our top story: the united states has ridiculed claims by the supreme leader of iran that outside forces are orchestrating protests. twenty—two people have been killed in the protests which began against price rises and corruption, but have broadened to wider anti—government sentiment. the united states has warned of further sanctions against north korea if it carries out further ballistic missile tests. it was responding to reports that pyongyang may be preparing another launch. and this story is trending on bbc.com taiwan's top court has ordered a man to pay his mother almost $1 million for funding his dentistry training. he'd signed a contract agreeing to pay her 60% of his income after qualifying but later refused. that's all from me now. stay with bbc world news. just after half past midnight. now on bbc news, it's time for hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk.
i'm stephen sackur. we are slowly but inevitably losing the generation of men who fought in and survived the last world war. and what we are left with are monuments to courage and to loss like this one in central london which is dedicated to the 55,000 young men who lost their lives serving in britain's bomber command. my guest today is 96—year—old george ‘johnny‘ johnson, the last remaining british survivor of one of the most extraordinary and most famous aerial missions of world war ii, the dambusters raid. it was costly and it wasn't entirely successful — so why has it become such a part of britain's national folklore? theme music plays. johnnyjohnson, welcome to hardtalk.
thank you. i want to begin by asking you whether you feel more pride or sadness that you are the last british dambusters? or sadness that you are the last british dambuster? i think it is both. pride, certainly, because i am still able to support that squadron that ijoined in that time. so many things happened in my favour, or seem to, i have to remind people i am the lucky one. i am still alive.
but it is not me, it is the squadron i represent and that is what i want to do with the rest of my life now, or the rest of the work that i do, it's for representing that one particular squadron. go back to 1943, you are a young bomb aimer — that's your job. did you know what you were getting into when you and your crew were told that you were going into special training for a very special mission? did you have any idea what it was going to be? none whatsoever. and it was made perfectly clear that we would not know until much later and that we were not to talk to anybody about the training that we were doing or anything about it. it was top—secret and, in the end, the inventor of this extraordinary bouncing bomb, the device that was supposed to breach these dams in germany, barnes wallis, he met you all, he met the crews before you went on the mission so i suppose
it was then that you understood what was going on? it was then that we had some conjecture after that meeting and the immediate one was to be attacks on the german battleships, notibly the tirpitz, because with that system, we were actually dropping the bomb some 400 yards short of the target and it bounced its way across the water, hit the target and sank and then exploded. and we thought, that will give us time for attacking the tirpitz, to release the bomb and get away before we got into their heavy defence areas and it was not until the next day, on the sunday, when we went into briefing, when we found out how wrong we could be. yes, it was not the warships, it was the dams. yeah.
i'll be honest with you, when i've read about the extraordinary demands that were being made of the pilots and the crews and the plane itself, because you were having to fly so low and you were having to avoid so many different obstacles, including church spires, and electricity lines, to get to the precise point to drop the bombs, it seems to me, you in the crew surely must have felt that this was a mission that could well end in your death? no, it never entered our mind. i don't think it did any of the crew. and that, i'm sure, would stem from our confidence in joe. .. the pilot? that's right. that was the way i am sure the crew worked all the time. and it got to the stage where, that low—flying you talked about, from my point about, was wonderful. i am in the most comfortable position in the aircraft,
and in this case, lying down all the time and the land, the ground is just whizzing past as you are going over, wonderful, exhilarating experience. that is all very well when you are doing it in training but on the night itself, in may 1943, your particular mission was to go after the sorpe dam... yeah, yeah. ..and, as i understand it, you as the bomb aimer insisted that your pilot, joe, make ten runs before he got it absolutely right in terms of positioning so you could release the bomb? to my mind and i am sure tojoe‘s as well, we did not talk about it, i'm sure, we were gone on a mission, a special mission. 0urjob was to make sure that we did it right. when we got to the sorpe
