Last Dambuster Pilot, Les Munro, has passed away

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Les Munro, former World War II Dambuster pilot, has passed away this morning on 4 August 2015 at Tauranga Hospital, New Zealand at the age of 96. Munro spend his last two weeks in hospital where he was being treated for heart problems, according to the New Zealand Bomber Command Association.

The sad news was announced by the New Zealand Bomber Command Association this morning, in a statement on Facebook, they said: “I have extremely sad news. Our New Zealand Bomber Command Association Patron, and well known Dambuster pilot, Les Munro passed away this morning following a spell in hospital with heart problems. So, so sad. he was a mighty man. Dave.

Prime Minister John Key said on Twitter: “Really sad to hear of Les Munro’s death, New Zealand has lost a remarkable man who led a remarkable life.

Munro moved in October 1941  to England to join the Royal Air Force (RAF) in the 97 Squadron. Within this unit he would fly on the Avro Manchesters and then Avro Lancasters in 1943/43. In March 1943 he volunteered for the legendary 617 “Dambusers” Squadron – which was formed under great secrecy – and would join it four days after it was formed.

HM King George VI visits No 617 Sqn RAF.jpg More details The visit of HM King George VI to No 617 Squadron (The Dambusters), Royal Air Force, Scampton, Lincolnshire, 27 May 1943 - The King has a word with Flight Lieutenant Les Munro from New Zealand. Wing Commander Guy Gibson is on the right and Air Vice Marshal Ralph Cochrane, Commander of No 5 Group is behind Flight Lieutenant Munro and to the right.

Flight Lieutenant Les Munro (left foreground) speaking to King George VI (center) and Wing Commander Guy Gibson (right) (Credits: Imperial War Museum)

On 16-17 May 1943, Munro and 132 others took part in “Operation Chastise”, which would later become known as the “Dambusters raid”. However Munro’s aircraft, an Avro Lancaster, was forced to return after it suffered Flak damage over Holland before it could carry out its attack. The raid’s objectives were Germany’s Ruhr Valley hydro dams Sorpe, Möhne and Edesee and would be carried out with special designed drop-bouncing bombs – so-called because they skipped on water until encountering a dam and explode. Two hydroelectric power stations were destroyed and several more were damaged. An estimated 1,600 German civilians drowned.

Munro was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his part in the attack on 11 June 1943. He was also awarded the Distinguished Service Order in 1944.

Out of the 133 airmen that went out on the mission, only 77 returned, 53 aircrew were killed and 3 taken prisoner.

 

In March 2015, Les Munro had been planning to auction off his medals to benefit the Bomber Command Memorial in London, luckily Philanthropist Lord Ashcroft donated £75,000 to the RAF Benevolent fund and in return Munro’s medals would be gifted to the Motat museum. In April, Munro handed over his gallantry medals, flight logbooks and other wartime memorabilia.

There are still two crew members of the famous Dambusters raid living: George “Johnny” Johnson, who was a bomb aimer and Fred Sutherlander, who was a front gunner.

After receiving the sad news, Johnson said: ” I think I would like to pass on my complete sympathy to Les’s partner and his two sons who I met at the 70th anniversary. I am very sorry to hear that he has gone. I shan’t see him any more at reunions and I feel very sorry about that.”

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Argunners Magazine is an independent online historian and collector's magazine, dedicated to the militaria and history of both Axis and Allied powers during the World War 1 & 2. Argunners is a central resource offering the latest militaria and war history news, journals, articles and press releases related to these themes.

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