GIBSON, Guy (1918-1944)
Plaque erected in 2006 by English Heritage at 32 Aberdeen Place, St John's Wood, London, NW8 8JR, City of Westminster
GUY GIBSON V.C. 1918-1944 Pilot Leader of the Dambusters Raid lived here
Guy Gibson, who led the Dambusters raid, is commemorated at the home where he spent periods of home leave during the Second World War.
Early life and the RAF
Gibson was born in Simla, India, but moved back to England with his mother when he was six. He was educated in Cornwall, Kent and finally in Oxford, where he attended the same school (St Edward’s) as Douglas Bader.
At first rejected by the RAF for being too short, at five feet six inches (1.68 metres), Gibson was eventually accepted in 1936. He took part in the first air attack on Germany in the Second World war – on the Kiel canal in 1940.
After 37 operations Gibson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) to which he added a bar – and a promotion to Squadron Leader – by destroying four enemy bombers. He was made a Wing Commander and given charge of Bomber Command’s 106 Squadron in April 1942.
Gibson next command was of 617 Squadron, which, in May 1943, he led in the famous Dambusters raid on six vital dams in the German industrial heartland of the Ruhr. Canister-shaped bouncing bombs, designed by Barnes Wallis, were to be dropped just 60 feet (18m) above the water, which called for great piloting skill.
Strategically and tactically, the success of the raid was at best partial. Of the six dams, the Möhne and Eder were damaged, which was not enough to cause more than temporary economic and industrial disruption. In total, 53 Allied air crew lost their lives, a casualty rate of nearly 40 per cent.
The raid also killed over a thousand prisoners of war and forced labourers, including a large number of Russian women.
The success of the Dambusters raid lay in its propaganda value and the boost it undoubtedly gave to British and Allied morale. Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross and hailed by Winston Churchill as ‘the dam-buster’ and ‘one of the most splendid of our fighting men’.
The man and the legend
Gibson’s celebrity was such that he accompanied Churchill to North America and undertook a lecture tour there – partly because his fame made him too valuable to risk on further operations. Confidence shaded into arrogance in Gibson’s psychological make-up, and among his nicknames were ‘bumptious bastard’ and ‘The Boy Emperor’. His leadership qualities, however, were acknowledged even by some of his detractors and a political career was mapped out for him.
But Gibson itched to return to action. Eventually he persuaded Bomber Command to allow him on a supposedly easy mission in September 1944. He was, however, unfamiliar with the De Havilland Mosquito that he flew, as was his navigator, Jim Warwick. The plane crashed in the Netherlands on their return flight in circumstances that remain unclear. Both Gibson and Warwick were killed.
Gibson wrote his account of the Dambusters raid as Enemy Coast Ahead, which was published posthumously in 1946. The raid, and his role in it, achieved legendary status thanks to the 1955 film, and its familiar theme tune, composed by Eric Coates.
Gibson’s plaque is on the St John’s Wood house where he shared a flat with his wife Eve from the summer of 1942. It was his only London address, and it was here that wrote much of Enemy Coast Ahead. It was also here that the telegram arrived to inform Eve of his death in service.