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The forgotten story of Norfolk man’s role in audacious ‘Dambuster’ raid

PUBLISHED: 14:08 09 May 2020 | UPDATED: 14:08 09 May 2020

Charles Roberts, from Northrepps, was the navigator on one of the Lancasters which took part in the Dambuster raid during the Second World War. Images: Supplied by David Russell/Imperial War Museums

Charles Roberts, from Northrepps, was the navigator on one of the Lancasters which took part in the Dambuster raid during the Second World War. Images: Supplied by David Russell/Imperial War Museums

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He was part of one of the most audacious raids of the Second World War.

Charles Roberts, from Northrepps, was the navigator on the AJ-A Lancaster bomber in the Dambuster raid. Picture: Supplied by David RussellCharles Roberts, from Northrepps, was the navigator on the AJ-A Lancaster bomber in the Dambuster raid. Picture: Supplied by David Russell

And although 77 years may have passed since Charles Roberts lost his life in the Dambuster mission over Nazi Germany, the memory of his brave actions lives on.

Flt Sgt Roberts, from Northrepps near Cromer, was the navigator on one of the eight Lancasters that never returned from the raid, after 19 such bombers had set off.

Following on from the VE Day 75 celebrations, the Northrepps Poppyland branch of the Royal British Legion had planned to hold a memorial service to mark the anniversary of the raid on 16–17 May, but that has now been cancelled due to the lockdown.

But David Russell, from the branch, said ‘Charlie’ Roberts would still be remembered.

A scrapbook with a photo of airman Charles Roberts, dressed in his khaki uniform while training in Rhodesia. Picture: Supplied by David RussellA scrapbook with a photo of airman Charles Roberts, dressed in his khaki uniform while training in Rhodesia. Picture: Supplied by David Russell

Mr Russell said: “During the AJ-A Lancaster’s run in to attack the dam, Roberts’s role was to stand in the cockpit looking out of the starboard blister at the reflection of the of the two lights set as to when they touched the aircraft was at the correct height of 60 feet above the water.

“He would have called ‘up’- ‘down’ or ‘steady’ during the approach as the pilot adjusted the height.”

The Dambuster raid saw bouncing bombs destroy the walls of reservoirs in the Ruhr Valley, flooding a vast area.

The AJ-A Lancaster was shot down over Holland on its return. A memorial stone now stands near the crash site on a beach at Castricum aan Zee, and Mr Roberts and his crewmates were buried at Bergen General Cemetery in the Netherlands.

'Bouncing bombs' were fitted to the undercarriage of the Lancasters for the Dambuster raids. The spinning bombs were designed to bounce along the surface of a reservoir before they hit the dam wall, where they would explode. Image:  Public domain'Bouncing bombs' were fitted to the undercarriage of the Lancasters for the Dambuster raids. The spinning bombs were designed to bounce along the surface of a reservoir before they hit the dam wall, where they would explode. Image: Public domain

Mr Russell said Mr Roberts was inexperienced at the time of the dams raid in 1943, but did not appear to have made any significant errors. His Lancaster took part in the attack on the Möhne Dam, which was destroyed in the raid.

Mr Roberts was born on January 19, 1921 to Augustus and Dorcas Roberts of Northrepps, and he was educated at Paston Grammar School North Walsham.

He later trained to be a chartered accountant in Cromer.

Mr Roberts joined the RAF in 1940 and was initially chosen for pilot training. He went to Rhodesia for flying school and ended up qualifying as a navigator.

Lancasters in flight in 1942. Such bombers were used in the Dambuster raids. Image: Imperial War Museums/Public domainLancasters in flight in 1942. Such bombers were used in the Dambuster raids. Image: Imperial War Museums/Public domain

He had been engaged to a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), who worked at RAF Scampton air base packing parachutes.

19 bombers took part in the famous 'Dambuster' raids on the German reservoirs in the Ruhr Valley. Eight aircraft were lost in the mission. Only 77 of the 133 crew that set off returned. Image: Getty19 bombers took part in the famous 'Dambuster' raids on the German reservoirs in the Ruhr Valley. Eight aircraft were lost in the mission. Only 77 of the 133 crew that set off returned. Image: Getty

The breached Möhne Dam after the Dambuster raid. Charles Roberts' Lancaster was part of the attack on this dam. Image: Public domainThe breached Möhne Dam after the Dambuster raid. Charles Roberts' Lancaster was part of the attack on this dam. Image: Public domain

Charles Roberts's Lancaster, the AJ-A, after it crashed on the Dutch coast, south of Castricum aan Zee.
Image: The 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial FoundationCharles Roberts's Lancaster, the AJ-A, after it crashed on the Dutch coast, south of Castricum aan Zee. Image: The 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial Foundation

The grave of Charles Roberts, from Northrepps, who served as navigator on the AJ-A Lancaster bomber and lost his life in the Dambuster raid. The grave is at Bergen General Cemetery in the Netherlands.
Image: Jan van Dalen/The 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial FoundationThe grave of Charles Roberts, from Northrepps, who served as navigator on the AJ-A Lancaster bomber and lost his life in the Dambuster raid. The grave is at Bergen General Cemetery in the Netherlands. Image: Jan van Dalen/The 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial Foundation

A memorial stone at Castricum aan Zee in The Netherlands honouring the crew of the AJ-A Lancaster bomber in the Dambuster raid. Picture: TriumphTR7RVA memorial stone at Castricum aan Zee in The Netherlands honouring the crew of the AJ-A Lancaster bomber in the Dambuster raid. Picture: TriumphTR7RV

A  memorial stone at Castricum aan Zee in the Netherlands honouring the crew of the Dambuster AJ-A Lancaster bomber, on which Charles Roberts served as navigator. Image: Jan van Dalen/The 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial FoundationA memorial stone at Castricum aan Zee in the Netherlands honouring the crew of the Dambuster AJ-A Lancaster bomber, on which Charles Roberts served as navigator. Image: Jan van Dalen/The 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial Foundation

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A plaque on the memorial stone at Castricum aan Zee in the Netherlands honouring the crew of the Dambuster AJ-A Lancaster bomber, on which Charles Roberts served as navigator. Image: Jan van Dalen/The 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial FoundationA plaque on the memorial stone at Castricum aan Zee in the Netherlands honouring the crew of the Dambuster AJ-A Lancaster bomber, on which Charles Roberts served as navigator. Image: Jan van Dalen/The 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial Foundation


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