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Practise Run

Lancaster bombers of 617 Sqn (The Dambusters) practise low level flying off the east coast


A Limited Edition of 850
Image Size 11" x 22" (280mm X 560mm)
Price £40 inc p+p

“Christ, this is bloody dangerous!” said ‘Spam’ Spafford as the Lancaster dipped below the 60ft operational height and the waves loomed towards his position in the Bomb Aimer’s bubble. Above him, in the cockpit, Guy Gibson made a quick adjustment and ‘Spam’ watched the spuming water fall away - just a little . . .

Using borrowed aircraft, the crews of the newly formed 617 Sqn had already spent a number of weeks on long, low level practise runs, maintaining wherever possible a height of 150ft (the specified height for dropping the bomb) and things were progressing reasonably well - much better, in fact, than with the development of the bomb itself, tests of which were going badly with prototypes shattering on impact with the sea. Modifications were made but it was quickly becoming apparent that a fundamental change was needed if the operation was to go ahead, and so toward the end of April 1943, Gibson boarded a Mosquito and was flown to Brooklands, Weybridge, for a meeting with the inventor of ‘Upkeep’, the code-name given to the new bomb.

After a lengthy explanation of the problems a grave faced Wallis looked at Gibson and, leaning wearily on a diagram of the Mohne Dam , asked, “Can you do it at sixty feet?”

For a number of the civilian population it had already proved an interesting spring with formations of 617 Sqn Lancasters practising low level navigation, and leaving in their wake irate farmers chasing stampeding cows, startled old ladies looking for startled cats, groups of excited, cheering, wide-eyed children, and, with the commencement of night training, somewhat less than excited, sleepless, bleary-eyed adults. And it was set to continue for some weeks to come . . .

In a small South Yorkshire village the landlord of the solitary public house sighs and continues to wipe glasses as the bar empties to watch the passing of yet another flight heading towards the Derwent Reservoir.

In Suffolk a self-important vicar fumes at the unseemly intrusion of ‘perilously low aircraft’, and taking the two hundred yards from the church to his house at a brisk walk, perches himself huffily at his desk to compose a terse letter of complaint to the Air Ministry.

But elsewhere, in houses and cottages, ordinary people listen to the roar of the passing planes, and without knowing why, feel that perhaps the end of the war is drawing just that little bit nearer . . .

And, running before a freshening wind and a darkening sky the crew of an inshore vessel watch, awe-stricken, as a flight of Lancasters pass uncomfortably close overhead. After nearly four years of war they are well accustomed to the sight of bombers - but never this low!

“Can’t have been more’n fifty foot above the waves,” the boat’s skipper will exclaim that evening while smoking his pipe in the back room of the waterside pub. And of course the other regulars will wink to each other and laugh, believing it to be just another ‘old sailors tale'. In fact his estimate will prove to be out by a mere ten feet!

Some weeks later, equipped with modified aircraft and carrying the innovative Barnes Wallis bombs, those same aircrews will skim the dark waters of the Eder and Mohne Dams at a critical height of only 60ft - and earn themselves a place in history as ‘The Dam Busters’.

But for now, well . . ..it’s just one more practise run.

For all enquiries regarding these prints please contact:
Bill Perring
D'Arcy Collection
8 Marlpit Lane

Tel: 01737 555727