RAF Dambusters anniversary flight to skip Peak District training ground

As the RAF takes off on fly-past events marking the 80th anniversary of the famous Dambusters raid, its Second World War display group will not be heading for the Peak District reservoirs where the original crews trained.
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

In 2003 and 2013, thousands of people turned out to watch a vintage Lancaster fly over the Derwent and Howden reservoirs, recreating the test flights carried out by 617 Squadron RAF Bomber Command prior to Operation Chastise, which inflicted catastrophic damage to dams in Germany’s industrial heartland on the night of May 16, 1943.

But for this year’s anniversary, a plane from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) will set out from the RAF Museum in north London for an early evening aerial tour of former Bomber Command bases in Lincolnshire.

An RAF spokesperson said: “As we do not have control over events on the ground in Derbyshire and an event has not been externally organised to facilitate large crowds gathering that we could then organise a flypast for, it would not be practical to draw a crowd to the area.”

A Lancaster bomber flies over Ladybower reservoir to mark the 70th anniversary of the World War II Dambusters mission on May 16, 2013. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)A Lancaster bomber flies over Ladybower reservoir to mark the 70th anniversary of the World War II Dambusters mission on May 16, 2013. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
A Lancaster bomber flies over Ladybower reservoir to mark the 70th anniversary of the World War II Dambusters mission on May 16, 2013. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

A spokesperson for Severn Trent, which manages the reservoirs, explained: “Unlike airfields, other airshow locations or locations that have been planned for the 80th anniversary flyover, the valley itself is a complex and challenging location to manage large numbers of people simultaneously, safely and with responsibility to the surrounding landscape.

“Therefore any proposal to undertake a flypast would require significant planning and lead times, and involve a range of local stakeholders. The plan in place from the BBMF will allow more people to be able to see the plane in flight in lots of different locations throughout Lincolnshire.”

They added: “We are really pleased that the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight are honouring the 80th anniversary by a flypast over 34 locations throughout Lincolnshire. This will allow as many people as possible to see this iconic plane in flight.”

There has been some concern it would be one of the last major anniversary opportunities for such a fly-past in Derbyshire, after Severn Trent last year floated the idea of a new reservoir which would drown the Upper Derwent’s current layout.

January 1943:  Wing Commander Guy Gibson (smoking pipe), and members of his Lancaster bomber air crew after a bombing raid on Berlin.  Gibson later led the 'Dambusters' raid.  (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)January 1943:  Wing Commander Guy Gibson (smoking pipe), and members of his Lancaster bomber air crew after a bombing raid on Berlin.  Gibson later led the 'Dambusters' raid.  (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)
January 1943: Wing Commander Guy Gibson (smoking pipe), and members of his Lancaster bomber air crew after a bombing raid on Berlin. Gibson later led the 'Dambusters' raid. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

The proposal was one of the more speculative possibilities under consideration by the company in a strategic assessment of the region’s future supply needs. An announcement is expected in July clarifying those infrastructure plans selected for development.

But family members of the Dambusters have reportedly echoed local opposition campaigns who wish to preserve the area’s historic character.

Geoff Gosling, 75, whose father Cyril was part of ground crew and on board test flights, told the Daily Mail: “It would have been nice for them to fly over the testing dams. It’s tragic the fly-over won't be there for the 80th anniversary.

“My dad would be heartbroken if the dams were damaged or lost. The water company need a rethink. We can’t lose them. They’re part of our history. I stood with him for one of the last anniversaries before he died. It was thrilling when the Lancasters went over.”

Felicity Rowbotham, 76, niece of Wing Commander Guy Gibson, told the same paper: “It's unlikely the bomber training could have gone ahead without the dams … The story of the Dambusters, whatever one feels about war, is part of our national heritage.”

Support your Derbyshire Times by becoming a digital subscriber. You will see 70 per cent fewer ads on stories, meaning faster load times and an overall enhanced user experience. Click here to subscribe.