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Flying Officer William John Tytherleigh (120851) DFC

Flying officer Tytherleigh, a member of the Royal Air Force volunteer reserve, was the front gunner in Lancaster ED937/G, the lead aircraft, 'B' flight, first wave, during the 'Dambusters' raid by 617 Squadron on Monday 17th May, 1943. The pilot was Squadron Leader H.E. Maudslay, DFC.

The Lancaster bomber, call sign 'AJ-Z for Zebra', was scheduled to attack the Mohne dam but was reassigned because the Mohne had been breached before their turn came. Instead, they flew on to the Eder dam, where they made two trial runs before releasing the 'bouncing bomb' on the third. The bomb was released a little too late. It exploded on the parapet of the dam instead of the front elevation, just as the aircraft was flying over, and the Lancaster was damaged by the explosion. The crew began their journey back to RAF Scampton but Flying Officer Tytherleigh died, aged 21, with the rest of the seven-man crew, when the plane was shot down at 2.35 am over Emmerich in Holland.

His remains and those of two other crew could not be identified, so he was buried together with Michael Fuller and Robert Urquhart in a single grave. After the war, they were all re-interred in Reichswald Forest war cemetery, Germany in collective grave 5.b.16-18.

Click the blue text to see the Commonwealth War Grave Commission entry.


Flying Officer Tytherleigh, always known as “Johnnie”, was born in 1922. He lived with his parents, AP and Julia Tytherleigh in Hove, Sussex. He joined the RAF in 1940 and qualified as an observer / gunner. He completed a full tour with 50 Squadron in 1941-2 and was commissioned in April 1942 having completed 42 operations. He was recommended for a Distinguished Flying Cross on 29th June of that year (although the paperwork was mislaid and the award was not actually announced until June 1945). After further training he rejoined 50 Squadron, who by then were flying Lancasters, in the autumn of 1942, taking his station in the mid upper turret. He flew 9 times with pilot Henry Maudslay and crew Robert Urquhart and Norman Burrows from February 1943 before the four of them were transferred to 617 Squadron.

In June 2002, a six-paragraph letter purporting to be from Wing Commander Guy Gibson to Flying Officer Tytherleigh's parents, was offered for sale at auction in Swindon and was expected to raise £6,000. However, the letter was identified as a fake when Flying Officer Tytherleigh's sister, Edith Widdowson, noticed that the address to which the letter had been addressed was wrong and that the author had spelt the name of the pilot incorrectly.

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