On this day in 1943, RAF No.617 Squadron, were about to carry out Operation Chastise, an attack on the German dams using a bouncing bomb? The raids attacked the dams along Germany's industrial region, the Ruhr Valley, which aimed to destroy the very heart of enemy territory. Today marks the 74th anniversary of Operation Chastise and a flypast will take place over Friden Grange on the 18th June. This is an Eroica Britannia Festival flyover and NOT a flyover of Derwent Dam, (See more here)
The bomb that bounced... At the core of the RAF's Operation Chastise was the magnificent bouncing bomb which was quite an amazing design, by Dr Wallis. The bouncing drum-shaped bomb could be dropped at a very low height with pinpoint accuracy. It could spin backwards and bounce along the surface of the water avoid torpedo nets and then attach itself to the wall of a dam. The surge of water from the broken dams aimed to destroy factories and the area's electrical supplies and power stations.
On the night of May 16th, the Dambusters left RAF Scampton in three waves of Operation Chastise, led by Guy Gibson, one of the RAF's best bomber pilots and attacked the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe Dams. The Möhne and Eder dams were breached successfully, however the attack on the Sorpe was less effective. The breached dams caused floodwaters to sweep through the Ruhr Valley, and the Möhne dam was swept away and railway and road bridges vanished - the news really boosted morale in wartime Britain.
The Dambusters Those selected to carry out the Operation Chastise were the most supreme pilots of bomber Command who flew specially adapted 30-tonne Avro Lancaster’s which were originally designed to operate at 10,000 feet and at nearly 250mph. Something that might highlight just how astute and accurate the pilots had to be is knowing that for Operation Chastise the pilots had to fly at 60 feet - which is about the height of a medium sized tree, sometimes they flew lower than that, at speed, and during enemy fire. And for the night time raids they were doing all that in the dark. What skill that must have took. You really have to admire the pilots who not only had to fly very strategically, but who also had very little time to prepare for the mission - honourably and devotedly they just did it. Apparently, Wing Commander, Guy Gibson who led the mission only had 11 weeks to prepare crews for Operation Chastise. And even though they practised some low-level flying and precision bombing, crews had no idea about their target until six hours before take-off. Can you imagine that? Perhaps it was better to not have had much time to think about the massive challenge ahead? Sadly though, almost half of the 113 airmen that were a part of it never made it back. The pilots must have had a fantastic amount of bravery. For example, I read a really touching and poignant story about the last surviving British Dambuster, Johnny Johnson, 91, who according to the article, never doubted that he'd make it back from the mission. Johnny, as he apparently likes to be known, lives in Bristol and recalled his part in the legendary raid - talking about flying without any lights at just 30ft, getting attacked by enemy fire and dropping his bomb with such skill. Sheer amount of bravery... Again, the sheer courageousness and humble nature so synonymous with our war heroes really shone through as I read this interview.
“I’m asked how it feels to be the last British Dambuster. Well, excuse the language, I feel bloody lucky," said Johnny. “I was in the right crew, in the right place at the right time and I feel honoured and privileged to have been able to take part.
Talking about flying home from the operation and his landing at Scampton, Johnny recalled the engineer spotting a burst tyre. "We discovered the shot from the goods train had burst the tyre, gone through the undercarriage, on through the wing and ended up in the roof just above the navigator’s head. Another foot either way and it would have got the petrol tanks and that would have been bye-bye. Lady Luck was with us that night!” “But surviving when so many didn’t come back was pretty shattering. There was an awful lot of loss – on both sides.” It is stated that 1,294 people on the ground in Germany were killed and many were prisoners in forced labour camps. In recent years there has been much debate about the true impact of the raids and some believe the mission involved too much effort and loss to be called a true success. But, Johnny, who retired from the RAF in 1962 to be a junior school teacher, rubbishes the arguments of 'retrospective historians'. “These people really get up my nose,” he said. “They weren’t there and they were not aware of the circumstances. It proved to Hitler and the hierarchy that what they thought was impregnable could be got to by the RAF and destroyed." In the interview Johnny says that a certain pilot broke down upon the news of the losses, but that Guy Gibson who led the campaign told him that without him that significant raid could have never taken place.
Do you have any stories that involve the Dambusters? Were any of your relatives involved in Operation Chastise or RAF pilots during World War II? We're always interested to hear your stories so please feel free to comment below. Looking for the war hero in your family? Search the Forces War Records site, broaden your military genealogy research and delve into our records and historic documents library. SEARCH TODAY