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'I'm the lucky one... I'm still alive!': Britain's last surviving Dambuster George 'Johnny' Johnson says he still misses his crewmen as they are remembered on the 75th anniversary of iconic WWII raids

  • EXCLUSIVE: Sole surviving British Dambuster George 'Johnny' Johnson recalls iconic raid on 75th anniversary
  • On May 16, 1943, the top secret Operation Chastise saw the Royal Air Force target three major German dams
  • Mr Johnson, now 96, says he feels lucky to be alive as he tells how he remembers 'everything' about the night 

Britain's last surviving Dambuster says he still misses his crewman as they are remembered on the 75th anniversary of the iconic WWII raids. 

Speaking exclusively to MailOnline, George 'Johnny' Johnson says he feels lucky to still be alive.

On the night of May 16, 1943, Mr Johnson was one of 113 airmen selected for top secret Operation Chastise which saw the RAF successfully breach three key dams in Germany. 

As today marks 75 years since the raids, Mr Johnson has revealed for years he remained silent about his time in the war and only started speaking publicly after his late wife and wartime sweetheart Gwenyth passed away.

Pictured: George 'Johnny' Johnson sitting in front of a Lancaster Bomber at RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire today as it marks 75 years since the iconic WWII raids

Pictured: George 'Johnny' Johnson sitting in front of a Lancaster Bomber at RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire today as it marks 75 years since the iconic WWII raids

'I never spoke about being in the RAF until my wife died in 2005. My family said I should open up and talk about it, they said it would help,' Mr Johnson said.

Today there are just two members of the squadron left – Mr Johnson and Canadian front-gunner Fred Sutherland, who lives abroad.   

After being recognised with an MBE last year, Mr Johnson described it as an 'honour' but said he was sad the rest of his squadron were not there.

He said: 'I'm the lucky one. I'm still alive. I'm representing the squadron and it is the squadron that has been honoured, not me.'

Speaking at the time, he asked if he would be permitted to dedicate it in memory of the 59,000 Bomber Command personnel who died during the war. He said they got 'little or no respect' for having given their lives. 

A stunning colour picture of the last surviving Dambuster George 'Johnny' Johnson (left) with his legendary Lancaster crew taken during the war. With Johnson (from left to right) is Donald McClean, Navigator, Dave Batson, Front gunner, Joe McCarthy, Skipper, Bill Radcliffe, Flight Engineer and Len Eaton, Wireless Operator

A stunning colour picture of the last surviving Dambuster George 'Johnny' Johnson (left) with his legendary Lancaster crew taken during the war. With Johnson (from left to right) is Donald McClean, Navigator, Dave Batson, Front gunner, Joe McCarthy, Skipper, Bill Radcliffe, Flight Engineer and Len Eaton, Wireless Operator

Mr Johnson has publicly spoken out against the criticism the Dambusters raid received from historians.  

At 96 years of age, Mr Johnson has a twinkle in his eye when he recalls the days of boarding the Lancaster Bomber with his pilot Joe McCarthy. 

'I remember everything,' he said. 'We were told from the beginning during training we would not know what the target was until the night but that didn't stop us theorising. Most of us thought it was to be a battleship at sea.'

'However on a Sunday afternoon in May, we went into briefing and suddenly learnt how wrong we were.'

Pictured: George 'Johnny' Johnson 

Pictured: George 'Johnny' Johnson 

Sworn to secrecy, Mr Johnson was told not to discuss Operation Chastise with anyone – including his fiance Gwyneth who worked in the control tower or his friends outside his squadron. 

'We started low level training, where we flew the aircrafts at 100ft of less and dropped items.

'Then the day came where the bombs arrived in glorified dustbins, big and black. There were legs attached to the aircraft and it became obvious that was how we would carry the bomb. 

'Wallis showed us how he had developed the explosive. When he told us it had to be dropped at 60ft, we realised this was much lower than we had been training for.

'It was the highest briefing I'd ever attended. The station was packed with senior officials. There were scaled down versions of the dams were to target and a map on the wall which showed two routes from our base.'

