Guy Gibson VC, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar
1918 - 1944
Guy Penrose Gibson was born on August 12th 1918 at Simla in India. He was the son of a British civil servant. At age 6, Gibson returned to England where he had a typical middle class public school education. It was said that a tutor of Gibson owned a WWI biplane fighter and took the boys out for a spin. Perhaps this is where his love of flying came from.
He attempted to join the RAF but was rejected because he was too small. He reapplied and was accepted when he was 18. He was commissioned on 31st January 1937 and was posted to 83 Squadron after his pilot training. Coincidentally, 83 Squadron moved its Hawker Hind biplane light bombers to RAF Scampton (where 617 Squadron were later based).
In January 1939, 83 Squadron were equipped with Handley Page Hampdens. Gibson went straight into battle on the day war was declared. His was one of 27 bombers sent out over the North Sea to locate and attack the German fleet. In poor weather they found nothing and returned home deflated after ditching their bombs.
A period of inactivity followed for 83 Squadron and Gibson did not fly his next operational sortie until April 1940. While the pilots of Fighter Command waged war on the German Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain the pilots of Bomber Command soldiered on and Gibson completed his first tour with 83 Squadron collecting the Distinguished Flying Cross in the process.
After a brief post as a flying instructor, Gibson wanted to be back in operational action and moved to 29 Squadron flying night fighters Bristol Beaufighters from RAF Digby. He flew 99 operations for 29 Squadron during which he claimed three kills. He was promoted to Squadron leader and gained a bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross.
Again he returned to flying instruction but again wanted to be back on operational flying despite having no obligation to do so after completing his two required tours. Furthermore he had seen many (if not most) of his fellow comrades with whom he started the war in their graves. Never the less he was sent to 106 Squadron at Coningsby in 1942. 106 Squadron were just having their Manchester's replaced with new Avro Lancasters.
During the next 11 months at Coningsby and later Syerston Gibson flew 20 more operations. At the end of his third tour he had completed 170 sorties and was promoted to Wing Commander. He also added a Distinguished Service Order and bar to his decorations at the age of only 24.
Due to his formidable operational record, reputation for seeing through a task, leadership skills and experience flying the new Lancaster, Gibson was the perfect choice for Harris to lead the Dambusters. Gibson undertook command of 617 Squadron with no idea of the task ahead. Unusually Gibson was given the authority to pick his own new Squadron.
Gibson flew only the Dambusters raid with 617 Squadron despite them flying more precision bombing missions after. The success of the Dambusters eclipsed Gibson's previous outstanding record and gave him a place in history. He was awarded the Victoria Cross; the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He was now the most highly decorated pilot in the RAF and a national hero.
Gibson could have seen out the rest of the war from a desk but as in the past he wanted to be back on operational duty. He managed to get a post at a Lincolnshire bomber base at East Kirkby on a strictly non-operational basis. It would have been a serious blow to British moral and boost for German propaganda if he had been killed or captured and taken prisoner of war. Cochrane and Harris knew this but after persistent pestering from Gibson they decided to let him lead a bomber squadron into Germany.
On September 19th 1944, Gibson led a huge force into Germany as master bomber to attack railways and industrial targets at Monchengladbach and Rheydt. Gibson did not return from the operation in his Mosquito. Mystery and controversy have surrounded his crash ever since. He orchestrated the attack and ordered the bombers home but was then never heard from again. His Mosquito was seen plunging into the ground at Steenbergen in Holland. Part of his remains were later found.
What caused the crash will never be known but Harris said in his memoirs he had been wrong to let Gibson back on operations. He and Coachrane deeply regretted their decision. Whatever happened, in that moment Britain lost one of its greatest heroes.
Wallis described Gibson best of all saying:
For some men of great courage and adventure, inactivity was a slow death. Would a man like Gibson ever have adjusted back to peacetime life? One can imagine it would have been a somewhat empty existence after all he had been through. Facing death had become his drug. He had seen countless friends and comrades perish in the great crusade. Perhaps something in him even welcomed the inevitability he had always felt that before the war ended he would join them in their Bomber Command Valhalla. He had pushed his luck beyond all limits and he knew it. But that was the kind of man he was…a man of great courage, inspiration and leadership. A man born for war…but born to fall in war.
Harris described him as "As great a warrior as this island ever produced"
Grave of Guy Gibson
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