.......................................................Alan Cooper


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  I was born in Newport, Monmouthshire (now Gwent) in 1938.

I joined and served in everything from the cubs to the Army cadets until when aged 17 I enlisted in the Territorial Army (2nd Monmouthshire Regiment) as a boy bandsman and served with them until 1958 when I was called for National Service with the South Wales Borderers (They of Rourke's Drift fame) but having already decided to become a regular soldier I enlisted in the 4/7th Royal Dragoon Guards band and subsequently learned to march wearing spurs. A year in the Royal Military School of Music followed and then service in Germany and Yorkshire until 1963 when I transferred to the Coldstream Guards band in London.


Alan Cooper

Alan Cooper



Bob Baxter's Bomber Command


Here the usual routine ceremonial duties followed, changing the guard on average three times a week at Buckingham Palace and Windsor, Trooping the Colour I managed 16, and many other pageants that one associates with London and the Royal Family. The highlight of my service in London with the Coldstream band was a three month tour of America and Canada in 1970, a 27,000 mile trip, giving over 82 performances and booking into no less than 50 hotels, but so much fun and what an experience.

One last thing before I leave my army service, the Director of Music for 12 years of my service was Lt Col Trevor Sharpe LVO, OBE whose name I am sure you have seen many times in the captions for 'Dad's Army' as it was the Coldstream band who played the music for this most successful and highly entertaining programme.


Alan Cooper at the controls of NX611 at Scampton

Alan sits at the controls of NX611 at Scampton (1978)

  My serious interest in military history came in 1969, although I now feel it was there all the time, dormant and waiting for the right time to come to fruition. It began with me starting to collect military medals but the soon found out that the thing that interested me was the man whose medal I had and the campaigns he had taken part in, then in 1972, when all the WWII records were released I found my era, the Royal Air Force and in particular Bomber Command.
                One could ask how it is that a man who served in the Army for 22 years now is researching the RAF in WWII, a good question and one I have been asked many times. But it does have its advantages in that no one can accuse me of bias, and allows me to write factually and without self or leaning towards the RAF.
                As my interest and archives grew I decided to attempt my first book and in 1982, I had my first book 'The Men Who Breached The Dams' published. It is the story of the raid on the Ruhr dams in 1943, but from the eyes of the men who carried out this daring, and very gallant operation, their efforts, and their story. My research led me to have the pleasure and honour to meet many of the men who have become immortalised in the history of WWII.

The Men who Breached the Dams


                Beyond the Dams to Tirpitz   A sequel 'Beyond the Dams to Tirpitz' followed in 1983, this was the continued story of 617 Squadron to the end of the war including with 9 squadron the sinking of the German battleship Tirpitz in November 1944. I soon realised that there were a number of gaps in the history of Bomber Command, Battles such as the Ruhr and Berlin had not I felt been given the attention they so deserved, many men made the supreme sacrifice in these battles and must always be remembered.

                Air Battle of the Ruhr   I was, I think and hope, successful in producing ‘Bombers Over Berlin’ and the ‘Air Battle of the Ruhr, and now seemed to be continually going into areas where little or nothing had been written of note in campaigns and operations that were important and many men had lost their lives.  

Bombers over Berlin



Sir Arthur Harris

Sir Arthur Harris at the Aircrew Association Service and reception 1982. Taken by Alan Cooper


                A book, 'In Action With The Enemy' about the men awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (Flying) followed. This medal was introduced in 1943 to fill the gap between the DFM and the Victoria Cross for non-commissioned ranks, the officers had the DSO. To date there has only been 112 awarded and that the great majority of aircrew are officers it’s likely it will never be awarded again. Of these 112 many were serving in Bomber Command, including two F/Sgt Ken Brown and F/Sgt Bill Townsend for the famous Dambuster operation of May 1943. The last award was to an Australian for gallantry in Vietnam.

In Action with the Enemy


                Free to Fight Again  

I then decided to write a book for the RAF Escaping Society; no it’s not a society for airmen trying to escape from the RAF. The Society was formed in 1945 to help the people in enemy occupied countries who had helped airmen escape or evade capture and get back to the UK.

