Wing Commander Guy Gibson and crew for Dambusters Raid 010101 CREDIT MOD.jpeg
Left to right: Flt Lt Trevor-Roper, Sgt Pulford, Flt Sgt Deering, Pilot Officer Spafford, Flt Lt Hutchinson, Wg Cdr Guy Gibson and Pilot Officer Taerum board their Avro Lancaster (Picture: Crown Copyright).
History

Remembering the daring 'Dambusters' mission

Wing Commander Guy Gibson and crew for Dambusters Raid 010101 CREDIT MOD.jpeg
Left to right: Flt Lt Trevor-Roper, Sgt Pulford, Flt Sgt Deering, Pilot Officer Spafford, Flt Lt Hutchinson, Wg Cdr Guy Gibson and Pilot Officer Taerum board their Avro Lancaster (Picture: Crown Copyright).

The legendary tale of The Dambusters, immortalised in film, has gone down as one of the most spectacular missions in the Royal Air Force's history and one which helped turn the tide of the Second World War.

The Dambusters conducted a night of raids with Sir Barnes Wallis' revolutionary bouncing bombs, releasing them 60ft above ground, on German dams in May 1943.

Of the 133 airmen who left on the missions, 53 did not return, giving a survival rate of just over 60%t.

Operation Chastise, as depicted in the 1955 hit film The Dam Busters, saw some 19 Lancaster bombers fly from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire for the daring mission over the night of 16 and 17 May 1943 to destroy dams in Germany's industrial heartland and cut off vital supply lines in the Ruhr Valley.

Former RAF officer John Nichol, who was shot down and taken prisoner during the Gulf War, has written a book detailing what The Dambusters, or more specifically 617 Squadron, did next.

John spoke to Hal Stewart, a BFBS the Forces Station broadcaster, in December 2019 about the most iconic mission in the Royal Air Force's history.

He said: "They went on to an illustrious career post the dams operation, but not many people know what they did."

Listen: John Nichol talks about The Dambusters raid.

A total of 133 Allied aircrews left for the raid on 19 Lancaster bombers, led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, but 53 men were killed and three were captured.

The Lancaster was 69ft 4in long (21.11 metres), 102ft wide (31.09m) and 20ft 6in tall (6.25m).

It could reach speeds of up to 200mph (322km/h) on its four Rolls-Royce Merlin V12 engines.

The aircraft had an impressive lifting capacity.

Weighing 36,900lbs empty (or 16,738kg), it was able to haul an additional 33,100lbs (or 15,014kg) in fuel and bombs. 

Crews then did without modern computerised equipment and had to calculate using maps, compasses, pencils and rulers, flying in a Second World War sortie was akin to taking "a seven-hour maths exam in the dark while being shot at" according to Channel 4's programme The Dambusters.

These difficulties were intrinsic to all bombing missions, though, for the pilots of Operation Chastise, the Dambusters raid had the additional challenge of having to be flown a mere 100ft off the ground to avoid radar.

Modified Lancaster B.I, ED825 G used by 617 Squadron to attack dams in the Ruhr industrial heartland of Germany 17th May 1943 CREDIT Crown Copyright
Modified Lancaster B.I, ED825/G used by 617 Squadron to attack the dams on 17 May 1943 (Picture: Crown Copyright).

The Dambusters mission was made possible by the ingenious design of the bouncing bomb by Sir Barnes Wallis.

By using bouncing bombs, the allies could avoid the torpedo nets protecting the dam by bouncing the bombs on top of the water to reach the target.

However, to get the bounce just right, the Lancaster bombers needed to approach the dams flying just 20m (65ft) above the water while travelling at 230mph.

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