Kiwi who was last WWII ‘Dam­buster’ pi­lot dies at 96


A New Zealan­der who was the last sur­viv­ing pi­lot from the spe­cial­ized World War II “Dam­buster” mis­sion tar­get­ing Ger­man in­fra­struc­ture died Tues­day. Les Munro was 96.

The team of top pilots se­cretly trained in 1943 to master fly­ing at high speeds, low al­ti­tudes and in the dark. The Bri­tish team was tasked with fly­ing over Ger­many and drop­ping a spe­cially de­signed bounc­ing bomb to de­stroy dams.

More than 50 of the 133 air­men died dur­ing the raid, but it was con­sid­ered a suc­cess af­ter two dams were de­stroyed. That flooded fac­to­ries and killed more than 1,000 Ger­man cit­i­zens in the Ruhr val­ley, while also boost­ing morale back in the UK.

Munro him­self was un­able to com­plete the mis­sion af­ter his Lan­caster bomber was hit by en­emy fire and was forced to re­turn to base.

The mis­sion inspired a book and a 1955 movie, “The Dam Busters.”

“Re­ally sad to hear of Les Munro’s death,” wrote Prime Min­is­ter John Key on Twit­ter. “New Zealand has lost a re­mark­able man who led a re­mark­able life.”

Peter Wheeler, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the New Zealand Bomber Com­mand As­so­ci­a­tion, a group for air­crew vet­er­ans, said Munro was prouder of a mis­sion he com­pleted a year later, on the night be­fore the in­va­sion of Nor­mandy, or D-Day.

Wheeler said in that mis­sion, Munro and other pilots at­tempted to trick Ger­man radar op­er­a­tors by cir­cling and ad­vanc­ing slowly, while also toss­ing out alu­minum strips, in or­der to ap­pear on radar screens as a ma­jor sea in­va­sion, away from where the real in­va­sion would soon hap­pen.

Munro ear­lier this year of­fered to auc­tion his war medals to se­cure fund­ing for the up­keep of the Bomber Com­mand Me­mo­rial in Lon­don. But the UK’s Lord Ashcroft stepped in the day be­fore the auc­tion, do­nat­ing £75,000 ( US$117,000) and al­low­ing Munro to do­nate the medals to a New Zealand mu­seum.

John Les­lie “Les” Munro was born in Gis­borne, on New Zealand’s North Is­land, in 1919.

Wheeler said that af­ter World War II, Munro be­gan work­ing at a gov­ern­ment agency that gave loans to ex-ser­vice­men to help them be­come farm­ers. Wheeler said Munro “took his own ad­vice” by be­com­ing a farmer him­self. He mar­ried Betty Hill in 1948. They farmed cat­tle and sheep on the cen­tral North Is­land, and Munro later be­came in­volved in lo­cal pol­i­tics, be­com­ing mayor of the Wait­omo Dis­trict Coun­cil. He re­tired to the coastal com­mu­nity of Tau­ranga.

“He was al­ways a lit­tle em­bar­rassed about the at­trac­tion of the Dam­busters story,” Wheeler said, adding that Munro was nev­er­the­less al­ways will­ing to talk about it and at­tend events.


In this March 3 photo, vet­eran Les Munro poses for a photo at his home in Tau­ranga, New Zealand.

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