Bomb dropped...wizard! With glorious understatement, Dambuster hero marks fateful moment in his flight log

  • RAF Navigator Vivian Nicholson, 20, was on his first mission
  • Succeeded with bouncing bomb where four others had failed
  • One of five Dambusters logbook set to go on sale
It was one of the most audacious bombing raids of the Second World War. And for 20-year-old RAF navigator Vivian Nicholson, the Dambusters raid also happened to be his first mission. So when the bouncing bomb dropped from his Lancaster burst the Mohne Dam after those from four other 617 Squadron aircraft had failed to do so, he was understandably jubilant.
‘Bomb dropped. Wizard,’ he jotted in his logbook in a pearl of understatement which could have come straight from the pages of a Biggles adventure. Flight Sergeant Nicholson meticulously made the unconventional note in the ‘general observations’ column of the book as his shuddering Lancaster bomber dodged Nazi anti-aircraft guns in the early hours of May 17, 1943. The logs were generally used to record flight data, but in his excitement he could not resist the aside. ‘Chocks away’, he wrote when he took off from RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire, in his aircraft Johnny, one of the 19 Lancasters bound for the moonlit drama and armed with the bombs developed for the raid by Barnes Wallis. The pages of the log have been made public for the first time as the 70th anniversary of the raid nears. It is one of five Dambusters logbooks offered for sale. Flight Sergeant Nicholson, from Sherburn village, Country Durham, worked as a joiner’s apprentice before volunteering for the RAF in February 1941.

His Lancaster was flown on the Dambusters raid by Flight Lieutenant David Maltby, and the mission was led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, both of whom were immortalised in the classic 1954 movie. Flight Sergeant Nicholson’s log shows his Lancaster took off for what was officially called Operation Chastise at 9.20pm on May 16 and details enemy flak concentrations, noting they had to take ‘evasive action’ four times. At one point, he remarked his aircraft’s navigation system ‘jammed something chronic’. Among the first wave of the attack, as they approached the Mohne Dam he recorded the sighting of the target, arming of the bouncing bomb and then dropping it at 00.49 on May 17. His logbook shows the crew flew 954 miles over 289 and a quarter minutes. The plane returned safely to base at 03.11. His was one of only 11 of the 19 Lancasters which had set off to make it home. Of the 133 total aircrew, 53 were dead and three had become prisoners. The newly unearthed logbooks, each charting the journeys of separate aircraft on the night, were estimated in the catalogue to reach between £1,500 and £2,500 in total for all five. But the auctioneers anticipated they could reach £10,000.

Their sale at JS Auctions in Banbury, Oxfordshire, has been postponed while the RAF investigates how they got into the public domain and whether they can be legitimately sold. Auctioneer Tony  Cribb said he believed that the owner’s father had bought them from someone raising money for the RAF Benevolent Fund 35 years ago. ‘The sale has been postponed until the RAF work out what went wrong in the past,’ he said. ‘As far as we and the vendor are concerned, it is all legal and above-board. But the RAF believes someone made a mistake in the past in giving the logbooks out. ‘They are just working out how best to deal with that.’ One book details the flight of aircraft P-Peter, which also targeted the Mohne Dam in the first wave of the raid but its bomb missed the target. Another details the route of H-Harry which targeted the Sorpe Dam, but had to return to base after losing its bomb to a large wave as it flew low over water. As for Flight Sergeant Nicholson, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for his valour. But three months after receiving his medal, and almost four months to the day since his Dambusters mission, he was killed in action attacking the Dortmund-Ems canal near Ladbergen in Germany. The Dambusters breached the Mohne and Edersee Dams, causing catastrophic flooding of the Ruhr valley, Germany’s industrial heartland, and of villages in the Eder valley, while the Sorpe Dam sustained only minor damage. Source: Dailymail. Via Forces War records Blog.            
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