Watch CBS News

Last WWII British "Dambuster," from air raids that hit Nazi Germany's industrial heartland, dies aged 101

75th Anniversary Of The Dambusters Raid Takes Place Over Derwent Dam
Britain's last surviving "Dambuster," Squadron Leader George "Johnny" Johnson poses for a photograph during an event to mark the 75th anniversary of the Dambusters raids, at RAF Coningsby, May 16, 2018 in Coningsby, England. Leon Neal/Getty

London — The last surviving crew member of a British Royal Air Force squadron that targeted Nazi Germany's industrial heartland in World War II has died aged 101, media said Thursday.

George "Johnny" Johnson died peacefully at a care home near Bristol, western England, on Wednesday evening, surrounded by his family.

Johnson was a bomb aimer with RAF 617 Squadron and took part in the "Dambusters" raid targeting heavily fortified German dams with specially developed "bouncing bombs".

Two of the three dams targeted in the May 16-17, 1943 raid were destroyed, causing catastrophic flooding in the Ruhr valley and destroying power stations and factories.

Johnson, who retired from the RAF as a squadron leader, collected an MBE from Queen Elizabeth II in 2017 after 235,000 people signed a petition calling for his wartime service to be recognised.

Lancaster Bombers Lead The Fly-Past For The Dambuster 65th Anniversary
Spectators on a hill look on as a Lancaster bomber flies over Ladybower reservoir in the Derbyshire Peak District to mark the 65th anniversary of the World War II Dambusters mission, on May 16, 2007 in Derwent, England. Ladybower and Derwent reservoirs were used by the RAF's 617 Squadron in 1943 to test Sir Barnes Wallis' bouncing bomb before their mission to destroy dams in Germany's Ruhr Valley. Christopher Furlong/Getty

The RAF said it was "saddened" to hear of his death, signing off its tribute with its motto "Per Ardua Ad Astra" ("through adversity to the stars").

John Nicol, a former RAF navigator who was held hostage by Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War and was part of the drive to have Johnson recognised, called him "a true hero".

"Blue skies Sir," he added.

Johnson had been the last surviving member of 617 Squadron that took part in "Operation Chastise" since the death of his colleague Fred Sutherland in January 2019.

Fifty-three of the 133 Allied air crew from Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand that left on the raid on board 19 Lancaster bombers were killed and three were captured.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.