Shropshire Star

Last Dambuster George ‘Johnny’ Johnson dies aged 101

The RAF officer was the last surviving original member of the squadron that took part in the famous bombing raid on German dams

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The last living Dambuster Johnny Johnson has died at the age of 101 (Joe Giddens/PA)

The last surviving Dambuster has died at the age of 101.

George Leonard “Johnny” Johnson was the last surviving original member of RAF 617 Squadron’s famous “Dambusters” raid of 1943.

He died peacefully at his care home in Westbury on Trym, Bristol, on Wednesday night surrounded by his family, a source told the PA news agency.

RAF Cosford paid tribute to the former Dambuster online, tweeting the RAF motto "per ardua ad astra" (through adversity to the stars).

He was a bomb aimer during Operation Chastise, which was tasked with attacking German dams during the Second World War.

Around a third of the RAF Bomber Command crew did not survive the raid.

Following the death of his wartime colleague, Fred Sutherland, in January 2019, Johnson became the last survivor of the original flying members of 617 Squadron.

On November 25 2022, Mr Johnson, who retired from the RAF as a squadron leader, celebrated his 101st birthday.

In 2017 he collected an MBE from the Queen for services to Second World War remembrance and the community in Bristol.

Squadron Leader George Leonard ‘Johnny’ Johnson was made an MBE by the Queen (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Squadron Leader George Leonard ‘Johnny’ Johnson was made an MBE by the Queen (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

TV presenter Carol Vorderman had launched a petition to get the veteran a knighthood.

She marched to Westminster to hand-deliver the petition, containing 235,000 signatures, to 10 Downing Street, alongside RAF veteran John Nichol.

Speaking after he collected the honour, Mr Johnson said the Queen told him: “Glad to see the Dambusters are still here.”

Mr Johnson was the last survivor of the famous bombing raids on the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams in Germany.

On May 16 and 17 1943, a total of 133 Allied air crew left for the raid on board 19 Lancaster bombers, carrying Barnes Wallis’s specially-adapted bouncing bombs – that looked like “glorified dustbins”, according to Mr Johnson – led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson.

Fifty-three men were killed and three were captured.

Speaking five years ago, Mr Johnson said he still had “strong memories” from that period, adding: “That is something which will live forever, as far as I’m concerned.

“I don’t volunteer, but if people ask will I talk to their club or their group, that means they are interested, and if they are interested I will talk to them.

“I’ve got to the stage now where I say to the children ‘If I say I don’t want to do this any more, you can send the box in as soon as you like’.”

Johnson photographed in 2017 at his home in Bristol holding a picture of Lancaster bombers (Ben Birchall/PA)
George ‘Johnny’ Johnson photographed in 2017 at his home in Bristol holding a picture of Lancaster bombers (Ben Birchall/PA)

Mr Johnson previously said his crew was asked to join a special mission towards the end of his first tour, when he was due to get leave. They were not told what the mission was until the night before.

“Anticipating that week’s leave, my fiancee (Gwyn Morgan) and I had arranged to get married on April 3,” he said.

“(She said in a letter): ‘If you are not there on April 3, don’t bother.’

“When we got to Scampton, and this was March 25, first thing we heard was ‘No leave’.

“Joe (McCarthy) took us as a crew up to Gibson’s office … and said: ‘My bomb aimer is supposed to be getting married and he is going to get married.’

“We got our leave, and I got my wedding.”

Just six weeks later Mr Johnson and his crewmates successfully dropped their bomb on the Sorpe dam.

They did not destroy it but the Germans had to empty it to repair it, causing major disruption to the war effort.

After 22 years’ service in the air force, Mr Johnson worked as a teacher, including at Rampton Secure Hospital, and later at another hospital for people with mental health problems.

He and his wife later moved to Devon, where he became a Conservative councillor.

Former RAF navigator John Nichol, who was captured during the first Gulf War, paid tribute to Mr Johnson.

“Very sad to learn that the ‘Last Dambuster’, Sqn Ldr Johnny Johnson, has died aged 101,” he wrote on Twitter.

“His WW2 generation sacrificed so much, yet asked nothing in return. I was privileged to share many a bottle of his much-loved red wine.

“The nation has lost a true hero. Blue skies Sir.”

Dan Llywelyn Hall painted a number of portraits of Mr Johnson, including one depicting all 133 airmen who took part in the Dambuster raids.

The Welsh artist said he was introduced to “disarming and generous” Mr Johnson in 2018.

“After having a sitting with Johnny for a single portrait, it grew into an ambition to reunite him with his squadron of 132 of the men who flew out on one moonlit evening,” Mr Llywelyn Hall said.

“The personal stories and individual characters made up for a wall of faces that the families, joined by Johnny, unveiled in Lincoln to mark the 75th anniversary.

“He personified charm and made for an easy sitter as his curiosity kept you alert and searching.”