The last surviving Dambusters pilot, Les Munro, has died at the age of 96, the New Zealand Bomber Command Association has said. Sqn Ldr Munro died in hospital in his native New Zealand on Tuesday following heart problems, the association said. The legendary World War Two Dambusters operation flew from RAF Scampton, near Lincoln, in 1943 and successfully used “bouncing bombs” to attack German dams. There are now only two surviving crew members of the Dambusters missions. Out of 133 crew, only 77 returned.
Sqn Ldr Munro’s aircraft was hit by flak, but he made it home after the hit had destroyed communications in his Lancaster bomber over the Netherlands. Dave Homewood, of the association, described Sqn Ldr Munro as a “down-to-earth man” who was “very modest about what he did during the war”.
“I think he was pretty proud to have been part of the Dambusters, although he was disappointed he never got to drop his weapon.”He went on to be a flight commander and did a lot of very important operations after the dam raid, although these are often forgotten because the Dambusters were world-renowned.” Sqn Ldr Munro, who was patron of the NZ Bomber Command, was still flying at the age of 95 and had co-piloted an Avro Anson plane in January, Mr Homewood added.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key paid tribute, writing on Twitter: “Really sad to hear of Les Munro’s death, New Zealand has lost a remarkable man who led a remarkable life.” In an interview with the BBC on the 70th anniversary of the Dambusters raid, Sqn Ldr Munro said he had not worried about the dangers of the mission. “I approached most operations with a thought: ‘If I’m going to cop it, so be it,'” he said.
Earlier this year, he put his medals up for auction to help pay for the upkeep of the Bomber Command Memorial in London. A day before the auction, they were bought by British peer Lord Ashcroft for £75,000 ($117,000). He donated them to the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland. While Sqn Ldr Munro was the last living Dambusters pilot, he is survived by two crew members – Canadian former front gunner Fred Sutherland and British former bomb aimer George Johnson.
- On the night of 16 May 1943, 19 bombers left RAF Scampton near Lincoln in three waves
- The first headed to the Mohne and the Eder Dams, the second and third to the Sorpe dam
- Out of the 133 crew that set off, only 77 returned, including Sqn Ldr Munro, who made it home after flak destroyed the internal and external communications in his Lancaster bomber over the Netherlands
- He had been briefed to attack the Sorpe Dam by releasing the bomb from the lowest possible height, while flying at 180 mph (290 km/h)
- The Sorpe Dam was damaged but the Mohne and Eder Dams were destroyed, flooding the Ruhr valley and killing an estimated 1,300 people, mostly civilians