David John SHANNON DSO*, DFC*

SHANNON, David John

Service Number: 407729
Enlisted: 4 January 1941, Adelaide
Last Rank: Squadron Leader
Last Unit: No. 617 Squadron (RAF)
Born: Unley Park, SA, 27 May 1922
Home Town: Bridgewater, Adelaide Hills, South Australia
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Insurance Clerk
Died: Natural Causes, Sydenham, South London, United Kingdom, 8 April 1993, aged 70 years
Cemetery: Not yet discovered
Memorials:
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World War 2 Service

4 Jan 1941: Enlisted Royal Australian Air Force, Adelaide
4 Jan 1941: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Leading Aircraftman, SN 407729, Aircrew Training Units, Empire Air Training Scheme
23 Oct 1942: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Pilot Officer, SN 407729, No. 106 Squadron (RAF), Air War NW Europe 1939-45
28 Feb 1943: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Flight Lieutenant, SN 407729, No. 617 Squadron (RAF), Air War NW Europe 1939-45
21 May 1945: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Squadron Leader, SN 407729, Air War NW Europe 1939-45
15 Dec 1945: Discharged Royal Australian Air Force
Date unknown: Honoured Companion of the Distinguished Service Order and bar
Date unknown: Honoured Distinguished Flying Cross and bar

David Shannon’s changing crew

Extract from Dambusters Blog https://dambustersblog.com/category/david-shannon/

At the end of February 1943, David Shannon finished his tour of operations in 106 Squadron with a trip to St Nazaire. This was the 36th sortie in a run which stretched back to June 1942, shortly after his 20th birthday. During his tour, he had generally flown with a core crew made up of Danny Walker, navigator, Wallace Herbert, bomb aimer, Arnold Pemberton, wireless operator, Douglas McCulloch, mid upper gunner and Bernard Holmes, rear gunner. Over the course of the tour Shannon flew with a number of different flight engineers and/or second pilots, but in the last few months Sgt Cyril Chamberlain became the regular flight engineer.

An enforced change happened in November 1942, when Danny Walker came to the end of his own tour. He was posted to No 22 OTU as an instructor and thereafter a number of different navigators filled in for him. These included the experienced Norman Scrivener and Winston Burnside, both of whom also navigated for Guy Gibson in this period.

Shannon’s last operation in 106 Squadron on 28 February appears to have coincided with the end of the tours of Herbert, Pemberton, McCulloch and Holmes. Under normal circumstances, the crew would have broken up and all would have been sent on instructional duties for a period of six months. Shannon, however, wanted to carry on flying and somehow arranged a transfer to 83 Squadron at RAF Wyton, a Pathfinder outfit. It was there that he got a telephone call from Gibson, asking him to join him at Scampton where he was forming a new squadron.

Chamberlain, Herbert, Pemberton, McCulloch and Holmes were apparently all still at Syerston, waiting for new postings. Consideration was obviously given to reconstituting Shannon’s 106 Squadron crew, since Chamberlain, Pemberton, McCulloch and Holmes were all transferred to the new 617 Squadron at Scampton on or about 25 March 1943. Herbert appears either not to have been asked or to have declined the offer. Also, Shannon’s old crew member Danny Walker was specifically sought out to fill the post of navigator, and was brought over to Scampton from No 22 OTU at Wellesbourne Mountford.

It is not clear exactly what happened next. Shannon undertook two testing flights on 28 and 31 March, but he only recorded the names of the other pilots with whom he flew (Flt Lt Dierkes on 28 March, Flt Lt John Hopgood on 31 March). His next flight wasn’t until 6 April, when he did a 5 hour cross country and bombing trip. This was repeated, over a different route, two days later on 8 April. On both of these flights, a five man crew is recorded. This consisted of Walker and McCulloch, both from his 106 Squadron days, two new names – bomb aimer Len Sumpter and flight engineer Robert Henderson, plus Larry Nichols, a wireless operator borrowed from Melvin Young’s crew.

After the war, Len Sumpter described how he and Henderson were recruited to the squadron. At that stage, he had completed 13 operations in 57 Squadron, based at Scampton. Then his pilot was grounded with ear trouble and the crew were broken up. He and his erstwhile crewmate Henderson knew that a new squadron was being formed in the next two hangars, and heard that Shannon was looking for a bomb aimer and a flight engineer, so they sought him out. “We looked him over and he looked us over – and that’s the way I got on to 617 Squadron.” (Max Arthur, Dambusters: A Landmark Oral History, Virgin 2008, p18.) No date is given for this “interview”, but it must have occurred sometime between 31 March and 6 April.

