Obituary: Squadron Leader Lawrence ”Benny” Goodman

Thursday 22nd July 2021

The last surviving wartime RAF pilot from the RAF's 'Dambusters' squadron, who was awarded France's highest honour after carrying out 30 operations against enemy targets in the Second World War, has died at the age of 100.

Squadron Leader Lawrence 'Benny' Goodman helped to demolish Germany's Arnsberg railway viaduct with a 22,000lb Grand Slam bomb in March 1945. He also took part in a raid which aimed to destroy the German battleship the Tirpitz in October 1944, after it had been damaged by bombs a month earlier. And, in April 1945, he was part of the team which bombed defeated Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler's 'Eagle's Nest' in southern Germany.

The last surviving wartime pilot from 617 Squadron is Arthur ‘Joppy’ Joplin RNZAF who lives in Auckland. The last surviving wartime member of the famous Dams Raid is 99-year-old Squadron Leader George Leonard 'Johnny' Johnson, who was a bomb aimer. Their squadron is most famous for the daring 'bouncing' bomb attacks on the Mohne and Eder Dams in the industrial heart of Germany in 1943. The raids, which saw drum-shaped bombs bounce off the water before exploding against the dam walls, were carried out by daring Lancaster bomber pilots. The operation has gone down in history as being among the most successful aerial assaults of the Second World War. Johnson is the last remaining member of the Dambusters mission, which was codenamed Operation Chastise.

Goodman volunteered to join the RAF aged 18 at the outbreak of war in September 1939 The aim of the second mission was to destroy the ship entirely. The ship was finally sunk in a raid in November that year. The raid on the Arnsberg viaduct in March the following year saw Goodman drop one of the RAF's 'Grand Slam' 22,000lb bombs, which were used on more than 40 targets in total. The 42ft-long Arnsberg viaduct crossed the Ruhr, in northern Germany. The Grand Slam raids helped to speed up Germany's defeat in the final months of the Second World War. In April 1945, Goodman was part of 617's final operation of the war: to bomb Hitler's 'Eagle's Nest' in southern Germany. Goodman was initially demobbed in 1946 but, with the urge to service his country still strong, he then served in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force's 604 Squadron, where he flew Spitfires from RAF Hendon. He then re-joined the regular RAF in 1948, when the Soviet Union blockaded access to the sections of Berlin which were under Western control. The aggressive blockade led to British and American planes dropping thousands of tonnes of food and other supplies to German citizens.

The Dambusters trained by flying over the Derwent reservoir and dam in the Lake District. On the night of May 16 1943, 19 Lancaster bombers, led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, set off for Germany with the aim of destroying the Mohne, the Eder and the Sorpe dams. The bombs they were carrying weighed four tonnes each. Their mission was hailed a success after two of the dams, the Eder and the Mohne, were breached, releasing 300 million tonnes of water. The parapet of the Sorpe dam was damaged, although there was no breach. The breaches damaged 92 Nazi factories and destroyed a further 12. Overall, 133 Allied aircrew took part - 90 from the RAF, 29 from the Royal Canadian Air Force, 12 from the Royal Australian Air Force and two from the Royal New Zealand Air Force. A total of 53 servicemen lost their lives and another three were taken captive. The squadron's bravery earned it 33 decorations, including the Victoria Cross for Wing Commander Gibson. It was also credited with providing a major boost for the morale of troops, and in 1955 led to the film The Dam Busters, starring Sir Michael Redgrave and Richard Todd.

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