For this book ‘ Free to Fight Again’ I have chosen 80 airmen’s stories, they cover most of the countries and areas that the RAF were operating in. The majority of airmen shot sown and evading capture was by the men of Bomber Command but there were men in the Middle East, Italy and the Far East.

                There was a great difference between the problems an airmen shot down in the jungle in the Far East to men shot down in France, Belgium or Holland. One whose story and later the Chairman of the RAFES was shot down in Germany so he had the added problems of not expecting to much help from the locals.

One of the men of Bomber Command was Wing Commander Don Bennett, then the commanding officer of 10 Sqn shot down attacking the Tirpitz in 1942, and later the leader of the Pathfinder Force. He evaded into Sweden and within days was back in the UK.


                This book was followed in 1993 a 50th Anniversary book for 617 Squadron.

Having had many pictures not used in my previous two books on 617 this seemed the ideal situation to produce a pictorial book and use those discarded photographs. It began with the Dams raid in May 1943 and ended with the Gulf War, to undertake the latter I spent three days with the current 617 Squadron then at Marham. While there I interviewed the commanding officer Wg Cdr Tony Iveson who had been shot down in the Falklands War in 1982 and evaded capture. His father served in WWII as a bomber pilot and was awarded the DSO DFC

The Dambusters Squadron

                I also interviewed many of the Tornado pilots and navigators who had taken part in operations in the Gulf, and also the groundcrew who in the hot conditions had more than their share of problems. I attended briefing and weather reports each day. I shared everything with the crews apart from actually flying; I saw them take off and waited for them to land. I visited the air traffic control tower and the famous caravan parked at the end of the runway in which an airmen would sit and if he saw a problem as the aircraft took off would fire the flare gun fixed in the roof of the caravan. It appears that they have not found a better method.

The crew room banter was, as one would expect aircrew are aircrew no matter the era or the aircraft.

For me it was a great thrill and a change to have an insight to today’s aircraft and crews. They all have that something from the Royal Flying Corps days to today’s air force to fly - in a biplane or fast jet its all about flying.


                Born Leader   I then decided to write a book about a man whom it seems has been around me for a very long time Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC DSO DFC. He began flying pre-war and flew on the first day of WWII. In 1942, he was in command of 106 Squadron at RAF Syerston. After a full tour with 106 Squadron and due to have a long rest but he was then asked to make one more operation at that time he did not know the target or very little about what was a one off special operation. He reported to RAF Scampton to command Squadron X which later became 617, a squadron that was to become a legend in the history of the RAF. The book I had in mind was about his war service and operations and not too much about his private life, I left that to others who were looking for skeletons in his cupboard.
                He was to me a great leader and motivator and the sort of man that you needed in WWII when your back is against the wall. The special operation of course became the Dams raid in May 1943, and from that day 617 became known as the Dambusters.

The operation was a success with the two major dams the Moehne and Eder being breached but some would say not worth the 53 casualties incurred. But with all wars there is a price and rarely does one get off lightly, you lose some and win some 617 won some and lost a great number on this operation. The two dams were out of action for about six months and and the repairs took many workmen away from the building of the Atlantic Wall, the defences against the allied landings at Normandy which came a year later. Out of the 133 men who took off on the 17th May 1943 to attack the dams less then 10 are still with us today. Some were killed later in the war and others have died post-war.

Only 2 pilots now survive Ken Brown CGM in Canada and Les Munro DSO DFC in New Zealand, Big Joe McCarthy the American pilot died only last year.

Alan Cooper with a model of Tirpitz

Alan with a model of the Tirpitz

                Only 18 months after the dams raid Gibson was killed flying on an operation in Holland and he and his navigator on this occasion Sqn Ldr Warwick lie side by side in Steenbergen, Catholic Cemetery the only two war graves headstones amongst many very ornate ones although there are others from Dutch resistance fighters. At the time of his death he was still only 25 but in that short time had commanded two squadrons, flown three tours of operations and been awarded the VC, DSO & Bar and DFC and Bar. His beloved dog Nigger killed on the eve of the dams raid is still to this day buried at RAF Scampton, outside No 2 Hanger, and Gibson's former office, in the same spot that Flight Sergeant George (Chiefy) Powell buried him nearly sixty years ago. The grave now has fence around it and is looked after with great respect and care symbolising the spirit of the squadron and the many men killed on that now famous raid. Happily Scampton is now once again RAF Scampton and the home of the Red Arrows.