Sumpter goes on to say that the crew didn’t get their own wireless operator until the end of April. He didn’t know – or didn’t mention – that there were three members of Shannon’s old crew, including wireless operator Arnold Pemberton, kicking their heels on the ground.
On 11 April, Shannon’s logbook records the first flight of a new crew member, rear gunner Jack Buckley. He had been transferred from No 10 OTU, where he was working as an instructor. He was an experienced gunner and had been commissioned, having completed a full tour of operations with 75 (New Zealand) Squadron. Albert Garshowitz (misspelt as Gowshowitz) from Bill Astell’s crew was the borrowed wireless operator on this occasion.

Two days later, on 13 April, a complete squadron crew list was compiled, under the title “Order of Battle”. This is preserved in a file in the National Archives (AIR14/842). It shows Shannon’s crew as: Henderson, flight engineer, Walker, navigator, Sumpter, bomb aimer, McCulloch, mid upper gunner and Buckley, rear gunner. The position of wireless operator is left blank. Flg Off McCulloch is also listed as A Flight Gunnery Leader. Four names are listed as ‘spares’, amongst whom are the other three members of Shannon’s 106 Squadron crew: Pemberton, Holmes and Chamberlain.

Another two days later, on 15 April, Douglas McCulloch attended an Aircrew Selection Board. He must therefore have previously applied for remustering. However, he returned to the squadron and flew on more training flights with Shannon on 19 and 21 April. He was eventually posted to No 13 Initial Training Wing on 1 May.

On 17 April, Bernard Holmes and Arnold Pemberton’s time at 617 Squadron ended, with them both being recorded as being posted to No 19 OTU at Kinloss. There is no record of the destiny of Cyril Chamberlain. Holmes’s son Robert recalls that his father apparently told his wife at the time that he and Pemberton were bored and frustrated through not being kept busy, and asked for a transfer.

Eleven days later, on 24 April, another squadron crew list was published. The Shannon crew now shows two changes. The wireless operator position has been filled by Flg Off Goodale DFC and the mid upper gunner has the handwritten name of Sgt Jagger in a space which had been left blank by the typist. The A Flight gunnery leader is now shown as Flg Off Glinz (from Norman Barlow’s crew). There are no longer any names listed as spares (National Archives: AIR14/842). This date coincides with Goodale’s first appearance in Shannon’s logbook. It is notable that Brian Jagger’s name may appear here, but in fact he did not fly with Shannon until 4 May.

Both men came with a deal of experience. Brian Goodale had a completed full tour and was recruited from No 10 OTU, where Jack Buckley had also been an instructor. Brian Jagger came from 50 Squadron. He had previously flown with John Fraser and Ken Earnshaw, two Canadians in John Hopgood’s crew, and they may have been instrumental in getting him on board.

On this date, David Shannon’s Dams Raid crew was finally established, and they would fly together for the next few months. Quite why three members of his crew from 106 Squadron were earlier brought over to Scampton but never used remains a mystery.

Later in the war, after a spell as an instructor, Bernard Holmes returned to operations with 77 Squadron, and joined a crew skippered by Wg Cdr J D R Forbes, the squadron CO. He remained there until the end of hostilities. He had married his wife Margaret in 1940, and they had two sons, born after the war. The family emigrated to South Africa in 1952, and he died there in 1979.

Thanks to Robert Holmes, Clive Smith, Robert Owen and Nigel Favill for their help with this article.

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Love and War

At the end of his tour, he had been posted to 83 Squadron in 8 Group to begin training as a Pathfinder. But Gibson had by then been asked to form a special new squadron and he was quick to track his old comrade down. Shannon agreed to join him, and consulted his crew, but only Danny Walker, his navigator, decided to come along.
It’s at this point in the story that Paul Brickhill (author ) brings Shannon into his narrative in the book, The Dam Busters. He tells us about the ‘baby faced’ Australian who was growing a moustache to make himself look older but who had a scorching tongue in the air when he felt like it. And he brings to the fore the romantic interlude in the intense training and drinking sessions of the next few weeks caused by Shannon falling for the ‘dark, slim’ WAAF officer, Ann Fowler. On the evening of 16 May 1943, it is she who notices, with a ‘woman’s wit’, that the aircrew are eating eggs for their evening meal, and therefore deduces that they are going on an operation, rather than yet another training flight.
Indeed they were. A few hours later that evening, at 2147, Shannon took off from Scampton bound for the Möhne Dam, flying alongside Melvin Young and David Maltby. When they arrived, he spent 30 minutes or more circling over the woods beyond the dam waiting his turn to make a bombing run. He was beginning to line up for an attack when it was realised that Maltby’s mine had caused the final breach. Elated by the sight, the three bombers which had yet to drop their mines set off for the nearby Eder Dam, accompanied by Gibson and Young.
When they arrived, they quickly realised that it was an even more difficult target than the Möhne. The lake is smaller and set in a deep valley, meaning that there is a much shorter approach which starts with a very tricky steep dive.
Shannon was the first to attack, and made three or four passes without releasing his mine. It was very difficult to get down to the right height after the dive and turn. Gibson told Maudslay to try, and he found it just as hard, so Shannon had another go. Two more dummy runs followed until, at last, he got the angle and speed right and dropped his mine. It bounced twice, hit the dam wall and exploded sending up a huge waterspout. At the briefing afterwards his effort is reported as ‘no result was seen’ but Shannon in fact felt that he had made a small breach.
Maudslay followed but something went wrong. His mine was released too late, hit the parapet and exploded. Although his aircraft was beyond the dam by the time this occurred, it may have been damaged, since his progress home was slower than would be expected and he was shot down near Emmerich.
It was now down to Les Knight, with the last mine on board. Shannon advised him on the direction and speed and then, on the second attempt, with the radio switched off so that he could concentrate, Knight made a perfect run, the bomb bounced three times and caused a large breach in the dam.
Shannon sped back to Scampton, landing less than an hour after Maltby and Martin. The party that followed went on through the night and into the afternoon of the next day. According to Brickhill, it was then that Shannon asked Ann Fowler to marry him and she agreed – but only on the condition that he shaved off his moustache.

