SQUADRON Leader Lawrence Goodman, who has died aged 100, was an RAF pilot who served with the famous 617 Squadron and was involved in many epic raids on enemy territory during the Second World War.
His 30 sorties were crucial to the war effort – not least in the final days of the conflict when Goodman’s Lancaster bomber dropped the famous 12,000lb “Tallboy” bomb on the Führer’s mountain retreat – The Eagle’s Nest – at Berchtesgaden. The weapon was specially created by Barnes Wallis, the inventor best known for inventing the bouncing bomb used in the famous Dambusters raid.
Goodman joined the RAF in 1940 and served as a pilot with the elite 617 squadron from 1944, a year after the famous Dambusters operation. But Goodman had been noticed as a skilful pilot and was the first without operational experience to join the squadron.
Lawrence Goodman – who was known by all friends and colleagues as Benny – was born in Maida Vale, west London and educated in Kent. He was reluctant to reveal details of his private life, but his father was a veteran of the First World War, and Goodman studied electrical engineering before joining his father’s film and advertising business.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, he joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve and trained at RAF Abingdon, but was soon transferred to RAF Bridgnorth in Shropshire to specialise in navigation and airmanship.
He was then sent to train as a pilot instructor and posted to Kingston, Ontario. Goodman qualified as a pilot and was keen to be involved in the war. Promoted to flight lieutenant, he formed his own crew and moved on to a heavy bomber conversion unit. He joined 617 squadron in Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire, in August 1944 and flew raids on oil refineries and U-boat harbours.
His first action was an attack on Brest that August followed soon after with orders to find and destroy the German battleship Tirpitz. The sister ship of the Bismark was feared by the Royal Navy because of its powerful 18-inch guns. Winston Churchill called it “the Beast”.
The mission was technically hazardous. Goodman flew out of Lossiemouth on a 12-hour mission and had to carry a Tallboy all the way to Norway where the Tirpitz was at anchor. The Tallboy was described as formidable piece of ordinance and needed extra-special care as it was heavy and unwieldy.
The flight alone was difficult and the fog in the fjords made finding the Tirpitz almost impossible. They did, however, and greatly damaged the vessel. The Tirpitz was eventually sunk at sea in 1941 after a long and difficult chase.
Goodman relived that Tirpitz mission many years later. “Once I got into the aircraft any nerves were gone,” he recalled. “I had the responsibility of flying the aircraft and doing it properly, so I got on with it. Once up in the sky, the purr of the Merlin engines bred confidence. Oh, the noise those beautiful engines made when you throttled back, there is no other sound in the world like it.”
Another of his operations was the bombing of the Arnsberg railway viaduct with a 22,000lb bomb known as the Grand Slam.
Typically of Goodman, after the war he was made an official friend of the town, learned German and visited often, making speeches pleading for reconciliation.
After the war, Goodman joined 604 squadron Auxiliary Air Force as a reservist flying Spitfire XVIs from RAF Hendon. He much appreciated the different aircrafts and recalled his time in the cockpit of a Spitfire as “the most beautiful aeroplane to fly”.
However, his sense of duty and love of flying was not ended quite yet. In 1949, with the Russians causing havoc in West Berlin and stopping all communication and supplies into the city, Goodman rejoined the RAF and trained to fly the Handley Page Hastings.
He also flew troops in the Middle East and flew home injured personnel from Singapore during the Korean War from 1950 to 1953.
In his amazing and varied career, he had logged 3,500 hours on 22 different aircrafts. From 1957, he was a flight commander for 80 Squadron in Germany and retired with the rank of squadron leader in 1964.
He rejoined the family business and remained much involved with honouring the dead of Bomber Command. He appears on the roll of honour for the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and regularly spoke at its charity events – and is included in the RAF Museum’s Hidden Heroes project.
He was awarded France’s Légion d’Honneur in 2016.
Dr Robert Owen, friend and historian of 617 squadron, has spoken of Goodman’s remarkable sense of duty and service. “Benny served the RAF with pride and honour but he was a most modest and humble man with a marvellous sense of humour and a wonderful ability to collect friends.
“He would often say to younger pilots when asked about flying Lancasters, ‘I didn’t do anything special’.”
His marriage was dissolved and he is survived by his son, Robert.