‘Bouncing bomb’ at Bomber Command Museum of Canada

“We have the only Lancaster in the world equipped with a bouncing bomb!” said Dan Fox, vice-president of the Nanton Lancaster Society, which operates the Bomber Command Museum of Canada in the town of Nanton, Alta., an hour south of Calgary.

The multi-talented Ben Schwartz, who designed the bomb and its mounts on the Lancaster, puts the finishing touch on the replica bouncing bomb. John Chalmers Photo
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Fox was referring to the museum’s replica bouncing bomb, or “Upkeep” as it was called, the type carried by Lancaster bombers of Royal Air Force (RAF) 617 Squadron in the famous Dambusters raid, also known as “Operation Chastise,” in May 1943.

The special bombs were spun backwards prior to dropping at a very low level to bounce across the water when attacking dams in Germany’s Ruhr Valley during the Second World War.

Designed by museum volunteer and board member, Ben Schwartz, the bomb was built by Tecumseh Industries Ltd. in the nearby town of High River, Alta.

With its bomb doors removed, the Lancaster carries the bomb in special mounts designed to swing out to drop the bomb. An electric motor used to spin the bomb with its pulley on one end is seen above the bomb. Dave Birrell Photo

Weighing 960 pounds (435 kilograms), the bomb was built for the museum’s commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the Dambusters raid.

Cost of the bomb was supported by Shere Fraser and her mother, ­­­­Doris Fraser, the widow of bomb aimer F/S John Fraser.

He flew with 617 Squadron in the Dambusters raid. His aircraft was shot down, but John was able to bail out and he was captured as a prisoner of war.

From Aug. 24 to 25 at the Bomber Command Museum, special events took place to honour the Canadians who flew with the RAF on what is often regarded as the most famous bombing raid of the war.

Of 133 air crew members who served in the Dambusters raid, 30 were Canadians. Of 53 airmen killed in action in the raid, 14 were Canadians of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).

Events during the weekend included performances by the RCAF 4 Wing Band from Cold Lake, Alta., and a presentation by Ted Barris, who launched his new book, Dam Busters: Canadian Airmen and the Secret Raid Against Nazi Germany.

In attendance over the weekend were 52 members of 15 families of RCAF air crew members who flew with 617 Squadron.

Among them were family of the late Air Commodore Johnny Fauquier, who as a group captain served as commanding officer of 617 Squadron after the Dambusters raid.

With the spinning “Upkeep” bouncing bomb in place, the Lancaster of the Bomber Command Museum of Canada is readied for a night engine run, always a dramatic sight, bringing to mind the night bombing runs of Canadians during the Second World War. Richard de Boer Photo

Fauquier was Canada’s most decorated airman and leading bomber pilot of the war. He flew at least 93 combat missions, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and three times was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

He is the subject of Johnny: Canada’s Greatest Bomber Pilot, the latest book by museum librarian, Dave Birrell, published by the museum as part of its recognition of the Dambusters.

“We had 14 members of Johnny Fauquier’s family in attendance. They came from Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto,” said Dave Birrell. “With our publication of the book, they were anxious to attend. We had more special guests and more attendees at our recognition of the Dambusters than at any of our previous events.”

A highlight of special events at the museum is always a daytime and night run-up of the Lancaster’s four Merlin V-12 engines.

This year, just as was done 75 years ago, the mighty Lancaster had a unique bouncing bomb spinning beneath its belly.

Writer John Chalmers is historian for Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame and membership secretary for the Canadian Aviation Historical Society. johnchalmers@shaw.ca

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