Anniversary of the Dambusters

On 17th May 1943 617 Squadren “The Dambusters began Operation Chastise against German dams during World War II. 617 Squadren was formed at RAF Scrampton specially during World War II to carry out the single special and dangerous task of attacking three major dams on the Ruhr in Germany: the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe. The plan was given the codename Operation Chastise and was carried out on 17 May 1943. The squadron also had to develop the tactics to deploy Barnes Wallis’s “Bouncing bomb” and the squadren included Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force and Royal New Zealand Air Force personnel.

The mission grew out of a concept for a bomb designed by Barnes Wallis and developed by his team at Vickers. Wallis was Assistant Chief Designer at Vickers and had worked on both the Vickers Wellesley and Vickers Wellington bombers. While working on the Vickers Windsor he had also begun work, with support of the Admiralty, on a bomb designed initially for attacking ships, though dam-destruction was soon considered, and Prior to World War II, the British Air Ministry had identified Germany’s heavily industrialised Ruhr Valley, and especially its dams, as important strategic targets: in addition to providing hydro-electric power for industry and pure water for steel-making, they also supplied drinking water and water for the canal transport system.

Led by 24 year-old Wing Commander Guy Gibson, a veteran of over 170 bombing and night-fighter missions, 21 bomber crews were selected from existing squadrons in 5 Group. These crews included RAF personnel of several different nationalities, as well as members of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF), who were frequently attached to RAF squadrons under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. The squadron was based at RAF Scampton, about 5 Miles (8 km) north of Lincoln

The targets selected were the two key dams upstream from the Ruhr industrial area, the Möhne Dam and the Sorpe Dam, with the Eder Dam on the Eder River, which feeds into the Weser, as a secondary target. While the loss of hydroelectric power was important, the loss of water supply to industry, cities, and canals would have greater effect. Also, there was the potential for devastating flooding if the dams broke. The aircraft used for the raid were modified Avro Lancaster Mk IIIs, known as B Mark III Special (Type 464 Provisioning). To reduce weight, much of the internal armour was removed, as was the mid-upper machine gun turret. The size of the bomb with its unusual shape meant that the bomb-bay doors had to be removed, and the bomb itself hung, in part, below the fuselage of the aircraft. It was mounted on two crutches, and before dropping it was spun up to speed by an auxiliary motor.

The men of 617 Squadren have since become legends in the annals of military history and the exploits of the squadron and Chastise in particular, have also been described in many books and the classic 1954 film starring Kenneth More, though the accuracy and completeness of these accounts were compromised by many of the documents relating to the war years, still being secured by the Official Secrets legislation. In 2006, it was also announced that New Zealand film director Peter Jackson and David Frost would co-produce a re-make of the film. It has been scripted by Stephen Fry and will be directed by Christian Rivers. The last living Dam Buster pilot, New Zealander Les Munro, also offered his services as a technical adviser for the film.

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