Dambusters Memorial Rally 2013
The Dambusters raid by 617 Squadron RAF took place early in the morning of 17 May 1943, having left Scampton during the evening of 16 May 1943. As my birthday was also 17 May 1943 I was destined to share my birthday with this iconic raid and when I became a pilot, later in life, I made a note to fly to Germany on that anniversary if circumstances permitted. WFAeC planned this Commemoration trip as an invitation event to include any non-members who wanted to join us.
There was a lot of early interest in the trip and around 25 aircraft signed up for it. As it turned out, the weather intervened and prevented many people from starting off from their home bases, with the result that the actual number of aircraft taking part was only seven, one flexwing Quik (Steve and Matt Catchpole) , three Skyrangers (Rick Goddin, Simon Stoodley and Peter Cartwright,) a Jabiru (Tom Burton), a Thruster TST600 (Rupert Derham) and a CT2K Kevin Tuck and Nick Harper).
The chosen route was UK to Calais, for the customs rituals (non-existent), and then on to Bad Neuenahr Arweiler (BNA), the scene of a great club barbecue and camp-over organized a few years previously by Ian Harban. After leaving Calais, the weather through Belgium to BNA was very poor – thank God for SkyDemon I heard someone say - but we all eventually made a good landfall there, after 1hr50. There was however a bit of a mix-up over PPR because some of us arrived a day earlier than we said we were going to and this upset the airfield operator who made an extra charge because someone had to go to the airfield at short notice and perform the arrivals procedures. There is a very agreeable café/restaurant right on the airfield where we assembled before going into the town to find our lodgings. I spent a couple of comfortable nights at the Privat Hotel Villa Aurora and those four of us who arrived on 14 May went for a long walk between Bad Neuenahr and the adjoining town of Arweiler for a great meal in the evening in the very picturesque medieval town – mental note to take a taxi next time as it’s about three miles. The following day we visited the well preserved excavations of a major Roman villa in the town. The weather was however starting to look rather murky.
Meeting up with the rest of the group later on 15 May we all went for a splendid meal at the local Brewery restaurant, called the Brauhaus something or another………………..
Next day, 16 May, we all departed for Korbach, which is sited near the Eder Dam and around 2 hours or so from BNA. En route we decided to overfly the Eder Dam as it was more or less on a direct route. Arriving at Korbach we were greeted by the airfield manager, Hans Stapelfeldt who with his wife Brigiitte gavc us a very warm welcome. Hans had been a Luftwaffe pilot flying USAF F104 Starfighters (the widow maker). They laid on a great buffet lunch for us, beers etc and I was interviewed by a local newspaper the Waldeckische Landeszieting who were interested in this visit by Britische microlighters. The evening we all repaired to a Greek restaurant in the town, not far from our lodgings at the rather quirky Hotel Goldflair am Rathaus.
The following morning was completely unflyable, with low cloud and mist and we spent the day in the town of Korbach lounging around in various bars and cafés, before repairing in the evening to a Turkish bar where we celebrated my 70th birthday with Manhattan Iced Teas, beers and champagne, and the odd smoke on shisha pipes. British music was played on the public audio system, including the Dambusters march, and toasts were drunk to 617 Squadron and to all those involved on both sides before we moved on to an Italian restaurant. Many thanks to Rupert for laying this on – not how I expected to be celebrating a major birthday!
The next day the weather had only slightly improved but we left Korbach somewhat apprehensively to fly on over the hills and the woods (ground levels here are around 2500 – 3000 ASL). This turned out to be a bit of a dodgy proposition and after flying only about 20 minutes we all put in to the small airfield of Brilon to reassess. At this point the group split between those happy to go on (the Skyrangers) and the others who decided to sit out the weather for a bit.
The Skyrangers were able to overfly and photograph both the Mohne and the Sorpe Dams, thus concluding the overflight of all three dams, which were the subject of the raid. As we moved south towards Aachen, the weather improved and eventually became VMC (……….just joking mes amis). Two hours after leaving Brilon we briefly stopped at Aachen for flight plans etc before I moved on to Calais, around 2hr15 later. My flight across Belgium was uneventful. The other Skyrangers went through Belgium into St Omer where there was a microlights event taking place, so my part of the group split up at Aachen. Calais is very efficient especially when you are the only aircraft there – I was able to turn round in just 40 minutes which included refueling and lodging a flight plan, before flying straight home to Whitehill Farm, 1hr 40 later.
It was a pity that so many of the original party did not take part, but quite unterstandable in the conditions. And for those that did take part, a good achievement in the spirit of the Aero Club. For me, a feeling that not many septuagenarians spend their 70th as I did.