Dambusters bomb sight replicated at the Bomber Command Museum of Canada

A group of six men wearing military uniforms sit on the grass under a dark, stormy sky.
The crew of Lancaster ED825/AJ-T sit on the grass under stormy clouds. All are members of the Royal Air Force’s 617 “Dambusters” Squadron, photographed at RAF Scampton on July 22, 1943. PHOTO: Imperial War Museum, TR 1128

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By John Chalmers

A unique project of the Bomber Command Museum of Canada at Nanton, Alberta, has seen the making of 30 copies of the simple wooden bomb sight used by the Royal Air Force’s 617 Squadron during the legendary Operation Chastise—the famous “Dambusters” bombing raid of May 16-17, 1943.

Created as a fund raising project to support the museum’s expansion, the bomb sights were made as part of the museum’s commemoration of this year’s 75th anniversary of the famous raid on the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe dams on rivers of the Ruhr valley in Germany in the Second World War.

The bomb sights are available directly from BCMC. Contact the museum online or call 403-646-2270 to find out how you can acquire a numbered and limited edition bomb sight, letter of authenticity, information package and an income tax receipt for your charitable donation.

Made of stained mahogany wood like the bomb sights used during the war, the replicas are exact copies of the simple Y-shaped device used for aiming and dropping the bouncing bombs in what is regarded by some as the most daring bombing raid of the war.

How the sight works: The bomb aimer held the sight and looked through the round opening, with the legs of the Y pointing away from him. When the two white pegs at the end of each leg of the Y lined up with the towers of the dam, the aircraft was within the correct range and the bomb was dropped. The goal was to drop the bomb at 400 yards (366 metres) from the dam.

 “Of the 133 air crew members who served in the Dambusters raid, 30 were Canadians, so each one of our replicas commemorates one of those men,” says Karl Kjarsgaard, a director of the BCMC. “The replicas are being made available to collectors, museums and individuals who wish to acquire a significant artifact and symbol of the bombing operation.”

Each replica bomb sight is signed on a sighting-arm component by Squadron Leader (retired.) George Leonard “Johnny” Johnson, MBE, DFM. Squadron Leader Johnson was a bomb aimer on the Dambusters raid and is the last living British member of the Royal Air Force’s No. 617 Squadron. He flew as a member of the crew of Wing Commander Joe McCarthy, DSO, DFC, CD, of the RCAF. “Big Joe” McCarthy was an American who joined the RCAF. After the war, he became a Canadian citizen and served in the RCAF until the late 1960s.

The only other living member of the Dambusters crews is Fred Sutherland of Rocky Mountain House, Alberta. He flew as an RCAF air gunner with 617 Squadron. Four months after the Dambusters operation, Fred and all his Lancaster crew bailed out over Holland after a mishap with the aircraft. His story, and his escape to freedom, is told in Wartime Wednesdays, an internet series wartime stories by Elinor Florence (English only).

“Great assistance in our BCMC bombsight project came from Bob Mehi, a historian in Ontario,” says Mr. Kjarsgaard. “Bob researched and built a prototype of the Dambuster bombsight for our museum, which was sent to us in early May 2018.”

The bomb sight replicas were built by volunteers at BCMC, spearheaded by Ken Hill, and assisted by Mr. Kjarsgaard, Rick Everett, and Brian Wynker.

In addition to producing the bomb sights, the Museum recognized the participation of Canadians this summer by placing the markings of a Lancaster on which three Canadians flew in the raid on the museum’s Lancaster. The Lancaster bears the call letters AJ-M of 617 Squadron’s Lancaster ED925, which was piloted on the raid by Flight Lieutenant John Hopgood, DFC.

Recommended reading: The Dambusters: Canadian Airmen and the Secret Raid Against Nazi Germany by Ted Barris, published in August 2018.

Image gallery

  • A group of six men wearing military uniforms sit on the grass under a dark, stormy sky.
  • A wooden instrument shaped like a Y with a ring at the end of the tail of the Y and a handle underneath.
  • A man holds a wooden, Y-shaped instrument with a handle.
  • One photo is of several nuts and bolts, the other of shaped pieces of wood.
  • Shaped pieces of wood, partially assembled.
  • An elderly woman wearing a dress pins something on the chest of an elderly man wearing a formal “morning suit” and carrying a cane.
  • A large propeller aircraft on the tarmac in front of a hangar.

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