Remembering The Dambusters 80 years on and the secret weapon tested in the South

  • WATCH ITV News Meridian's Derek Johnson reporting on The Dambusters.

Mick Tees from Littlehampton in Sussex has some memories of the uncle his family always thought of as a hero.

Fred Tees was born in Chichester and had been a barber before the war and then joined the RAF.

Mick has just discovered a photograph of him which he believes may have been taken during his training as an air gunner.

After flying on operations Fred Tees was chosen to be a rear gunner in the newly-formed 617 Squadron.

Its mission 80 years ago was to blow up the Ruhr dams in the heart of industrial Germany and hamper the Nazi war machine; part of a mission known as Operation Chastise.

53 of the 133 crew were killed in the raid, which did breach two of the dams, and was later immortalised in the movie The Dambusters.

In one sense Fred was among the lucky ones. He survived and lived to an old age. But his plane was shot down and he became a prisoner of war.

Mick Tees said: "He was a very reticent young man. A lovely bloke. He didn't speak a lot about the job. From what I can remember and I was only a kid anyway he was seen by the family to be a hero for that raid when my Dad virtually spent the whole of the war learning to fly.

Fred Tees and his fellow trainees in the newly-discovered photo. Credit: Mick Tees

"He was taken prisoner. He then joined a long march later from west to east, to Holland. After the war he set up a hairdresser business. He was very reticent to say anything about his service. I think it's brilliant. I am very proud of him and I think my Dad was too."

Central to the mission was the weapon designed to destroy the dams, which were thought to be bomb proof because of their position. Instead the engineer Barnes Wallis created a mine that could skim across water. Upkeep - or the "bouncing bomb" as it was known - was tested in secret off the North Kent coast at Reculver and at Chesil Beach in Dorset.

The raid finally took place on May 16 when 19 Lancaster Bombers specially adapted to carry the mine took off from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire. Squadron Leader Wing Commander Gibson earned the Victoria Cross for returning to provide covering gun fire for the other planes, and others were also given medals for their bravery.

After the Dambusters raid Barnes Walles went on to test more of his prototypes at Ashley Walk on the New Forest in Hampshire. The remote area of open heathland became a bombing practice site during the war.

  • WATCH Gareth Owen from the New Forest National Park Authority talks about bomb testing there.

Gareth Owen from the New Forest National Park Authority said ''He (Barnes Walles) was very confident that process would allow the mine to hit the dam and sink down and once it got to the right depth that's when it would detonate. The creative genius is just amazing.''

RAF Manston in Kent also played a part in the tests. The Spitfire & Hurricane Museum in Manston has a new display that will being to life the experience of the Lancaster crews.

It now has an interactive replica Avro Lancaster cockpit section, built over a six-year period by retired electronics engineer Norman Groom, using many original parts and with reference to Avro plans.

Visitors will be able to book guided tours of the 15ft-long cockpit section and sit in the pilot’s, navigator’s, flight engineer’s and radio operator’s stations. The sound of the four Merlin engines will be piped into the simulator.

  • WATCH Mandy Watson talk about her late father Gerry Abrahams.

The Lancaster Experience is in memory of the museum’s former trustee and volunteer Gerry Abrahams, who passed away at the age of 99 in January.

Jerry flew 31 ops with No 75 (New Zealand) Squadron over Germany. He later became a Bomber Command instructor, and was also involved in the Berlin Airlift.

The starboard side of the cockpit section features custom-designed nose art, courtesy of the military and fine artist David Bryant, who lives a short distance from the museum.

It carries an image of Gerry Abrahams in golfing attire, next to his 31 mission symbols.

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