For Valour: Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson VC

Portrait of Guy Gibson

Location: 17 May 1943, over Germany
Who: Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson (39438 ) VC, DSO*, DFC* , Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, 12 August 1918 – 19 September 1944

Wing Commander Gibson (in door) with his crew about to board for the Dam raid.

Operation Chastise by No 617 squadron, Bomber Command, was aimed at the destruction of 6 German dams in the Ruhr: Mohne, Eder, Sorpe, Ennepe, Lister and Schwelme. A total of 19 Lancasters from RAF Scampton participated, led by Wing Commander Gibson in serial ED 932, coded AJ-G, who took off first at 2155 hrs. The Mohne and Eder dams were breached and the Sorpe damaged, for the loss of 8 Lancasters. Of the 133 aircrew, 53 perished (40%).

Gibson's medal bar

Wing Commander Gibson’s Medal Bar, including Victoria Cross, is held in the RAF Museum.

LONDON GAZETTE Friday 28th May, 1943.

“The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the under-mentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery: — Acting Wing Commander Guy Penrose GIBSON, D.S.O., D.F.C. (39438), Reserve of Air Force Officers, No. 617 Squadron: — This officer served as a night bomber pilot at the beginning of the war and quickly established a reputation as an outstanding operational pilot. In addition to taking the fullest possible share in all normal operations, he made single-handed attacks during his “rest” nights on such highly defended objectives as the German battleship Tirpitz, then completing in Wilhelmshaven. When his tour of operational duty was concluded, he asked for a further operational posting and went to a night-fighter unit instead of being posted for instructional duties. In the course of his second operational tour, he destroyed at least three enemy bombers and contributed much to the raising and development of new night-fighter formations. After a short period in a training unit, he again volunteered for operational duties and returned to night bombers. Both as an operational pilot and as leader of his squadron, he achieved outstandingly successful results and his personal courage knew no bounds. Berlin, Cologne, Danzig, Gdynia, Genoa, Le Creusot, Milan, Nuremberg and Stuttgart were among the targets he attacked by day and by night. On the conclusion of his third operational tour, Wing Commander Gibson pressed strongly to be allowed to remain on operations and he was selected to command a squadron then forming for special tasks. Under his inspiring leadership, this squadron has now executed one of the most devastating attacks of the war—the breaching of the Moehne and Eder dams. The task was fraught with danger and difficulty. Wing Commander Gibson personally made the initial attack on the Moehne dam. Descending to within a few feet of the water and taking the full brunt of the anti-aircraft defences, he delivered his attack with great accuracy. Afterwards he circled very low for 30 minutes, drawing the enemy fire on himself in order to leave as free a run as possible to the following aircraft which were attacking the dam in turn. Wing Commander Gibson then led the remainder of his force to the Eder dam where, with complete disregard for his own safety, he repeated his tactics and once more drew on himself the enemy fire so that the attack could be successfully developed. Wing Commander Gibson has completed over 170 sorties, involving more than 600 hours operational flying. Throughout his operational career, prolonged exceptionally at his own request, he has shown leadership, determination and valour of the highest order.”

Avro Lancaster

Avro Lancaster B III (Special). Note the cut away bomb-bay and removal of mid-upper turret.

On the night of 18/19 September 1944, Wing Commander Gibson volunteered to fly as Master Bomber for a raid on Rheydt and Munchen Gladbach, involving 220 Lancasters and 10 Mosquitos. For this mission, Gibson was flying a Mosquito he had borrowed from 627 Squadron, Path Finder Force, serial KB 267 and coded E for Easy; his navigator was Squadron Leader James Warwick DFC. The raid was a success but on the return flight, Gibson’s aircraft crashed, killing both crew, who are buried in the Steenbergen-En-Kruisland Roman Catholic Cemetery, Netherlands.

The ‘Dambusters’ raid by 617 Squadron on 16 May 1943, led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, is perhaps one of the best known events in the history of the RAF in the Second World War and there is a vast wealth of information available across multiple sources.

RAF Museum has a dedicated online exhibition; this author also recommends The National Archives, which contain the original Operational Order, radio code words for success (the breaching of the first dam, the Mohne, was to be reported with the name of Gibson’s dog); aircraft route maps and post-attack evaluations.

Routes for raid. The National Archives MPI 1/681


Citation: London Gazette 28 May 1943

Additional biographical details: For Valour: The Air VCs Chaz Bowyer, Grub Street Publishing.

Art Portrait: RAF Museum
Medal bar: RAF Museum
Grave: The War Graves Photographic Project (
Avro Lancaster: RAF Museum.

Additional sources

The National Archives

AIR 14/2088; AIR 14/2036; AIR 14/840; AIR 8/1239; AIR 2/8395; MPI 1/681

About the Author

Norman Brice: Volunteer

Volunteer Norman Brice

It all started very many years ago when, lying in my pram, I was awoken by what I later knew as Spitfires on their finals to RAF Biggin Hill, just a handful of miles away. As a schoolboy I was captivated by the annual September Battle of Britain Days at Biggin Hill with a vast range of visiting aircraft, including all three V-Bombers in gleaming anti-flash white.

Fast forward very many years past retirement I joined the RAF Museum London as a volunteer as a Vulcan and Cold War tour guide.