A VETERAN of the legendary 617 ‘Dambusters’ squadron has been honoured at a presentation in Ilkley.

On November 12, 1944 Sgt Charles Basil Fish boarded a Lancaster bomber carrying a newly developed Barnes Wallis bomb (the ‘Tallboy’) and set off to sink the ‘unsinkable’ - German battleship the Tirpitz, sister ship of the Bismarck. Lancasters from 617 Squadron took off from Scotland and, under fire from anti-aircraft guns of the Tirpitz and other boats, destroyed the ship at Tromso, Norway. The mission lost Germany the last significant ship of its Second World War naval fleet.

Today, the 74th anniversary of the sinking of the Tirpitz, Mr Fish was joined by current pilots of the 617 Squadron who presented him with framed photographs of the latest F35 fighter jet and a Lancaster bomber. The F35 picture was signed by all pilots of the squadron, based at RAF Marham in Norfolk.

The presentation was also attended by officers from RAF Menwith Hill and the Royal Engineers, Mr Fish's son, Peter Fish, and his daughter, Karen Heath. Prince William sent organiser Martin Bellamy a letter paying tribute to Basil.

The event was held at Ilkley's Box Tree restaurant. Proprietor Rena Gueller said she was "proud, honoured and humbled" to play a part.

Now 96, Mr Fish, known as ‘Basil’, is one of the few survivors of the 617 squadron. In 1941 he volunteered for Manchester University’s Air Squadron, later joining the RAF. “I knew two-plus-two was four so they made me a navigator. I resented not being a pilot - I should have said two-plus-two made five!” he joked, in a recorded interview played at yesterday's presentation.

In 1942, aged 22, he was sent to 617 Squadron “for reasons I didn’t know” and carried out 24 operations until the end of the war. “I adopted the attitude that I probably wasn’t going to come back with 10 fingers and 10 toes,” he said. “To see Lancasters flying together was comforting. We were a very closeknit squadron.”

Of the Tirpitz, he said: “In the air force you’re trained for a job and get on with it. We had a pretty good idea what the target was, but not for certain until the briefing. The thought of doing a trip from Britain never entered anyone's head. Then someone had the bright idea of flying from Scotland.

"As a navigator, flying over water at low level, it was hard work. Was I fearful? No, I was apprehensive. I never really expected to survive the war.

"When we returned we had 48 hours leave. That’s when we knew it had been a success.”

In another mission, Mr Fish’s Lancaster crash landed and, despite a head injury, he saved several crew members from a burning aircraft, including the pilot, Arthur Joplin, a lifelong friend now living in New Zealand.

One of the 617 Squadron pilots paying tribute to Mr Fish said: “The 617 is without doubt the most famous flying squadron in the world and cherished by people in this country. That is because of the incredible exploits of you, Basil, and the people you served with. What you did required great skill. The Tirpitz was a heavily defended moving target. We are in the presence of one of the men who sank it.

"The way you and your comrades conducted yourselves in those dark days is a huge inspiration to us in the 617 today.”

Mr Fish’s daughter, Karen Heath, said: “I’m very proud of my father, but he has never wanted to glorify war or the Tirpitz sinking. He acknowledges the pain and death on both sides. We are grateful that there are people, like him, willing to put their lives at risk for us. Especially after the Armistice weekend, we remember that.”

She added: "We are still in contact with 'Joppy' (Arthur Joplin) who is now 95, and every time I speak to him he is grateful to my father for saving his life."

On display at the Box Tree was Mr Fish's flight log book, with the words “sunk near Tromso Fjord” written next to the Tirpitz raid date, November 12, 1944, and an escape kit containing a German, Spanish, Dutch and French phrasebook and a silk map. Also displayed were his medals, uniform, including a flying helmet, gloves and a service revolver, and drawings of Lancaster bombers signed by original crew members. A suitcase he took to South Africa, where he did flight training, was covered in Spanish and Italian stickers and 'Flying F/O Fish’ written in ink.

After the war Mr Fish became a civil engineer and gained his pilot’s licence. Speaking of his last 617 mission, over Hitler's hideout, he said: "I was very relieved at the end. But afterwards I missed the crew. We were like a family."