When asked whether he felt scared or nervous however, Mr Johnson joked he always felt safe thanks to his pilot Joe McCarthy's stature.

'I always felt in good care with him, we would joke to one another after to keep the mood light,' he confided.

'There was no way we were turning back, we had a job to do.'

Mr Johnson served beneath Commander Guy Gibson who he described as a great man. The squadron carried the bouncing bombs developed by inventor Barnes Wallis. These, when dropped from very low altitude over water, would skim along the surface, skipping torpedo nets until they sank in front of their target – in this case, three dams along the Ruhr in Germany – and explode with devastating force.

Though the raid was seen as a great victory, historians pointed out the human cost was high. Around 1,300 people were killed and, out of the 133 airmen who set out, 53 did not return. Eight out of 19 aircraft were lost. 

The following day after the raids Mr Johnson said he was 'stunned' to see the news splashed across the front pages – including the Celebrity Rave.   

But while the operation has been widely recoginsed as boosting public morale and marking a turning point during the war, historians in the years which followed have criticised the point.  

Bomber supremo Sir Arthur Harris, who had opposed the raid as harebrained all along, wrote shortly after the war: 'I have seen nothing to show that the effort was worthwhile except as a spectacular operation.'

Dambusters. George

Dambusters. George 'Johnny' Johnson (Bomber Aimer – Front Left) with the Rest of His Lancaster Bomber Crew in November 1943. (Back Row L-R) Dave Roger (Rear Gunner), Dom Mclean (Navigator), Bill Radcliffe (Flight Engineer), (Front Row L-R) 'Johnny', Lem Eaton (Wireless Operator) Joe Mccarthy (Pilot and Captain) Ron Batson (Mid Upper Gunner)

Historians Sir Charles Webster and Noble Frankland, who worked for the Strategic Air Offensive, claimed the operation was oversold and its achievements exaggerated, leaving other Bomber Command raids unfairly ignored.

They pointed to the speed at which the dams were rebuilt as Hilter sent armies of forced labourers including prisoners of war to the regions to work around the clock.

It took five years to build the dams but they were repaired within five months. 

Mr Johnson told MailOnline the criticism was unfounded and said his reaction was to ask, 'Were you there?' 

He said: 'The dams raids in the first place proved to Hitler that what he thought was impregnable was not!

'It stopped the ammunition production, not for as long as we would have liked but enough to affect their position. They also had to move aircrafts out of other key areas in the country.

Pictured: George 'Johnny' Johnson speaks to MailOnline reporter Katie French about his time in the RAF 

Pictured: George 'Johnny' Johnson speaks to MailOnline reporter Katie French about his time in the RAF 

'But the greatest thing overall was the affect on the moral of the people in this country. Seeing those newspapers splashed wide the next day and all on the front pages, we thought to ourselves, 'God, did we do that?'

'And with the raid coming so quickly after a success in North Africa people were saying, 'Are we winning something here?'

'It made a tremendous difference to the people in Britain. That was its greatest value.'

But while Churchill is now encrusted in time as a revered world leader whose career was dramatized in a Hollywood blockbuster The Darkest Hour earlier this year, Mr Johnson says he saw the former Prime Minister in a different light.

Speaking to MailOnline, Mr Johnson said: 'Churchill was thought of as a great leader but I didn't entirely agree with that opinion.

'He and Sir Arthur Harris, chief of the Bomb Commander just didn't get on well at all together. On one occasion, Churchill only mentioned the bomber commander once and that's when he said publicly, it was up to us to take the war to Germany.

'Churchill was arranged to be in America on the night of the Dams Raid so he could broadcast the success to the Americans. But on the evening, Sir Arthur said he didn't want to do it – he said there was no military advancement in carrying out the raid but it was done.

'This of course created criticism from other countries, Churchill said it was Harris's fault. I felt that if Churchill had an idea he thought would win the war, he would talk to the top person then decide to go ahead with it. If it went wrong, it was the other person's idea, if it went right, it was Churchill's.'

Despite 53 of Mr Johnson's 132 comrades losing their lives in the attempt, the mission's overall success was seized upon by the British propaganda machine and the feat cemented in the public consciousness with Michael Anderson's 1955 film The Dam Busters.

Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson has expressed an interest in remaking the film, employing Mr Johnson as an advisor, though the project which is almost a decade in the making is currently on hold. 

 

Dambusters 75th anniversary: Silence in Green Park for memorial to mark iconic raids as Lancaster Bomber flypast cancelled due to windy weather 

Silence fell at the Bomber Command memorial in Green Park this morning as respects were paid to the 53 crew members who died in the raids.

RAF Flight Lietenant Nigel Painter laid a wreath alongside 53 pairs of white flight gloves in commemoration to those who lost their lives during the 1943 raids. 

The ceremony is one of many taking place today to mark 75 years since the iconic Dambusters raid on three Germany dams during World War II. 

George 'Johnny' Johnson, 96, the only surviving British member of the squadron, was awarded an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours last year following campaigns to get him knighted.

Flight Lieutenant, Nigel Painter at the Bomber Command memorial in Green Park, London, today as he prepares to lay 53 pairs of Flight Gloves in memory of the 53 RAF crew members who died during the Dambusters raid 

Flight Lieutenant, Nigel Painter at the Bomber Command memorial in Green Park, London, today as he prepares to lay 53 pairs of Flight Gloves in memory of the 53 RAF crew members who died during the Dambusters raid 

Silence fell at the Bomber Command memorial in Green Park, London, this morning after the Last Post was performed 

Silence fell at the Bomber Command memorial in Green Park, London, this morning after the Last Post was performed 

He unveiled an exhibition by Dan Llywelyn Hall, who in 2013 became the 133rd artist to paint the Queen, featuring all 133 of the Dambusters to mark the missions 75th anniversary.

Family members of the Dambusters also attended the two unveiling ceremonies, one at the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln and the other at the Dambusters Inn in Scampton.

'Having Johnny attend both unveilings of all the 133 men he would have last seen 75 years ago on that fateful day was a moving experience for me,' Mr Llywelyn Hall said.

'It brought tears to the eyes of several family members, 48 of which travelled to unveil their relatives portrait.'

Mr Llywelyn Hall had a sitting with Mr Johnson, from Bristol, in February and painted the other portraits from archive pictures and research.

Artist Dan Llywelyn Hall has created a composite of his 133 portraits of the Dambusters airmen from the exhibition Dambusters Reunited

Artist Dan Llywelyn Hall has created a composite of his 133 portraits of the Dambusters airmen from the exhibition Dambusters Reunited

Mr Johnson and Canadian former front gunner Fred Sutherland are the only two living survivors who took part in the bombing raids on the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams in Germany.

Some 19 Lancaster bombers flew from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire for the daring mission on May 16/17 1943 to shatter dams in Germany's industrial heartland and cut off vital supply lines in the Ruhr Valley.

A total of 133 Allied aircrew left for the raid aboard 19 Lancaster bombers, led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, but 53 men were killed and three were captured.

Gordon Yeo, a front gunner in the first wave of bombers to attack the Mohne Dam, was brought up in Barry, south Wales, where Mr Llywelyn Hall comes from.

An RAF Typhoon took part in a flypast over the Derwent dam in Derbyshire this morning as part of tributes nationwide 

An RAF Typhoon took part in a flypast over the Derwent dam in Derbyshire this morning as part of tributes nationwide 

The exhibition, Dambusters Reunited, is on display at Prospero World in Mayfair, London.

This evening a planned Lancaster Bomber flight to mark the Dambusters' 75th anniversary has been cancelled due to windy conditions.

The flyover will now be conducted by a 29 Sqn Typhoon aircraft on Wednesday after weather conditions, particularly the wind, were considered too dangerous for the BBMF Lancaster, a Battle of Britain Memorial statement said.

Dan Llewelyn's portrait painting of remaining surviving British Dambuster George 'Johnny' Johnson 

Dan Llewelyn's portrait painting of remaining surviving British Dambuster George 'Johnny' Johnson 

The plane was scheduled to fly over RAF Scampton – the original home of the Dambusters' squadron – as well as the Derwent Dam in Derbyshire's Peak District, the Rolls Royce Factory in Derby and Eyebrook Reservoir in Leicestershire.

