Guy Gibson was one of Bomber Command’s most famous officers duringWorld War Two. Gibson was awarded theVictoria Cross for his leadership during the legendary Dambuster Raid of 1943. As follow-up Lancaster bombers from 617 Squadron approached their target, Gibson flew his Lancaster alongside them to effectively double-up the amount of fire from the aircrafts that could be aimed at German gun emplacements based on top of their targeted dam. Gibson was seen as too valuable in terms of his propaganda value to be allowed to fly after the raid. He toured America and Britain and was effectively retired from engaging the enemy by his superiors. After a great deal of pleading, Gibson was allowed to fly ‘in anger’ and on the return from one of his missions over Europe, Gibson’s Mosquitocrashed and Gibson and his navigator, Jim Warwick, were killed in September 1944.
The official cause of the crash has always attracted a degree of scepticism among aviation historians. As no one could officially say what happened two theories were forwarded: the first was that Gibson ran out of fuel and crashed as a result. Critics of this cause countered it with their belief that Gibson was too skilled as a pilot to allow something so basic to bring him down. It was also said that if Gibson could fly a Lancaster bomber at such low heights as the Dambuster Raid required, he was certainly skilled enough to glide down a Mosquito to enable a decent crash landing even if he had run out of fuel. The second cause was that Gibson was flying his Mosquito very low, which he was certainly skilled enough to do, but was hit by enemy ground fire.
However, in October 2011 a new cause was forwarded to explain Gibson’s death. Newly found evidence indicates very clearly that Gibson’s Mosquito was brought down by what is now termed ‘friendly fire’ – that a British bomber returning from a mission over Nazi Germany mistook the low-flying Mosquito as a Luftwaffe aircraft and shot at it accordingly.
Both Lancaster reports also stated that they were flying just three minutes flying time from Steenbergen in the Netherlands which is where Gibson crashed.
Both combat reports were made classified by the RAF and have only recently been unearthed in the National Archives.
In his tape recording, McCormack described the moment when he was questioned by a RAF Intelligence officer.
“We were on the way back over Holland and then all of a sudden this kite comes right behind us twin engines and a single rudder – and it comes bouncing in towards us so we opened fire and we blew him up.
“When we got back we claimed a Ju 88 show down. The following day we were called in to the office and we were quizzed again.
“(RAF Intelligence Office) ‘What made you think it was a Ju 88?’ We said ‘it had twin engines and a single rudder.’ He said: ‘So has a Mosquito.’
“Well supposing – he put it very nicely – he said, ‘supposing a Mosquito – his radio and his radar was knocked out an he was lost and he spotted a Lancaster – he would only want to follow it home wouldn’t he? And it turned out it was ‘Gibbo’ we shot down.”
Some still believe that Gibson crashed for other reasons. Gibson had a huge belief in his own ability to fly. He was undoubtedly a highly skilled Lancaster pilot. However, he never completed a course in how to fly a Mosquito, an aircraft that handled very differently to a Lancaster. The ‘Wooden Wonder’ was much faster, more agile and a completely different flying experience. Jim Warwick, his navigator, was also flying on a Mosquito for the first time. It would have been his job to check the fuel tanks and the level of fuel on board during the flight. Some still believe that Gibson’s Mosquito simply ran out of fuel or that it had a faulty fuel gauge on board which gave misleading readings. Bernard McCormack, however, clearly believed that it was the 600 rounds he fired at the ‘Junker-88’ that brought down the aircraft that he was later told was Gibson’s Mosquito.