Bomber Command - The Dambusters
The New Zealand Bomber Command Association Memorial Sculpture was presented by the Association to honour the memory of the 2157 New Zealanders who lost their lives flying with the RAF Bomber Command during the Second World War 1939-45.
The memorial, designed by Sir Richard Taylor at Weta Workshop in 2008, features the seven crewmen of a Lancaster Bomber in bronze with a Lancaster flying out of marble clouds. The Bomber Command Memorial rededication ceremony took place on the 12th of June 2016 when the bronze sculpture moved to a permanent home in the WWII Hall of Memories.
Dignitaries and special guests, including a number of the local surviving Bomber Command veterans, were in attendance to honour New Zealand’s service and contribution to RAF Bomber Command. The ceremony was a joint venture between the New Zealand Bomber Command Association (NZBCA) and Auckland War Memorial Museum.
On the night of May 16, 1943, 617 Squadron, having being specially formed for this mission and later known as the Dambusters, comprised of 133 aircrew in 19 Lancaster Bombers , set out to destroy the Ruhr Dams in Germany. The tactical strategic objective was, by destroying the dams, to flood the German heavy industries located in the Valley. This raid, Codenamed Operation Chastise, was one amongst many carried out by Bomber Command, and has become one of the most well known events of WWII.
617 Squadron included men from Britain (RAF), Canada (RCAF), Australia (RAAF), and two New Zealanders (RNZAF). Hundreds volunteered for the secret squadron but the men chosen were hand picked.
They had to fly their Lancaster Bombers at the perilously low altitude of 60 feet to deploy the newly designed 'bouncing bomb' at an exact speed and from an exact distance, at night, whilst being attacked by anti aircraft fire.
The bombing was effective in that the Germans had to send thousands of men to repair the damage which diverted them away from other areas and industry was halted for a period. It was also a huge morale boost to the allies. However, the cost was very high, and 53 men died during the operation and three men were taken prisoner. The German defender and civilian casualties were also severe.
Two New Zealanders flew in the Dambusters raid, they were :
Flying Officer Leonard Chambers DFC (later Flight Lieutenant) (s/n NZ403758)
Len Chambers was born in Karamea, New Zealand in 1919, one of ten children. He enlisted in the RNZAF in 1939 and was sent to Canada under the Empire Air Training Scheme and qualified as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner.
He served with 460 Squadron RAAF, 75 (NZ) Squadron and was picked to be part of 617 Squadron.
In the Dambusters raid, he was one of Australian Flight Lieutenant 'Mick' Martins crew who flew in the third aircraft in the first wave of the attack on the Möhne Dam. Their bomb travelled left and exploded at the side of the dam.
He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for his part in the raid.
He also served as a wireless operator/air gunner, bomb aimer, radar instructor and squadron signals officer and trained as a pilot later in his Air Force career.
He married Lil in Canada and returned to New Zealand in 1944. He left the RNZAF in 1945. He had three daughters. He was a builder and carpenter in Karamea before he passed away in 1985, aged 66.
Flight Lieutenant John Leslie Munro DSO,DFC (later Squadron Leader) (s/n NZ413942)
John Leslie Munro was born in Gisborne, New Zealand in 1919, one of three children. He enlisted in the RNZAF in 1940. He was sent to Canada under the Empire Air Training scheme and qualified as a Pilot.
He served with 97 Squadron, then was selected for 617 Squadron and was also the Commanding Officer of 1690 Bomber Defence Training Flight later in his career.
In the Dambuster Raid, he piloted a Lancaster during the second wave. The Lancaster was hit by anti-aircraft fire and had to return to base without deploying their bomb.
For his service in various raids with 617 Squadron, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, he had previously received a DFC for his service with 97 Squadron.
He left the RNZAF in 1946 and worked as a property valuer and farmer. He married Betty in 1945 and they had five children. He served as Mayor of Waitomo District Council from 1978-1995, and retired to Tauranga. He was patron of the New Zealand Bomber Command.
He was the last surviving Pilot from the Dambuster Raid when he passed away in 2015, age 96.
View the records of Flight Lieutenant Len Chambers and Squadron Leader Les Munro on Online Cenotaph; the gathering point for the personal and official memory of the people who served for Aotearoa New Zealand.
Cite this article
Bomber Command - The Dambusters. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 17 October 2016. Updated: 30 June 2017.