Horncastle born war hero George ‘Johnny’ Johnson has reflected on his heroic part in the famous Dambusters mission and admitted: “I’m the proudest man alive.”
Johnson, now 91, is the last British survivor of the raid which claimed the lives of 53 of his 133 colleagues from the now legendary 617 Squadron.
The raid, in May 1943, destroyed three dams in the Rhur Valley and is widely accepted to have turned the tide of the Second World War in Britain’s favour.
Johnson returned to the Horncastle area this week to take part in the 70th anniversary celebrations of the raid.
In a rare and exclusive interview, he told the Horncastle News: “I still remember it every day. It’s like it happened yesterday.
“It’s not something you forget in a hurry...even though it was all those years ago.
“So many of my good friends lost their lives.
“I was fortunate. I was one of the lucky ones.
“So many good men didn’t come back.
“I had the right pilot and was in the right plane, at the right time.
“When I look back at what we achieved, I’m the proudest man alive.”
Johnson was a ‘bomb aimer’ in a Lancaster - codenamed ‘T for Tommy’ - which was piloted by Joe McCarthy.
The squadron’s mission was to destroy dams in the Ruhr valley. The dams generated power for Germany’s vital war industry.
The bombers had to fly at low level before dropping their ‘bouncing bombs - designed by Barnes Wallis.
Johnson’s aircraft was actually diverted at the last minute to attack the Sorpe Dam after it developed a hydraulic leak on route and was delayed.
It took eight attempts - flying at just 30 feet - before Johnson was able to release his bomb - packed with 8,500lbs of explosives. It caused used a ten-foot breach in the dam wall.
Johnson can still recall the raking fire from German guns, a 1,000 foot high spiral of water sas the bomb impacted and the screeching noise of the Lancaster’s engines as it pulled up sharply to avoid smashing into a huge hill behind the dam.
It was only when they returned to RAF Scampton, that Johnson and his fellow crew members saw the damage to the aircraft. The pilot’s seat was riddled with bullet holes.
The mission was hailed as a success but Johnson admitted: “We were just relieved to get back in one piece but no-one felt like celebrating.”
Johnson joined fellow exhausted and emotionally drained survivors for a breakfast of bacon and powdered scrambled eggs - and a cup of tea.
The 617 Squadron’s Officer’s Mess was then moved to a bar in the Petwood Hotel in Woodhall Spa.
Johnson explained: “I didn’t drink back then. I was tee-total. I’ve made up for it since.”
In all, Johnson survived 50 missions in a 22-year career with the RAF and he won a host of awards in the process, including the Distinguished Flying Medal.
He went on to become a teacher and now lives in Bristol.
He has campaigned tirelessly to raise £1m for a memorial to Bomber Command.
Johnson married his sweetheart, Gwyn, just two weeks before the raid. She died from cancer in 2005.
Johnson said: “I was born in Hammeringham, a village just outside Horncastle.
“UI lived there for four years. Every time I come back up here, I look out for the signposts.
“I’m looking forward to the 70th anniversary and seeing a lot of old friends.”
Johnson was in Woodhall Spa to watch the 1959 Dambusters film which was shown at the Kinema in the Woods.
He also plans to attend various other events, including the unveiling of a new squadron memorial in Royal Square, Woodhall Spa on Sunday.