and discovered what that entailed, we had already been disappointed at briefing by learning that we would not be using the bombing techniques that we had been practising for all those six weeks, but it was going to be... ..an estimated drop, eventually. we were not spitting the bomb at all, it was going to be an inert to drop. we were going to flow down the side of one hill, with our port outer engine over the dam itself, and fly along the dam and estimate to drop the bomb as near as possible to the centre as you could. if i was not satisfied, i called dummy run. ifjoe was not satisfied he just pulled away and left me to call dummy run. after the sixth or seventh of these, a voice from the rear turret, "won't somebody get that bomb out of here!" and i had to realise how to become
the most unpopular member of crew in double quick time. but we were there to do a specific job and, to my mind, we had to do thatjob and i am sure the same was true as far as thejoe was concerned. but there were 19 lancaster bombers involved in the dambusters raid. eight of them did not come back. that's true. and 56 men did not come back either. three were captured but 53 were killed. that's right. more than one third of the entire crew involved in the mission. that's right. how did you feel about the scale of the losses that your team took? devastated at the time. complete and utter shock and barnes wallis... the inventor of the bomb... ..burst into tears and said,
"i've killed all of those young men and i'll never do anything like that again." johnny, you dropped your bomb and it was a direct hit on the sorpe dam but, in the end, that dam was not breached. no. the other two dams were destroyed and the mohne dam, when it was breached, it led to huge amounts of water filling the valley, for miles and miles. when you flew back from your sortie, you saw... indeed, yes. what did it feel like when you saw that this amazing mission with barnes wallis‘s extraordinary bouncing bomb, it had worked, it had destroyed the mohne dam. what were your feelings? to me it was the highlight of that operation. to see the actual result of success, of part of it. we knew by radio broadcast
that the mohne had been breached we knew also that the eder had been breached by radio broadcast, but approaching the mohne or what was the mohne was just like an inland sea. there was water everywhere but it was not easy. it had cost lives. did it surprise you, the reaction to the dambusters raid? because it was big news at the time. the british wartime press was so pleased to have this sort of triumph to crow about and then, of course, after the war, it was perhaps the most famous single aerial mission that had been flown and it was celebrated and, of course, in the end it was made into a film. did that surprise you, the degree to which it became part of the myth, the british
myth of the war? i don't think it surprised me but i have some grave misgivings about that particular period after the war. about the group of people that i call retrospective historians and they were a group of them — one or two anyway — who claimed the dams raid should never have taken place, it achieved nothing, it cost an awful lot of money, in the training, the special aircraft, training of the crews, and danger to the crews themselves, an awful lot of lives and aircraft loss as well. i used to say, if i have met one of those characters, i'd hope my hands are tied behind my back, for i would not be quite sure what i'd do with them. but, johnny, don't they have a point about the dambusters raid because in the end you did breach
two of the three dams and you did destroy some factories and some coalmines and, it should be said, you also killed more than 1000 german people... oh, yes, indeed... ..but according to albert speer and other senior nazis, the german war effort was not really put back very much and, in fact, they rebuilt the factories and all of the infrastructure within five months. there were at least four reasons why, yes, it was a good raid, and the first is that it showed hitler and the german hierarchy that what they thought was impregnable, the royal air force could get through and destroy. secondly, it meant that the skilled workmen that were being employed building an anti—invasion wall, up the coast, had to be pulled in to help to repair the dams. and thirdly, it did some damage to the factories themselves,
it did decrease the output — not as much as we would've liked — but it did decrease the output somewhat. and i think, finally, the best impression was the effect of the morale on the people of this country because, as you mentioned the papers, next morning were absolutely full of it. and it happened so close to the success of alamein that it raised the question, is this the turning point of the war? but there is another way of looking at this, johnny, and it is notjust about the dambusters raid but it's about bomber command in general and, of course, you, as a young bomb aimer, were involved in many sorties, many raids in the period from ‘42 to ‘45, right across germany and i believe italy as well. yes.
