617 SQUADRON

617 Squadron was formed from the Top Gun of RAF Bomber Command to carry out a dangerous operation deep into the industrial heart of the Third Reich in May 1943. 19 modified Lancasters crossed occupied Europe at treetop height en route to this 2,000 foot long wall of granite. Their destination was the Mighty Mohne, this is the epic story of the Dambusters. The three huge dams that were attacked held back 100 billion gallons of water, critical to the production of hydro-electric power that turned the cogs of the Nazi war machine. A regime that had already ethnically cleansed much of Europe from those deemed unworthy to live.

The Lancasters, each armed with the newly designed ‘bouncing bomb’ attacked the dam at 200mph at the near suicidal height of 60 feet above the water. It was the greatest feat of low level flying in military history. Les Knight was a 22 year old bomber pilot who flew with the Dambusters. Barnes Wallis was the 52 year old scientist who designed the ‘bouncing bomb’ that breached the colossal wall of the Mohne Dam causing a flood of almost
Biblical proportions. Two men separated by a generation but with two things in common. Both were caught up in the butchery of war and both were devout followers of Jesus Christ.

Barnes Wallis the scientist and Les Knight the pilot played such crucial roles but were reluctant participants in a mission that would cause such catastrophic loss of life. So why did they volunteer? Maybe these words from Wallis go some way to explain their awful dilemma “The greatest war crime” he said “would be to allow this war to continue any longer than is absolutely necessary” Life is full of immensely complex moral contradictions and the two Christians in the story of the Dams Raid had their fair share to face. Even the life and death of Jesus himself is wrapped up in a tremendously complex paradox. Why would a man who demonstrated the unconditional love of God to ordinary people be sentenced to die on a
Roman cross?

Les Knight was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his part in the Dams Raid. Within weeks he was at the controls of a 617 Lancaster for the final time during the ill-fated raid on the Dortmund-Ems Canal. Over half the planes and their crews would not return. Les Knight’s was among them, all four of his Lancaster’s Merlin engines having burst into flames over Holland. His wireless operator delivered a gut-wrenching eulogy at Les Knight’s funeral. “He kept that damaged aircraft flying straight and level” he said “allowing us his crew to parachute out and live but in doing so he gave his life for us”

Pilot Officer Les Knight DSO would have been very familiar with these famous words from the Bible “Greater love has no one than the one who lays down his life for his friends” Words describing the
mission of Jesus but could equally have referred to Les Knight. Through his selfless death of the cross, Jesus bridged Heaven and Earth allowing us all to ‘bail out’ of a perilous existence separated from God and into the eternal security of relationship with him.

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