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Dam Busters Remembered
by Clint Wayne
2008-05-17 09:34:54
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On the night of 16th May 1943 nineteen Lancaster Bombers, from the elite 617 Squadron led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson V.C., took off from R.A.F. Scampton in Lincolnshire on one of the bravest and daring missions of World War Two. They had three primary targets: the Mohne, Sorpe and Eder dams in the Ruhr Valley in the heart of Hitler’s industrial war complex.

This raid carried out 65 years ago this week, as part of the Allies' bombing campaign, was to be immortalised in World War Two folklore purely as ‘The Dam Busters’.

dambusters_400How much impact the raid had in military terms is unimportant, but what cannot be denied is the bravery of the men involved and the unique contribution by Dr. Barnes Wallis in the development of the bouncing bomb, so marvellously depicted in the 1955 film starring Michael Redgrave as Barnes Wallis and Richard Todd as Gibson the heroic commander. Its theme music written by Eric Coates is synonymous with the film and remains a favourite with all military bands.

This raid, under the code name ‘Chastise’, had enormous propaganda value for the war effort and was given the go-ahead by Churchill himself following doubts from Bomber Command and, in particular, Bomber Harris himself.

Wallis quickly discounted conventional bombs due to their inaccuracies in pinpointing specific targets from several thousand feet and realised that to enable success the explosive charge would need to be detonated as close to the dam wall as possible. He also calculated that a fracture in the dam wall on the waterside of the dam could be enough to breach the structure as the vast pressure of the water would aid its destruction.

Simple torpedo bombs were ruled out due to the Germans installing protective steel netting. Wallace’s genius, however, came to the fore with the idea that he himself called “childishly simple’ with the use of a bouncing bomb that would simply clear the protective netting, smash into the dam wall whilst still staying intact, sink to a depth of around 30 feet [10 metres] clinging to the dam wall by means of the bomb’s spinning action and explode using a fuse similar to the ones used in depth charges.

Simple! Except that the bomb, code named ‘Upkeep’, needed to be larger and thus more powerful than any bomb previously dropped by the R.A.F. and had to be delivered with pinpoint accuracy at an altitude of just 60 feet [18 metres] whilst flying at exactly 220 mph and releasing the bomb just 425 yards [390 metres] from the dam wall. Given the speed of the Lancaster’s across the water success or failure would only be a matter of precious few seconds whilst facing a barrage of German gun fire and, oh by the way lads, the attack will be carried out at night.

On May 16th 2008 the event was marked by a flypast by a lone Lancaster bomber over the Derwent Dam in Derbyshire where the pilots had trained all those years ago. It was an operation that the cynics thought would never succeed, but today in front of the lone survivor, Kiwi Les Munro, of the Dam Busters mission a large crowd gathered to remember the 53 aircrew that lost their lives. It should never be forgotten that hundreds of civilians also died that night as the floodwaters washed down the valleys sweeping aside farms and villages, as well as the targeted munitions factories.

R.A.F 617 Squadron was a single unit formed during the Second World War to carry out a single special and dangerous mission. The Dam Busters have since become legends in the annals of military history and possesses all the admired attributes of invention, surprise and heroism of all those involved.

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Simon2008-05-17 09:54:16
Did you know that the Soviets used two bouncing bombs during the attack that sunk the World War II German anti-aircraft cruiser Niobe in Kotka, Finland on 16 July 1944.


Emanuel Paparella2008-05-17 14:51:02
Now we have "smart bombs" which are however not smart enough to self-destruct and thus end future wars and war's romanticizing. Exactly how many innocent civilians were killed during the Dam Busters' raid, and how many of them died (on both sides) during the duration of the war because of carpet bombing and other barbaric methods of modern warfare? Does the fact that one has a noble and just reason for engaging in war exuse one from harming civilians? At what point is the nobility of the goal trumped by the means used to achieve it?

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