and it has to be said, you and your crews were responsible for the deaths of many thousands of civilians, as well as military personnel, and you have had many years to reflect on this. do you have in you any sense of remorse or regret or guilt for those deaths? we did not start the war. if you are threatened by war, you have to defend yourself. you have to defend your own country and you have to do it by whatever means you can. and the example had been set by hitler himself, the way he bombed our cities — london, coventry, liverpool and the rest of them — regardless of human life or anything else. that was the sort of thing which
had to be fought against and one of the ways to fight against it was a reprisal of that sort of attack and that is why eventually bomber command became, ithink, wrongly criticised for the way they attacked the germans. i was there to do a job. that is what i was there for. that was what i joined for. it was my way of being able to help to get back at hitler and what he had started with his attack on our country. he was my pet enemy and that is the way it stayed the whole time. so, when you saw the broken dams, and when you saw the villages being swept away by the waters, you just closed your mind to the fact that civilians would be down there drowning?
didn't cross my at all. i begin to wonder, frankly... as a young child, i had a pretty horrible childhood. and i found that i was left with a father who, in the first place, thought i was a mistake anyway. i was the sixth, the youngest of six children. and he beat me often, regularly. and i sometimes wonder, was emotion beaten out of me at that stage? could i feel so little at that stage? well, here is a question about your your emotions from after the war, or at the end of the war. because, as i talk about bomber command and its role in the war, there was an ambivalence about it. and even churchill, when he made his victory speech,
he saluted the efforts of so many different branches of the military, but he did not go out of his way to salute the work of bomber command. no. and in some ways it seems there was a sense that bomber command, with particularly its targeting of civilians in dresden and hamburg and some other german cities, had gone too far, had broken a moral code. were you angry with churchill, that he didn't thank bomber command specifically? i was angry at churchill, always have been. but i think since after the war, the first time we went back to sorpe dam, on a television programme, the cameraman and i were walking across the dam and said, stop here, johnny.
i reckon this is where you dropped your bomb. and i stopped, looked over the side, and i was dropping that bomb again, just like that. and then i walked over to the other side, and i saw that lovely valley going down there, and i said, you know, i'm almost glad we didn't breach this dam. had we done so, this valley would have been completely ruined. 0k, it could have been rebuilt, but it would never have been the same. and it made me think more about the after effects of war, and about war itself. it didn't make me think any the less of our war effort. something we had to fight, for our own defence — that was it. i just want to quote you the words of one historian, richard 0very, who has written a lot about bomber command, and about the morality of some
of the decisions taken, for example the fire—bombing of dresden and hamburg. he says that we need to be open and honest that the british decision was specifically to target towns, cities and civilians, to win the war. but he says, let's be honest. that was a decision taken at the top. and the air crews themselves, people like you, he says, were in many ways victims. he says you were, quoting him, he says you were sent out in often appalling conditions, in poor weather, with fear in your hearts, constantly aware of the hungry presence of death, he says. did you, and do you, think that in a way you were a victim, or is that nonsense? no, never. i don't remember feeling afraid at any time.