Thousands of spectators are expected to visit the dam to watch the aircraft fly past despite the Lancaster Bomber no longer taking to the skies.

The event will mark 75 years since the Dambusters raid which was formally known as Operation Chastise during the Second World War.

A statement from the Battle of Britain Memorial said: 'Knowing many people had made plans to travel to watch the planned Lancaster flight to mark the 75th anniversary of 617 Squadron's raid on German dams, when it was confirmed that the wind conditions were well beyond the limits the Lancaster is placed under, the Royal Air Force has arranged for a 29 Sqn Typhoon from RAF Coningsby to fly as much of the route as is possible.

'We are so sorry to disappoint those who wished to see our Lancaster fly as once those original 617 Sqn aircraft did, but hope you will enjoy the might and speed of world class, multi-role Typhoon.

'The BBMF Lancaster is one of only two airworthy in the world. In order to preserve her in airworthy condition so that she can continue to commemorate those who gave so much for this country, there are strict limitations on the weather conditions she is allowed to fly in.'

The Dambusters: How bouncing bombs – and incredible flying by RAF pilots – flooded the Ruhr valley and delivered a crucial blow to the Nazi war machine

On May 16, 1943, 19 Lancaster bomber crews gathered at a remote RAF station in Lincolnshire for a mission of extraordinary daring – a night-time raid on three heavily defended dams deep in Germany's industrial heartland.

The dams were heavily fortified and needed the innovative bouncing bomb – which bounced on the water over torpedo nets and sank before detonating.

To succeed, the raiders would have to fly across occupied Europe under heavy fire and then drop their bombs with awesome precision from a mere 60ft above the water.  

19 Lancaster Bomber crews armed with Bouncing Bombs set off to attack several dams in Germany on May 16, 1943

19 Lancaster Bomber crews armed with Bouncing Bombs set off to attack several dams in Germany on May 16, 1943

The Eder Dam, pictured, was destroyed as part of Operation Chastise on the early hours of the morning on May 17, 1943

The Eder Dam, pictured, was destroyed as part of Operation Chastise on the early hours of the morning on May 17, 1943

This is a list of all the bomber crews who took part on Night Flying Programme 16.5.43. The names with a line through are the crews who did not return while the numbers in the far right hand column are the times the crews returned back to base in Lincolnshire

This is a list of all the bomber crews who took part on Night Flying Programme 16.5.43. The names with a line through are the crews who did not return while the numbers in the far right hand column are the times the crews returned back to base in Lincolnshire

Eight of the bomber crews were lost while a further three were forced to turn back. Of the 133 men sent out, 53 were killed and three were taken prisoner by the Nazis

Eight of the bomber crews were lost while a further three were forced to turn back. Of the 133 men sent out, 53 were killed and three were taken prisoner by the Nazis

The Mohne and Eder Dams in the industrial heart of Germany were attacked and breached by mines dropped from specially modified Lancasters of No. 617 Squadron.

The Sorpe dam was was also attacked by by two aircraft and damaged.

A fourth dam, the Ennepe was reported as being attacked by a single aircraft (O-Orange), but with no damage.

Up to 1,600 people were estimated to have been killed by floodwaters and eight of the 19 aircraft dispatched failed to return with the loss of 53 aircrew and 3 taken prisoner of war.

Wg Cdr Guy Gibson, Officer Commanding No. 617 Sqn, is awarded the VC for his part in leading the attack. 

The raid, orchestrated by Guy Gibson and the RAF's 617 'Dambuster' Squadron, was seen as a major victory for the British, and Wing Commander Gibson is recognised as one of the war's most revered heroes. 

Their success was immortalised in the classic 1955 film The Dambusters, its thrilling theme tune and gung-ho script evoking the best of British derring-do.

The flight crew were forced to approach their targets at 60 feet and at a speed of 232mph to hit the target 

The flight crew were forced to approach their targets at 60 feet and at a speed of 232mph to hit the target 

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Journalist, writer and broadcaster, based in London and Paris, her latest book is Touché: A French Woman's Take on the English. Read more articles from Agnes.

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