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The Passing of David John Shannon DSO*, DFC*

David Shannon, DSO, DFC, who flew on the celebrated Dambuster raid of May 1943, died at his home in Sydenham, South London, on April 8 aged 70. He was born at St Umley, Park, South Australia, on May 27, 1922. A YOUTHFUL figure who could have passed as a 16 year-old, Flight-Lieutenant David Shannon was already a veteran bomber pilot by the time Guy Gibson chose him to join the newly-formed 617 squadron in the spring of 1943. Gibson himself did not know at that stage what the target for the special unit was to be. Secrecy surrounding the raid and its objectives was among the best of the war. Not until she saw his picture in the paper after it was all over, did Gibson's own wife know what he had been up to, and that two of the great Ruhr dams had been destroyed by a lone squadron in a single night. He had told her he was ''resting'' in a training squadron, after a hectic period on operations. (Cited from: http://www.militarian.com/threads/david-shannons-dso-on-display-at-awm.5399/)

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Biography

This biography courtesy of the AWM

Squadron Leader David John Shannon, DSO (and Bar), DFC (and Bar) (1922–1993)

David John Shannon, born 27 May 1922 at Unley Park, South Australia, was an insurance clerk who joined the RAAF Reserve on 3 July 1940 at No 5 Recruiting Centre, Adelaide, just after his 18th birthday.

(Ed note - anecdotally he joined the RAAF because the queue to join the Navy was too long!)

He then enlisted on 4 January 1941 with the Royal Australian Air Force. Assigned service number 407729 and mustered as Air Crew, Shannon commenced training at Pearce, Western Australia (WA) in March with 5 Initial Training School, then 9 Elementary Flying Training School, Cunderin WA, and finally 4 Service Flying Training School, Geraldton WA. Here, Shannon graduated as a bomber pilot in September with the rank of Pilot Officer.

Six days later he embarked for England to complete his training, ending up at 19 Operational Training Unit, Kinloss, Scotland from March to early June 1942 where he converted to twin-engined bombers - in this case, the Armstrong-Whitworth Whitley IV and V models. Shannon was promoted to Flying Officer on 23 March 1942 and was assigned to 106 Squadron in July 1942, which had just converted to Lancasters.

His first operational flight occurred four days after joining the squadron, on 25 June, against the Focke Wulf Aircraft Works at Bremen; Shannon noted in his logbook: '1,100 aircraft took part'. In July he undertook further Lancaster training, often with Wing Commander Guy Gibson as his first pilot. Shannon was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in January 1943 for 'attacks on industrial targets in enemy territory'. Between June 1942 and February 1943, Shannon flew 36 missions, including five to Bremen and three each to Wismar, Hamberg, Dusseldorf, Genoa and Turin, surviving at least four flak hits over this period. On the Turin raid of 4 February 1943, his load of incendiaries caught fire in the bomb bay and had to be rapidly jettisoned, resulting in the 'largest forest fire ever seen in Italy'.

