by Philip E. West
Approx. Overall size 15¾ ” x 28” /400mm x 711mm
Probably the most famous RAF Squadron in history, mainly due to the audacious Dambuster raid in 1943. Other notably successful missions flying their Avro Lancaster bombers included precision raids on the mighty German battleship Tirpitz, U-boat pens, railways, V-weapons sites, canals and bridges. Through their skill and bravery 617 Sqn. crews received many high honours including V.C's for Wing Commander Guy Gibson and Wing Commander Leonard Cheshire.
Signed by at least two 617 Sqn. pilots and four other 617 aircrew. The Artist Proofs and Remarques are also signed by Wing Commander W. Tait DSO*** DFC* and Sqn Ldr. Tony Iveson DFC
- a total of eight 617 Sqn. signatures.
Please see below for details of the signatories of this edition.
As with all our prints, this edition was signed in the presence
of Sean Whyte, owner and publisher of SWA Fine Art Limited.
Philip West is recognised as one of the world’s finest aviation artists. Collectors of his original oil paintings span the globe, many waiting patiently for his next breathtaking canvas to appear. Self taught, Philip has won many accolades for his paintings, not the least of which was the prestigious Duane Whitney Award for Excellence at the 1997 American Society of Aviation Artists Exhibition.
We do hope you will find these biographies of interest. We hope that by knowing a little about the men behind each signature, it will help you get the most from your copy of “Legends of the Air”. We would ask you not to reproduce the biographies in any format without our permission. Please note these details have been supplied by each individual and copied with virtually no editing, by SWA Fine Art.
Warrant Officer Colin Cole (Wireless Operator 617 Sqn) volunteered for Air Crew and joined the RAF in 1942 at the age of 18, training as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner. He was posted to 617 Squadron in September 1944 and took part in the final operations on the Tirpitz on 12 November 1944 and saw the vessel listing heavily before it finally capsized.
On his twenty-first birthday (13 April 1945) he took part in a raid on the warships Prince Eugen and the Lutzow at Swinemunde on the Baltic coast, which unfortunately had to be abandoned over the target due to 10/10 cloud. A further attack a few days later was more successful.
He remained with 617 Squadron after the war and went to India for a short period with “Tiger Force”. Returning to the UK, he was finally posted to Scampton and took part in the disposal of surplus “Upkeep” weapons and, not realising it at the time, had the privilege of flying in Gibson’s original Dambuster Lancaster ED 932 (AG-G).
Sqn Ldr Edward A Wass (Air Gunner – 617 Sqn) enlisted in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve at the age of 18 in May 1939 and was mobilized for full time service on the outbreak of WW2 in September. He trained at RAF Cranwell for duties in the RAF Supply and Accounting branch and served with the Desert Airforce in the Middle East until Mid 1943 and then returned to the UK.
After completion of flying training he joined 617 Squadron in 1944 and he participated in operations throughout the year against the selected targets allocated to 617 Squadron, U Boat Pens, Dams and Rocket Sites etc. and two attacks culminating in the sinking of the ‘Tirpitz’. However, in January 1945 during the attack on the U Boat Pens in Bergen, Norway, the squadron was attacked by a force of German fighters and his aircraft suffered damage and fire. Crew members baled out and after initial evasion were captured and transported from Norway to POW Camps in Germany.
After liberation and returning to the UK in the summer of 1945, Ted returned to ground duties in the RAF Supply Branch. Assuming he would be demobilized in 1946, he was recommended for a permanent commission and continued his RAF career for a further 30 years with appointments again in the Middle East, Norway and Germany and Command and MOD Headquarters in the UK.
Flt Lt Freddie Watts DFC (Pilot – 617 Sqn) volunteered for Aircrew Duties in 1940 and was offered pilot training. He trained in 1941/42 with the US Army Air Corps in Georgia USA. Returning to the UK as a Sergeant Pilot, he went through the training pipeline, converted to Lancasters and, with his new crew, was posted to 630 Sqn East Kirkby in late 1943. Their first trip was to Berlin followed by several others.
His last op. on Main Force was the debacle of Nuremburg on 30 March 1944 when 96 aircraft failed to return. The following morning he learned that he was posted to 617 (Dambuster) Sqn at Woodhall Spa commanded by Leonard Cheshire.
In the ensuing months he flew a further 35 ops. with 617 including D-Day Operation ‘Chastise’, U Boat pens at Brest and all Squadron ops against ‘Tirpitz’ including the sinking thereof. He completed his second tour during this period and left the Squadron in March 1945 to go on instructional duties. Granted a permanent commission he served a further 20 years before retiring in 1965.
Flt. Lt. Arthur Poore D.F.C. (Pilot – 617 Sqn) volunteered for the R.A.F.V.R. in December 1939 aged 19 and joined the R.A.F. in May 1940. After gaining his wings he was fortunate to be posted as a staff pilot at No 2 School of Air Navigation in Cheshire where, for two years he gained many hours flying experience and map reading skills. He was subsequently posted to 106 Lancaster Squadron and after 23 raids over Germany was selected to join 617 Squadron. On completion of his second tour of ops. he was promoted to Acting Squadron leader and transferred to No. 1 Lancaster Finishing School at Syerston, Notts. as a Flight Commander. Finally he was posted to 511 Squadron at Lyneham, Wilts. to fly York airliners to and from the UK and Singapore or Ceylon.
