One of the last survivors of the 1944 RAF attack that sank the German battleship Tirpitz was feted by present-day members of his old unit – the 617 “Dambusters” squadron – at an anniversary reception in his honour yesterday.
Basil Fish, now 96, had been a navigator on Operation Catechism exactly 74 years earlier. It was the last of nine attempts to sink the 45,000-ton behemoth, pride of the German fleet, and it marked a turning point in the war.
Its destruction by 30 Lancaster heavy bombers signalled the end of Germany’s naval battle in northern waters.
“Like many veterans, dad didn’t speak much of his exploits,” said his son, Peter, at yesterday’s reception inside Ilkley’s Box Tree restaurant.
“It’s very difficult to comprehend what they went through. It’s only recently I found out that when they came back from the final trip, the aircraft had been damaged by flak.
“It just brings it home to you how close they were all to death when they were flying on those missions.
“There are so many who didn’t survive and obviously I’m very proud of him.
“Yet it’s not something we’ve discussed a lot as a family.”
The raid on the Tirpitz came a few months after Operation Chastise, the airborne attacks on Germany’s Möhne and Edersee dams that earned 617 Squadron its nickname.
But despite Catechism’s successful outcome, the casualty rate within the unit was high, and on a subsequent mission, Mr Fish’s plane crashed over the Lincolnshire Wolds. Although injured, he managed to drag the captain, Arthur Joplin, from the wreckage, and the two are the only known survivors of the Tirpitz raid. Mr Joplin lives in New Zealand.
In Ilkley, present-day pilots from the successor unit to 617 Squadron presented him with a large framed photograph of the F35 combat jet they now fly.
Mr Fish, who was originally from Lancashire and had studied at Manchester University, became a civil engineer after the war, gained his pilot’s licence and toured Africa with his family. He now suffers from dementia and lives in a care home in Harrogate.