                Target Dresden   Having lived with the Dresden raid of 13th February 1945, ever since I began my Bomber Command research over 30 years ago, I decided to write the whole sequence of events that led up to the raid from the start of ariel bombing in WWI to the operation on Dresden raid in February 1945. At least this way people can read the facts that led up to this operation, and perhaps, form a balanced and well thought out opinion of its validity or not rather than read a biased account that detracts the Bomber Command effort and dedication to the ending of the war in Europe and the world getting back to some form of sanity.

                From the outset I felt that my research and writing had to be aimed at the people directly involved in either carrying out operations or the policy and planning. In 1978 after writing to Sir Arthur Harris the wartime CinC of Bomber Command, he invited me to visit him at his home in Goring-on-Thames. I must admit that when I arrived at his front door, and only having seen wartime film and pictures of him I had some reservations of what I would find and wondered what I was doing there. However I could not have been more wrong he was charming, very kind and a wonderful host who made you feel very welcome and soon at home. His wife Jill whom I got to know much better after Sir Arthur had died was always very friendly and also a wonderful lady. This visit was the beginning of a friendship that lasted until his death in 1984. Two things stick out from the subsequent visits. Sir Arthur rang me on one occasion and asked when I was coming to see him, when this had been arranged I asked if I could bring my wife he replied 'Ladies are always welcome in my house' and then said "let me know what train you are coming on and I will meet you at the station". I said this was not necessary as it is only a five minute walk from the station to his house. But when I arrived Jill said Sir Arthur was waiting at the station for me in his car. She rang the station and he came back. I apologised for the misunderstanding he being the man he was said "do not worry these things happen". But for me to have the former CinC of Bomber Command waiting in his car to pick me up is something I shall always remember for the rest of my life.   The other thing was in his den at Goring
                amongst many souvenir of his life was a bugle hanging on a hook, it had been given to him by the Rhodesia Regiment when they heard the story of how he had buried his during WWI in East Africa.  I had seen this many times but on this occasion I asked Sir Arthur if he had ever heard the bugle played when he said no I asked if I may blow it, looking slightly surprised he readily said yes.  I then gave a few rousing bugle calls and having a low ceiling in the den it went all around the house, Jill later told me she had never heard it played. I wonder where that bugle is now 20 years on.

Arthur Harris' Bugle

Sir Arthur Harris' Bugle


Sir Barnes Wallis

Sir Barnes Wallis

  Also in 1978 I was very pleased and honoured to meet not once, but twice, Sir Barnes Wallis at his home in Surrey. On the second visit I took two photographs of the great man which turned out to be the last taken off him before he died in 1979. Even thought I say so myself, the photographs are exceptional. Around about this time I also met and became friends of Don Bennett the leader of the Pathfinder Force in WWII. He also was an exceptional man, one of a number of men that were there at the right time.
                The period of 1978/80 was for me exciting and important. In 1980 I made my first visit to the Ruhr Dams, Moehne, Eder, Sorpe and Enneppe and flew over then at the lowest permitted height of 250 feet. My pilot had been a Luftwaffe pilot in WWII and when I asked him how he felt about attacking the Eder Dam at night and from a height of 60 feet he said without hesitation they were either exceptional pilots or mad! During my time in Germany I spent the day with Dr Albert Speer the German Armaments Minister who at the end of the war was imprisoned for war crimes. When he was released, he wrote a book which Sir Arthur often referred as the customer of the efforts of Bomber Command and its effect on the industries output. I became an envoy on this  

Don Bennett - Pathfinder, receiveing the 'Bomber Command medal'

Don Bennett receiving the Bomber Command Medal

                occasion bringing back a sealed message for Sir Arthur I never did see what was in it but somewhere in the Harris family records I am sure it still exists.


Did I want to meet these people because they were famous? No, but because their thoughts and memories were of the greatest importance to my research and work on Bomber Command. They have now sadly left this world, but having met them, talked to them and become friends is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life and I would not have missed these meetings for anything. They were in a way great men, but all took the time to meet me and give me their time.


Copyright Alan Cooper 2002