LONDON – Squadron Leader George Leonard ‘Johnny’ Johnson, the last surviving member of the 617 Squadron “Dambusters” who participated in the raid on the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe dams during World War II, has passed away.
According to BBC News, ‘Johnny’ Johnson passed away peacefully in his sleep on Wednesday December 7 at the age of 101.
George Leonard ‘Johnny’ Johnson, who was born in Lincolnshire on 25 November 1921, was 21 years old at the time of the historic dams raid, and flew as a bomb aimer.
Johnson, who was known as Leonard to his family, was the youngest of six children. His mother died whilst he was still an infant, and he was cared for by an older sister.
Speaking to the BBC just after his 100th birthday last year, Johnson said, “I’ve had a very lucky life in every respect.” Referring to the Dambuster raid, he added: “It was an exhilarating experience … [I felt] honoured to have had the chance to take part.”
Under Squadron Leader Guy Gibson, the specialist squadron undertook the low-level night raid on three dams in the German Ruhr valley in May 1943, delivering the bouncing bombs designed by Barnes Wallis at a harrowing 60 feet above the surface of three German dams at night.
The Lancasters flown by 617 Squadron were role modified to enable them to carry the cylindrical bomb, which was suspended externally underneath the enclosed bomb bay of the aircraft, and rotated by a motor to cause it to ‘skip’ across the waters of the dam when released.
The mid-upper gun turret of the aircraft was removed to decrease weight, and the Lancasters flew with a reduced crew of six instead of the usual seven.
Two of the three targeted dams were breached – the Möhne and the Eder – and the floodwaters caused severe damage to factories and hydroelectric power stations in the industrial Ruhr Valley.
Flying on the crew with American pilot Joe McCarthy, Johnson’s aircraft was tasked with attacking the Sorpe dam. Of the five aircraft despatched to the Sorpe, their aircraft was one of the only two aircraft that made it to the target.
Human losses on both sides were significant – about 1,600 people on the ground lost their lives. Of the 133 Royal Air Force airmen who set off on the raid in 19 Avro Lancaster bombers, 53 were killed during the operation and a further three were captured, with eight aircraft lost.
Following the Dambuster raid, Johnson flew a further 19 operations with 617 Squadron. He remained in the Royal Air Force until his retirement in 1962 as a Squadron Leader.
Retraining as a teacher and subsequently becoming a local councillor and chairman of the Torquay Conservative Association, Johnson reportedly rarely spoke of the raid.
Vale ‘Johnny’ Johnson. Per Ardua Ad Astra.