Grange's Dambusters hero who sank the pride of the German Navy in World War 2, dies aged 99

Archie Johnstone: A modest gentleman

The Tirpitz

First published in News The Westmorland Gazette: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

TRIBUTES have been paid to the oldest surviving member of Bomber Command who helped take down the pride of the German Navy in World War Two.

Archie Johnstone, who lived for several decades in Grange-over-Sands, has died at the age of 99.

Mr Johnstone, a father-of-two, served as a bomb aimer with the Dambusters Squadron and was one of the team which took out the feared Tirpitz battleship in a daring raid over Norwegian fjords in 1944.

Now his friends in South Lakeland have hailed his bravery. “He was a true gentleman,” said friend, Frank Lomas, of Flookburgh.

“He was quiet and unassuming and wasn’t the type who’d show off about any of the things he did in the war. But he had some amazing things to tell you once you got to know him.”

Mr Johnstone was a member of 44 Rhodesia Bomber Squadron but was picked to join the 617 Squadron after the Dambusters raids.

In the penultimate year of the war, when he was 30, he helped sink the Tirpitz as it guarded the sea off the coast of Norway, where it had been sited to stop the allies from reaching Russia.

The attack – using Barnes Wallis’s ‘Tallboy’ bombs – took place in the Arctic Circle on November 12, 1944, from around 12,000 feet.

The operation sank the heavily-armed ship, taking with it Hitler’s naval power in northern waters.

The battleship had lain in a girdle of torpedo nets in the Tromso fjord and for more than two years the Allies had been trying to get her.

“They played a huge part in the war effort,” continued Mr Lomas.

“It was a privilege to have known him.”

Mr Johnstone was born in Scotland but moved to Cumbria with his family as a small child.

As an adult he worked as a policeman in Windermere, before joining the RAF. His choice had been air crew or commandos. He thought the RAF sounded less dangerous.

His first mission was dropping propaganda leaflets over a Paris suburb. It was in the 44 Squadron that Mr Johnstone had his baptism with Lancasters, carrying 8,000, 4,000 and 1,000lb bombs. In one night they lost eight aircraft, each with a crew of seven men.

After moving to Grange, where he lived on Highfield Road, he became president of the town’s branch of the Royal British Legion and was involved with the Royal Air Forces Association.

In his final months he lived in Skelmersdale, close to his son, Robert, and on his 98th birthday a Lancaster Bomber flew over his nursing home at Birch Green as a mark of respect.

“Archie was a perfect gentleman who was 100 per cent dedicated to supporting The Royal British Legion," said Ron Mein, Member of the Royal British Legion’s Lancashire County Committee.

"He worked tirelessly to support fellow veterans of the Armed Forces and I can say it was a pleasure to have known him.”

South Lakes MP Tim Farron said: "His heroism will live on and will be a marker for the next generation. People like Archie, in our darkest hour, made Britain great.”

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