b. 12/08/1918 Simla, India. d. 19/09/1944 Steenbergen, Holland.
Guy Penrose Gibson (1918-1944) was born on 12th August 1918 in Simla, India, the son of Nora and A.J. Gibson, and whilst still a baby was brought to England to live in Porthleven, Cornwall. Here he attended St George’s Preparatory School before becoming a pupil at St Edward’s School in Oxford. Although no more than average academically, he was best remembered as a sportsman. On leaving school, he wanted to learn to fly and, in 1935, applied for a job at Vickers Aviation as a test pilot, but was tactfully advised to join the RAF to gain some experience first. Thus when Gibson finally joined the RAF it was simply a move to be given flying instruction and experience prior to a flying career in civilian industry.
Commencing training at the Yatesbury Civil School on 16th November 1936, Gibson was commissioned on 31st January 1937, and moved to No 6 FTS on 6th February for advanced instruction. Graduating on 4th September 1937, he was then posted to 85 Squadron at RAF Scampton, to fly the unit’s Hawker Hind biplane bombers. The unit were still flying the Hinds at the time of the Munich Crisis of 1938, but in the same month received a few Bristol Blenheim I monoplane bombers to begin conversion training of its crews for their imminent re-equipment with Handley Page Hampden bombers.
As war begin to look likely, 83 Squadron received orders on 26th August to leave Scampton under Bomber Command’s scatter plan; and on 1st September six Hampdens were fully bombed up for immediate standby for possible operations. Finally, on 3rd September nine Hampdens of 83 Squadron were put on immediate standby, fully armed, for the first war sorties; and at 6.15pm six of these left Scampton with orders to bomb German naval units, led by Squadron Leader L.S. Smith AFC, and including Guy Gibson flying Hampden L4070, “C”.
For the next 7 months, 83 Squadron flew no war sorties, apart from a few occasional sea patrols during a brief detachment to Lossiemouth, Scotland in February-March 1940. Thus Gibson’s second operational sortie was not until 11th April 1940. From then until September 1940, Gibson flew a further 27 operational sorties over Germany, and in the interim awarded the DFC on 8th July. On 26th September he was taken off operations for a “rest” at 14 OTU; was then posted to 16 OTU on 11th October, where was pushing for a return to operations. On 13th November he was sent to 29 Squadron at Digby as Flight Lieutenant to command A Flight. At 29 Squadron, Gibson was now to fly Bristol Beaufighters, and he flew his first operational patrol on 10th December 1940.
He had no successes until the night of 12th March 1941, when with Sergeant James as observer, he destroyed a German bomber near Skegness. Two months later he claimed a Heinkel 111. His last patrol with the 29 Squadron was on 15th December 1941. During the tour he was promoted to Squadron Leader on 29th June; awarded a Bar to his DFC on 10th September; and completed a total of 99 operational sorties in Beaufighters. After a short spell as Chief Flying Instructor at 51 OTU, Cranfield, Gibson once more returned to operations on 13th April 1942 when he joined 106 Squadron at Coningsby to fly bomber operations again in Avro Manchesters and Lancasters. For the next 11 months he stayed with 106 Squadron, and took part in most of the major raids, and he flew his final mission with them on 15th March 1943, an attack on Stuttgart.
Due to start leave the following day, he was dismayed to find it cancelled and he was ordered to report to Group HQ. By then he had been awarded the DSO and a Bar to the DSO by the end of March 1943. At 5 Group HQ, he was asked to fly one more “special” operation, and was then given free hand to literally form a new squadron especially for the sortie. The result was the formation of 617 Squadron on 21st March 1943, with Wing Commander G.P. Gibson DSO DFC as its first commander.
The “special” operation for which 617 Squadron was formed was an attack on six huge dams in Germany – those at Mohne, Eder, Sorpe, Ennepe, Lister and Schwelme – several supplying power to the Ruhr. A force of 20 Lancasters was mooted for the attack, and they were specially modified, carrying the unique weapon, the “bouncing bomb”, developed by Barnes Wallis.
On the night of 16th-17th May 1943, Wing Commander Gibson personally made the initial attack on the Moehne dam. Descending to within a few feet of the water and taking the full brunt of the antiaircraft defences, he delivered his attack with great accuracy. Afterwards he circled very low for 30 minutes, drawing the enemy fire on himself in order to leave as free a run as possible to the following aircraft which were attacking the dam in turn. Wing Commander Gibson then led the remainder of his force to the Eder dam where, with complete disregard for his own safety, he repeated his tactics and once more drew on himself the enemy fire so that the attack could be successfully developed.
The results of the “Dambusters” Raid was the Mohne Dam was breached as was the Sorpe Dam. Of the 8 crews that actually attacked and then returned, 33 received gallantry awards; while Guy Gibson who had formed and led the raid was awarded the Victoria Cross in the London Gazette of 28th May 1943 (just 12 days after the Raid). The mass investiture of the “Dambusters” took place on 22nd June 1943 with Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II). Immediately after the raid, 617 Squadron was stood down, and Gibson then accompanied Winston Churchill visiting Canada for the Quebec Conference and the USA. In the US, on 13th October, Gibson was awarded the US Legion of Merit by General “Hap” Arnold, USAF, and he finally returned to the UK in December 1943.
He was given a desk job in the Air Ministry, and then a posting to RAF Uxbridge in March 1944, before returning to a semi-operational post as a staff officer at HQ, 55 Base, East Kirkby on 12th June. During the summer, he was offered the chance to resign from the RAF and become a prospective candidate for Parliament in Macclesfield. He declined the invitation whilst the war was still ongoing. By August 1944, he was persistently pressing for a return to operational flying, but was firmly refused by the higher authorities. Finally, the AOC-in-C, Bomber Command, Arthur Harris, relented by sanctioning one last sortie for Gibson, though he insisted it be a soft target. The sortie picked was a large attack by 220 Lancasters and 10 Mosquitos against railway and industrial centres at Rheydt and Monchengladbach on the night of 19th September 1944.
Detailed as Master Bomber for the operation, Gibson piloted Mosquito B.XX KB267, “E” of 627 Squadron, with Squadron Leader James B Warwick DFC as navigator. The main force of bombers released 652 tons of explosives and lost just 4 Lancasters and 1 Mosquito. Sadly, the 1 Mosquito was that of Gibson and Warwick, which was seen at 10.45pm having engine problems over Steenburgen, Holland. It crashed in a ball of flames, killing both men. They were buried in Kruisland Cemetery, Steenburgen, with the Imperial War Graves Commission (now CWGC) after the war, placing two official headstones. Gibson’s medals are held by the RAF Museum, Hendon.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL AIR FORCE MUSEUM, HENDON, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: KRUISLAND CEMETERY, STEENBERGEN, HOLLAND.
Steve Hoar – Image of the Gibson Grave in Steenbergen, Holland.
Thomas Stewart – Images of the VC Medal Group in RAF Museum, Hendon, and the Penarth War Memorial.
Stewart May – Photo in the Yorkshire Air Museum
Brian Drummond – Image of International Bomber Command Centre, Lincoln Memorial.
Alastair Kennedy-Rose – Image of framed portrait in Victory Services Club, London.
Mick Brand – Image of the Gibson VC medal when on loan to The Collection, Lincoln in 2020.