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World War II: Wing Commander Guy Gibson

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World War II: Wing Commander Guy Gibson

Wing Commander Guy Gibson, RAF

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Guy Gibson - Early Life:

Born in Simla, India on August 12, 1918, Guy Penrose Gibson was the son of Alexander and Norah Gibson. Returning to Britain at age six, Gibson lived in Porthleven, Cornwall before being sent to St George's Prep School in Folkestone two years later. Gibson completed his education at St Edward's School in Oxford. Interested in aviation, he attempted to join the Royal Air Force but was initially rejected due to his smallish stature. Not to be deterred, Gibson reapplied in 1936 and was accepted for flight training. Made an Acting Pilot Officer in January 1937, he was confirmed in the rank that November.

Guy Gibson - Early War Years:

Sent to RAF Scopwick, Gibson began flight training and was ultimately posted to No. 83 Squadron in Bomber Command. Flying Hawker Hinds from RAF Scampton, the squadron transitioned to Handley Hampdens in October 1938. With the British entry into World War II on September 3, 1939, No. 83 Squadron immediately went into action conducting a sweep of the North Sea in search of the German fleet. This mission proved fruitless with Gibson and his comrades returning home without locating the enemy. Despite this early mission, No. 83 Squadron soon entered a period of inactivity.

Gibson and squadron's next mission did not occur until April 1940. Returning to action, Gibson conducted a variety of precision raids against German targets on the Continent. Flying through the summer, Gibson won the Distinguished Flying Cross in July before completing his tour of duty. Rather than rotate to training unit for six months, Gibson requested a transfer to Fighter Command to remain at the front. This was granted and he was ordered to No. 29 Squadron where he flew Bristol Blenheims and Bristol Beaufighters. Developing his skills as a night fighter, Gibson claimed his first kill on March 21, 1941.

Guy Gibson - A Rising Star:

Gibson scored another kill two nights later before gaining additional aerial victories in May and July. His time with No. 29 Squadron concluded in December and he received a promotion to squadron leader and a bar for his Distinguished Flying Cross. In early 1942, Gibson received orders to report to No. 51 Operation Training Unit to serve as a flight instructor. Having completed two tours, he was not required to return to action but soon requested an assignment with a combat squadron. Though only twenty-three years old, Gibson was one of the most experienced bomber pilots in the RAF.

Gibson's request was granted in April 1942 and he was given command of No. 106 Squadron at RAF Coningsby. Initially operating Avro Manchesters, the squadron conducted night bombing attacks against German targets. These aircraft were soon replaced with the Avro Lancaster. Leading No. 106 Squadron for eleven months, Gibson won the Distinguished Service Order in November 1942. Proving a capable leader, he was promoted to wing commander at the completion of his third tour of duty. In March 1943, the head of Bomber Command, Air Marshal Arthur Harris, selected Gibson to lead No. 617 Squadron.

Guy Gibson - The Dambusters Raid:

A specially-formed unit, No. 617 Squadron was tasked with executing Operation Chastise which called for the breaching of dams in the Ruhr Valley. It was believed the destruction of these dams would inundate large areas of region and significantly hamper production of war materials. The attacks were to use a "bouncing bomb" that would skip along the surface of the water before detonating against the dam. As such, the weapon had to be dropped from a height of 60 feet at a precise distance from the target. Relentlessly training his men, Gibson was ready to proceed on the night of May 17, 1943.

Departing with nineteen specially-modified Lancasters, Gibson personally led the attack against the Möhne Dam. Scoring a hit, he circled around to draw enemy fire while the other aircraft conducted their bombing runs. Successfully breaching the dam, Gibson led his remaining aircraft in a successful attack on the Eder Dam. In the course of the mission, No. 617 Squadron lost eight aircraft. Though the raid caused widespread damage, the Germans were able to quickly recover. The Dambusters Raid also provided a propaganda boost for the Allies and Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross for his efforts.

Guy Gibson - Final Actions:

In the wake of the Dambusters Raid, Gibson was dispatched on a lecture tour of the United States in an effort to keep him away from the front. During this period, he also wrote his memoirs entitled Enemy Coast Ahead. Arriving in Britain, he began requesting a return to operational flying. Finally conceding, Bomber Command posted him to RAF Coningsby in 1944 but in a strictly non-operational role as it did not wish to lose its most highly decorated pilot. Continuing to nag Harris, Gibson received permission to return to combat operations.

On September 19, Gibson and his navigator, Squadron Leader Jim Warwick, departed RAF Hemswell in a De Havilland Mosquito Mk.XX to serve as the Pathfinder Master Bomber for a large raid on Rheydt and Mönchengladbach. Executing the mission and ordering the bombers home, Gibson was not heard from again. The remains of his Mosquito were located near Steenbergen, Netherlands. Though it was initially believed that Gibson had been shot down, later research found that faulty fuel tank selector may have led to the aircraft running out of fuel.

Gibson and Warwick were buried at Steenbergen and had streets in the town named in their honor. After the war, Harris wrote that he deeply regretted allowing Gibson to return to combat and that the young wing commander was "As great a warrior as this island ever bred."

Selected Sources

  • The Dambusters: Guy Gibson
  • Spartacus: Guy Gibson
  • National Archives: Dambusters

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