Flying Officer Basil Fish (Navigator – 617 Sqn) Whilst studying for a degree in Civil Engineering, Basil Fish joined the Air Squadron at Manchester University when it was first formed in 1941. He combined his studies with initial RAF aircrew training. After further training in South Africa he qualified as a Navigator being posted to 617 Squadron in 1944. He was a member of one of the first crews to be sent there without previous operational flying experience. He was the only person in his first crew to continue flying on operations after their aircraft crashed in dense fog when returning to England after a raid on Pollitz in December 1944. He stayed with the Squadron for the remainder of his RAF career completing 24 operational sorties, each one on specialist targets when either the Tallboy or Grand Slam bombs were dropped. During this period he was Commissioned. During his operational flying he was involved in raids on the Kembs and Urft dams together with those on the German battleships Lutzau and Tirpitz. Early in 1946 he applied for and was granted early release from the RAF in order to complete his University studies, qualifying with a B.Sc. in 1947
Flt. Lt. Murray R. Valentine (Wireless Operator) was enlisted in the Royal Air Force in 1942. He completed initial radio and navigational training and joined Flying. Officer Nelson Hill with a Canadian crew and completed his first tour of operations (30 trips) with No. 61 sqn Bomber Command. The crew decided to carry on and Flying Officer. Hill was accepted to join 617 Squadron. They were halfway through their second operational tour, having delivered the 12,000 lbs ‘Tallboy’ and 22,000 lbs. ‘Grand Slam’; bombs to the enemy, when hostilities ended. Murray served until 1963 and then took voluntary retirement. His service included O.C. G.S.O. Germany – directing staff at R.A.F. O.C.T.U.
Sqn. Ldr. Lawrence “Benny” Goodman (Pilot – 617 Sqn) volunteered for aircrew at 18 years of age and was called up in 1940. After basic training he went to RAF Abingdon – a Whitley O.T.U – for what he was told would be ‘straight through’ training. This did not materialise and he found himself in the role of a Ground Gunner. In 1941, a posting eventually came through to the Initial Training Wing followed by Elementary Flying School at Peterborough and an instructor’s course at Woodley, Reading; then to Clyffe Pyparde, a holding unit. A sea journey to Canada followed and Service Flying Training School on Ansons. On completion he was posted to Kingston, Ontario, to instruct Acting Leading Naval Airmen on the Royal Navy tactics of the time. e.g. jinking after take off, dive bombing etc. “However, I had to learn everything first, so I was just about one step ahead of the students! said Benny.
Eventually returning to the UK and O.T.U. on Wellingtons at Silverstone and Heavy Conversion Bomber Unit at Swinderby on Stirlings. Then a short course at the Lancaster Conversion Unit. After an interview Benny and his crew were surprised and delighted to find they had been selected for 617 Squadron – this was in 1944 and they stayed together as a crew on 617 Squadron until the war in Europe ended.
He completed 30 missions – all with William “Jock” Burnett as his flight engineer. Notable raids Benny took part in were on the Tirpitz (29/10/44), dropping the Grand Slam 22,000 bomb on the Arnsberg Viaduct (19/03/45) and the attack on Berchtesgarten ‘Eagles nest’ (25/05/45).
The Artist Proof and Remarque editions are also signed by:
Sqn. Ldr. Tony Iveson, (Pilot) DFC, AE, CRAeS was born and raised in Yorkshire and learned to fly in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve before the war. In 1940 he flew with 616 and 92 Fighter Squadrons, Fighter Command, and survived ditching a Spitfire in the North Sea after a combat with a Junkers 88. After qualifying at the RAF’s Central Flying School in 1941 he went on to be a flying instructor in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.
On returning to Britain he was directed to Bomber Command and was posted to No. 617 ‘Dam Busters’ Squadron in 1944 flying Lancasters. He was later appointed a Flight Commander. Amongst other operations he flew on all three attacks the Squadron made on the German battleship “Tirpitz”. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in January 1945.
He was seconded to BOAC at the end of the war to Captain Avro Lancastrians on the re-opening of the routes to Australia and other countries. Later he returned to RAF Transport Command flying Handley Page Hastings before retiring in 1951. He also commanded an Auxiliary Squadron from 1954 to 1957.
He was Secretary of 617 Squadron Association from 1966 to 1990 and is currently Chairman of the Bomber Command Association, still 6500 strong! His post-war career was entirely in communications – in the printing industry, in television, advertising, corporate and financial public relations. Since his retirement in 1990 he lived in the south of France for eight years, returning to England after the death of his wife.
Group Captain James Brian Tait, (Pilot) DSO & 3 bars, DFC and bar. Officer Commanding No 617 Squadron, RAF, July 1944. (This biography was kindly written by Sqn. Ldr. Tony Iveson). “A graduate of the RAF College, Cranwell before the second World War, James Tait flew Handley Page Heyfords and/or Fairey Hendons in the early days of Bomber Command. The Command was formed in 1936.
He first operated on Armstrong Whitleys and later commanded 78 Squadron at a base in Yorkshire, which was equipped with Handley Page Halifaxes, then powered by Rolls Royce Merlins.
He had a most distinguished career in the main force of Bomber Command, mostly, I believe, in 4 Group in Yorkshire from 1940-1944, where he won a DSO and two bars and the DFC. Obviously he served with more than one Squadron and must have had rest periods but I have no information on this.
He succeeded Leonard Cheshire as C O of 617 Squadron and planned and led every operation but one (23 in all) in the five months he spent at Woodhall Spa, including the three against the German battleship “Tirpitz” which was sunk in Tromso Fjord on 12th November 1944.
I believe his five-ton “Tallboy” bombs hit “Tirpitz” twice – in Alten Fjord and at Tromso in the final attack.
He was awarded a bar to his DFC for leading the low level attack, in daylight, on the Kembs Barrage, on the Rhine north of Basle, in October 1944, and the third bar to his DSO for the success against the “Tirpitz”. In total James Tait must have flown around 100 operations. He retired from the RAF as a Group Captain some 30 years ago
Dame Vera Lynn – I’m afraid we do not have a biography on this distinguished lady.
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