Our founder’s role in D-Day’s secret mission
6 June 2014
by Stephanie Nield
An account of D-Day’s Operation Taxable by the last surviving pilot of the legendary Dambusters squadron, Les Munro, has shed new light on Leonard Cheshire’s role in D-Day.
On a night time sortie, Wing Commander Leonard Cheshire flew Avro Lancaster planes as second pilot to Squadron Leader Les Munro as part of Taxable. It was one of the most important missions that RAF No. 617 Squadron — the Dambusters — carried out. Later, Leonard remembered it as a long operation calling for a high degree of precision flying.
Taxable was set up to convince the Germans that the Allies’ military strength was greater than it actually was. It would also fool enemy radar that Royal Navy ships were heading to Cap d'Antifer, some way from where the D-Day landings were actually planned in Normandy.
The squadron were trained to fly in a square formation with pinpoint accuracy at 180mph for five hours and drop metal strips which resembled a real sea-borne fleet.
Les Munro said, ‘I considered this operation to be, in one sense, one of the most important that 617 squadron carried out. Not because of bad weather, not because of any risk of enemy action and not measured by any visual result, but because of the very exacting requirements to which we had to fly and navigate. There was absolutely no latitude for deviation from ground speed, compass bearing, rate of turn and timing.’
‘I always had the greatest respect for Leonard Cheshire and was privileged to have him fly as my second pilot.’ —
Four months after Taxable, Leonard Cheshire was awarded the Victoria Cross for sustained bravery throughout his war career.
In 1948, he began the charitable work which would become Leonard Cheshire Disability. Clare Pelham, our chief executive, said, ‘Our founder, like many people of his generation, was deeply affected by the appalling injuries and loss of life that took place during World War Two.
‘His determination to make sure that disabled people are equally valued came from that understanding and that is still our cause today as a disability charity.’
Stephanie Nield is our archivist. Keen historians can find out more about our founder and browse the catalogue of his papers online through our archive.