavesley’s second tour of operation with the 106 Lancaster and he signed the book a total of seven times starting in 1942.
He would go on to lead the raid on the Möhne Dam with the bouncing bomb in 1943.
Gibson died in 1944 in a crash at Steenbergen at just 26 and his signature is rare.
6. Air Chief Marshal’s medal group – £17,000
Air Chief Marshal The Honourable Sir Ralph Cochrane was involved in the painstaking formation 617 Squadron as a specialist precision bombing unit, and the planning of the legendary Dam Busters raid itself.
Just two days after being installed as Air Officer Commanding No 5 Group, Cochrane was tasked by ‘Bomber’ Harris with the planning of Operation Chastise.
‘Cocky’, as he was known, had worked with Barnes Wallis on aircraft innovation during the First World War and with the outbreak of the second a string of important appointments followed.
His medal group appeared at Dix Noonan Webb in February 2019, selling at £17,000.