The then Commanding Officer of 106 Squadron, Guy Gibson, left the Squadron in February 1943 to form 617 Squadron, RAF, and Shannon's ability as a pilot saw him invited by Gibson to join him for 'special flying operations'. Shannon readily agreed and joined 617 Squadron in March 1943, where he trained as part of the Dambusters force. On the night of 16 May 1943, he piloted one of the Lancasters ( 'L for Leather') in the first wave assigned to the Mohne Dam; when that target was successfully breached by the fifth mine, dropped by Flight Lieutenant Maltby, he flew to the secondary target, the Eder Dam, 100 kilometres away. After flying three unsuccessful approaches (due to the close surrounding hills) through heavy defences he was ordered by Gibson to hold off and allow Squadron Leader Maudslay's Lancaster to try; Maudslay tried but also failed to line up his aircraft properly. Shannon was sent in again, and after two attempts dropped his bomb, but without positive results. Maudslay tried again, but his bomb overshot and the aircraft and crew was subsewuntly lost over the Dutch border.  Finally, Pilot Officer Les Knight's Lancaster was sent in and Knight managed to drop his bomb perfectly. The wall of the Eder Dam collapsed 'as if a giant hand had pushed a hole through cardboard', according to Gibson, sending some 160 million cubic litres of water down the Eder Valley in a wall of water some four or five metres high.

Shannon was immediately awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for 'bombing attacks on the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe Dams Germany'. He continued with 617 Squadron until October 1944, being promoted to Flight Lieutenant on 23 September 1943 and was recognised as one of the squadron's core personnel. The squadron developed a specialist and precision bombing role and for Shannon, the remainder of the year was spent in low level training with the new 12,000 pound bombs (predecessors of the 'Tallboy' and 22,000 pound 'Grand Slam' bombs), with only four operations flown before the end of 1943. The first was against Bologna in Italy on 29 July, followed by two operations against the Dortmund-Ems Canal on 14 and 15 September (the first aborted and resulting in the ditching and death of Squadron Leader Maltby and his crew in the Channel). This appears to be Shannon's first operational use of the new large bombs. There were two final missions on 16 and 30 December, with the former being a massed attack on the V2 rocket site at Flixecourt (noted as 'Germany's Secret Rocket Gun. 1 x 12,000 lb bombed 15,000. Direct hit' in Shannon's log book), and the latter being a return raid on a nearby flying bomb launching site.

In November 1943 he was awarded a bar to his DFC for 'low level attack in adverse weather against heavy opposition' (presumably for the Dortmund-Ems canal attacks).

Special operations recommenced on 4 January 1944, primarily against targets in France, including flying bomb sites at Freval (4, 21 and 25 January) and the Gnome and Rhone aircraft Factory at Limoges on 8 February. This latter raid was the first led by Wing Commander Leonard Cheshire since taking over command of 617 Squadron and the first where targets were accurately marked by a low flying aircraft (Cheshire at about 50 feet). It was also the most successful raid by the specialist squadron since the dams raid, proving both their accuracy and the need for precise target marking. Only one bomb missed its mark.

March 1944 saw a progression of vital factory targets in France bombed in the same successful manner - La Ricamerie needle bearing factory on 10 March, the Michelin tyre factory at Bergerac on 16 March and the explosives works at Angouleme on 20th (which Shannon notes 'Good trip. Target well pranged. The 6th wizard trip in succession'). Two final factory raids on 23 and 25 March completed the month. During the first half of April, Shannon received training on Mosquitos and from 18 April flew as one of two Pathfinders for 617 Squadron, marking targets at Paris Railway Yards (18 and 20 April), Brunswick in Germany on 20 April (the first successful target-marking of a large enemy city) and Munich on 24th.

In the lead-up to D-Day, a major German military camp at Mailly-Le-Camp was bombed on 3 May before Shannon returned briefly to Lancasters for a diversionary Window-dropping exercise on the evening of 5 June between Le Harve and Boulogne to simulate an invasion fleet - well to the north of the real landing beaches in Normandy. This was one of Shannon's least favourite missions - 'Involved the hazardous task of flying straight and level at 3,000 feet in bright moonlight and dropping Window at the same time. (Bloody browned off).' For the remainder of June, 617 Squadron flew seven raids to support the invasion or hit V1 flying bomb launch sites. Shannon acted as Pathfinder on six of these raids.

Shannon was fast becoming one of the RAAF's most highly decorated pilots when he received notification of the awarding of a bar to his DSO on 1 August 1944 for 'courage of high order on numerous sorties'. It appears that at this point, Shannon was removed from the danger of active operations and transferred to 511 Squadron, a long-range transport squadron. He had flown 69 missions. He was promoted to Squadron Leader on 1 January 1945 and transferred to 246 Squadron in March 1945. He was ultimately demobilised in December 1945.

Instead of returning to Australia, Shannon opted to remain in England, joining Shell Oil as an executive. In 1963, the Australian War Memorial commissioned William Dargie to paint Shannon in England; Dargie found Shannon 'a real dinkum Aussie. "We both got a little homesick talking about Australia.' Shannon died in 1993 a few weeks before a planned 50th reunion of Dambusters veterans.

 

More to follow.............

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