i don't rememberfeeling any apprehension at any time. that's very hard to believe. basically, because i had joined to do a job. and thatjob was all my concentration, and that was the only thing i thought about. i talked about churchill, and you said you felt anger towards churchill when he didn't thank and salute the work of bomber command. in fact, bomber command were the one group of military personnel who were not given a campaign medal right after the war. no. does that still hurt? it does, very much so. it hurts more so now, because there is so little, in fact no respect, no recognition, of the individuals who were lost in bomber command, fighting
for their country, fighting for freedom, which we are being able to subsequently enjoy. you have spent a lot of time talking to particularly children about your experiences. what is it, what is the message, that you want to give by taking so much time to talk to the new generation? you do ask the most awkward questions. however, here goes. what is the message i want to give? i want, first of all — from the schools‘ point of view, the children have a chance to appreciate the country they are living in, or why they are living in it, and what it might have been, had things gone the other way. i think it is part, an essential
part, of their early education, and something for them on which to think in the future. i have — didn't start talking about my war until after i lost my wife. and then the children suggested that i should start, and perhaps it would stop me grieving all the time for mum, as they put it. and i thought about it, and i thought i would try it, and it worked. do you think that you speak about it with a sense of pride in what you did, but do you also bring to it a feeling of perhaps horror, in a way, about what war is? after so long, i have... things seem a little bit different now from what they were then. but, at that time, i thought it was necessary that we should be
fighting that war, and i thought it was necessary that we should fight it the best way we could. and bomber command was one of the advantages of that type of thought. i feel... now i still feel privileged, even honoured, to have taken part in the dams raid. i think that was the highlight of my operational career, and i shall always remember it as such. you have three children, you have grandchildren, and you even have great—grandchildren. many of them. many of them, and i dare say you will soon have another generation following them. do you hope, and do you believe, that always the next generation here in the uk will learn about the dambusters,
and the dambuster raid? it has entered the national folklore, hasn't it? some years ago i said to my son, i think it's time we started forgetting about these things. he said, you can't forget that, dad. that's history. i said, i don't want to be bloody history. but i find now that... i am amazed at the interest that has developed over the last three orfour years, not only in the dams raid, but in the war itself, particularly. and it seems to me that there is still a certain amount of interest. it is still interesting to people. good, i am glad. if they're going to forget it, that's good too. that's up to them. but as far as i'm concerned, i shall never forget it, and that's really what it boils down to.
it is too prominent in my mind, it was too prominent in my life at that time, and has lived with me ever since. johnnyjohnson, we have to end there, but it has been a privilege to talk to you. thank you very much for being on hardtalk. thank you very much for coming, i've enjoyed it. a very windy stormy night for some and a stormy start to wednesday. we are likely to see disruptions, power cuts, trees down in places because of this, storm eleanor, which brought in very strong winds across parts of ireland during tuesday evening.
it is continuing its journey eastwards. the highly packed ice across most of the country, away from the north of scotland, which will have relatively light winds. strong winds to start across the north of england. 70—90 mph gusts. 60 mph across england and wales with the risk of up to 80 mph across the south coast. likely to be some disruption from these severe gales for much of the uk across the early hours and to start wednesday. keep tuned to bbc radio. a very windy morning, gale force winds. the severe gale easing down as storm eleanor moves out to the north sea. plenty of showers rattling through the morning and into the afternoon. the showers will be heavy with hail and thunder, squally, gusty winds as they arrive. in between, there will be spells of sunshine. top temperatures around 10 degrees. that is across the south. it may not
be like that because of the strength of the winds. plenty of showers further north. long spells of rain in northern ireland, central and southern scotland. pretty quite across the north of scotland. fairly light winds and sunshine. wednesday a brief respite, the wind will die down somewhat. plenty of clear spells. quite a cool night. we look to the south—west, to the next area of low pressure, which will make inroads during wednesday night and into the start of thursday. this area of low pressure will be further south. it looks like we could see the strongest winds across southern britain, certainly south wales, southern england, gale force winds. quite mild with it. 12—13 degrees despite the heavy rain. the north cooler, maybe snow in the higher ground, outbreaks of rain. fairly strong winds as well, but not as strong as in the south. as we have through friday, transitional days. the weather front moving southwards. heavy rain on it and behind it. the air turns much colder.
increasing amounts of snow to the hills and to lower levels. that is a sign of things to come into the weekend. much colder air pouring down across the uk is likely to introduce snow showers in places and return to overnight frosts. i'm rico hizon in singapore. the headlines: iran says countrywide protests are being orchestrated by outside forces. the us calls the claim ridiculous. the long climb out of poverty. we have a special report on china's hopes to lift millions of people from remote villages into a better life. the continued existence of serious, widespread poverty represents a threat to the very legitimacy of a communist party that came to power promising to help communities like these, not leave them behind. i'm kasia madera in london. also in the programme.