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Low Level Flying Photography
65th Anniversary of the Dambuster Raid
Ladybower Reservoir, Derwent Valley
May 16, 2008
Today the RAF's Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's (BBMF) Avro Lancaster flew low over the Derwent Dam in Derbyshire to commemorate the 65th Anniversary of the Dambuster raid.
The Dambuster raid of 1943 must surely be the most famous of all low level sorties. 617 Squadron was formed during World War II for one specific mission, to fly deep into Germany and destroy the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams in the Ruhr valley. Their weapon was the ingenious 'bouncing bomb' which was designed and perfected by Sir Barnes Wallis over three years. Two of the dams were breached in the raid on May 16, but at a cost of eight Lancaster bombers and a tragic loss of 53 crew members. The Derwent Dam was used by 617 Squadron to train for the top secret mission code named Operation Chastise in 1943.
Sqn Ldr Les Munro, now 89 and the last surviving Dambuster pilot, attended the ceremony with Michael Gibson, the nephew of Wing Cdr Guy Gibson who led the mission which ultimately cost him his life. Actor Richard Todd now 88 who played the part of Gibson in the 1954 film 'Dambusters' was also in attendance.
At 10:30 the last Lancaster still flying in the United Kingdom appeared from the north flying at just 100 feet above the water, firstly over Howden Dam, two miles north before straightening up for its 'bomb' run over Derwent Dam. In 1943 the force of 19 Lancaster bombers flew the entire mission at 150 feet from RAF Scampton before descending to just 60 feet (18m) to drop their spinning barrel shaped bombs. The 'bouncing' bombs skipped over the water before hitting the dam wall and dropping to its base before exploding at a set depth.
The BBMF Avro Lancaster B1 (PA474) passing the Derwent Dam at 100 feet.
(DSLR x1.6 sensor + Canon EF 300mm f2.8 1/250th f.7.1 ISO 200).
After two further runs the Lancaster was 'joined' by two Tornado GR.4s from 617 'Dambuster' Squadron now based at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland. Their very fast and low pass was planned to coincide with the Lancaster's final pass over the Derwent Dam but was out by a mere 5 seconds. Seven minutes later the Tornado pair returned for another 250 feet fly-past this time with wings fully swept back. A BBMF Spitfire and Hurricane now made a series of three passes low through the valley followed by the BBMF's camera-ship and crew ferry, a Douglas C-47 Dakota. The Dakota lumbered through the valley a further time before returning with the Spitfire and Hurricane to their home base at RAF Coningsby.
It was estimated that around 10,000 people came to witness this remarkable commemoration which was last held in 1993 for the 50th Anniversary. Only invited Media and VIP's were allowed to drive to the Derwent Dam due to limited parking. However thousands of enthusiasts lined the hills of the Derwent Valley, many making the two or more mile trek up the valley from the A57 to get the best vantage points.
While everyone was surely impressed by the low level fly-pasts, many will have been moved by what the event was commemorating. For me it was very thought provoking, especially when you were reminded by the number of lives lost and the remarkable bravery of those that took part in the World War Two raid. The BBMF's motto of "Lest We Forget" has perhaps never been more poignant.

The full fly-past;
10:30 Lancaster north to south over Derwent Dam at 100 feet and Ladybower Reservoir, tear drop turn over southern end of Ladybower reservoir.
10:33 Lancaster south to north over Derwent Dam, tear drop turn north of Derwent Reservoir.
10:35 Lancaster north to south over Derwent Dam returning behind western side of Derwent valley to hold.
10:40 Lancaster passes over Derwent Dam 5 seconds before two 617 Squadron Tornado GR.4s pass over dam at 100 feet.
10:47 Two Tornado GR.4s flying with wings swept back fly fast and low over Derwent Dam from north to south at 250 feet.
10:50 Spitfire and Hurricane in formation fly north to south over Derwent Dam at 250 feet.
10:53 Spitfire and Hurricane fly in formation south to north over Derwent Dam.
10:55 Spitfire and Hurricane fly north to south over Derwent Dam departing to north for a run through M6 at Tebay.
10:56 Dakota flies north to south over Derwent Dam at 250 feet.
10:59 Dakota flies south to north over Derwent Dam.
11:02 Dakota flies north to south over Derwent Dam before turning to the west and departing to the north for a run through M6 at Tebay in Cumbria.
Left to right: The Lancaster's first pass at 100 feet.
The BBMF's Lancaster B1 (PA474) passing the Derwent Dam at 100 feet.
In April 2007 it was rolled out at Coningsby in a new scheme representing one of the most famous of all Lancasters, 'Phantom of the Ruhr'
Left to right: The Lancaster's second run this time south to north up the Derwent Valley.
Left to right: The third fly-past over the Derwent Dam.
Turning at the end of its run
Left to right: On the fourth pass the Tornado pair was just five seconds behind as they pass over the Derwent Dam at high-speed.
Left to right: Tornado GR.4s (ZA367 '002 KC-N' and ZG727 '126 AJ-J') of 617 'Dambuster' Squadron.
The lead Tornado recently had the tail-letters 'KC-N' applied. 617 Squadron is also celebrating its 65th Anniversary along with Wing Commander Leonard Cheshires who was Officer Commanding 617 Squadron 60 years ago. To mark both anniversarys a 617 Squadron Tornado has had tail letters 'KC-N' applied to represent the code carried by Wing Cdr Cheshire's Lancaster.
Left to right: Spitfire XIX (PS915) inscribed on nose with 'Last of Many! is joined by Hurricane IIc (LF363 YB-W) for three fly-pasts.
The BBMF Douglas C-47 Dakota (ZA947) which completed the event with three fly-pasts.
Left to right: BBMF Douglas C-47 Dakota (ZA947).
Left to right: Aerospatiale AS355F1 Ecureuil II (G-TAKE) operated by BBC News. Sqn Ldr Les Munro, now 89 and the last surviving Dambuster pilot, is in the left seat. He is describing the training in the Derwent Valley for the raid over Germany in 1943. ITN and Sky News operated helicopters were also filming in the valley before and during the fly-pasts.
Photography Note:
I chose to make the two mile journey by mountain bicycle up the eastern side of the Derwent Valley, parking the car at 06:30. After a reconnaissance ten days earlier of the whole valley, I decided that just south (150 yards) of the Derwent Dam and around 300 feet up the eastern hillside would be ideal. A 300mm lens seemed adequate to capture the Lancaster full-frame as it passed over the dam. The choice of a relatively slow shutter speed to get some propeller blur whilst avoid motion blur of the aircraft was the dilemma. I switched between 1/250th and 1/320th and got a good number of pin-sharp images. I was caught out by the first run of the Tornados seconds behind the Lancaster and so was using a shutter speed of 1/250th for the very fast jets. Fortunately one shot in particular was impressively pin-sharp.