Frederick Michael (Spam) SPAFFORD DFC, DFM


SPAFFORD, Frederick Michael

Service Number: 407380
Enlisted: 14 September 1940
Last Rank: Flying Officer
Last Unit: No. 617 Squadron (RAF)
Born: Adelaide, South Australia, 16 June 1918
Home Town: Adelaide, South Australia
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Fitter
Died: Raid on Dortmund Ems Canal, Germany, 16 September 1943, aged 25 years
Cemetery: Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany
Collective Grave 16, Row B, Grave 13-16, Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Kleve, Germany
Memorials: Adelaide Pathway of Honour - SA Dambusters Raid WW2 Memorial, Adelaide WW2 Wall of Remembrance, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, International Bomber Command Centre Memorial
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World War 2 Service

14 Sep 1940: Enlisted Royal Australian Air Force, Flying Officer, SN 407380
14 Sep 1940: Enlisted Royal Australian Air Force, Aircraftman 2 (WW2), SN 407380, Aircrew Training Units, Adelaide, South Australia
15 Sep 1940: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Aircraftman 2 (WW2), SN 407380, Aircrew Training Units, Empire Air Training Scheme
20 Oct 1942: Honoured Distinguished Flying Medal, Air War NW Europe 1939-45
15 Feb 1943: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Flying Officer, SN 407380, No. 617 Squadron (RAF), Air War NW Europe 1939-45
19 May 1943: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Pilot Officer, SN 407380, No. 617 Squadron (RAF), Air War NW Europe 1939-45
28 May 1943: Honoured Distinguished Flying Cross, Air War NW Europe 1939-45
9 Sep 1943: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Flying Officer, SN 407380, No. 617 Squadron (RAF), Air War NW Europe 1939-45

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An original Dambuster and Guy Gibson's Bomb Aimer on the Dams raid

Son of James Bourke Spafford and Vida Muriel Spafford. Nepew of Walter John Spafford of 150 Park Terreace, Wayville South Australia


Australian Dictionary of Biography

Frederick Michael Spafford (1918-1943), air force officer, was born on 16 June 1918 in North Adelaide, only child of James Michael Burke (d.1923), tannery foreman, and his wife Vida Muriel, née Spafford (d.1926), both South Australian born. Little evidence survives of Fred's childhood and education. On 19 September 1929 he was adopted by his maternal grandfather Frederick Blaker Spafford, a 70-year-old ironworker, and given his surname. In time, he worked as a fitter.

On 14 September 1940 Spafford enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force. His grandfather had died on 25 March that year and Fred named his uncle Walter James Spafford (1884-1962), South Australia's director of agriculture, as his next of kin. After training in wireless at Ballarat, Victoria, and in air gunnery at Evans Head, New South Wales, he arrived in England, under the Empire Air Training Scheme, in August 1941 as a sergeant air gunner.

Sent to No.5 Bomber Group, Royal Air Force, in the East Midlands, Spafford spent short periods with a number of units. In May 1942 he was posted to No.50 Squadron, R.A.F., with which he flew in Manchesters and later Lancasters as a specialist bomb-aimer. The four-engined Lancaster bomber became the principal weapon in Britain's air offensive against Germany by night. Following fifteen sorties, Spafford was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal in October for his skill and 'praiseworthy example'. He was commissioned in January 1943. Having survived his tour of thirty operations, he could have expected a respite from combat, but in March he was invited to join an elite R.A.F. squadron, No.617, being formed for a special mission against dams in the Ruhr and Weser valleys. (Sir) Barnes Wallis had designed a new type of mine or 'bouncing bomb' able to skip over defensive torpedo-nets and explode at depth against the wall of a dam.

On the night of 16 May Spafford flew with Wing Commander Guy Gibson, who led a formation of nineteen Lancasters in attacks on the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams. Bombs had to be released at the dangerously low height of 60 ft (18 m) at a set speed, line and distance from the wall of each targeted dam. Gibson regarded Spafford (whose nickname was 'Spam') as 'the best bomb-aimer there is'. The Mohne and Eder dams were successfully breached, flooding a large stretch of country. The daring and spectacular 'Dam Buster' raid was acclaimed as a triumph, boosting allied morale. Interviewed by the press and on the radio, Spafford described the secrecy and hazards of No.617's training for low-level flying, the elaborate briefings, and the attack which was carried out in bright moonlight against enemy fire. Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross and, among the other decorations presented at Buckingham Palace, Spafford received the Distinguished Flying Cross. Five ft 8½ ins (174 cm) tall, stockily built and square shouldered, with a fair complexion, hazel eyes and brown hair, he had an open face and wore his cap at a rakish angle. Crew mates spoke of his nonchalance in the face of danger.

Despite high losses in the dams raid—nine of the Lancasters which had set out did not return—No.617 Squadron was kept in commission for similar tasks. On the night of 15/16 September 1943 the British attacked the Dortmund-Ems Canal, using substantially the same tactics. In patchy fog and poor visibility, and against alert defences, five of the eight attacking aircraft were shot down. Hit by flak, Spafford's plane caught fire, crashed, and blew apart on the ground. There were no survivors. Spafford was posthumously promoted flying officer.


Citation details
Eric Fry, 'Spafford, Frederick Michael (1918–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 29 April 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002


Biography contributed

Biography written by Eleanor Humphrey St Peter's Girl's School, SA attached as a document. Winning entry for 2021 Premier's Anzac Spirit School Prize.