11 4 mins 9 yrs

A re-post from a few years ago, in remembrance of true, undiluted bravery.

Some seventy years ago today, nineteen Lancaster bombers of R.A.F. 617 Squadron took off on a mission which, many hoped, could drastically alter the war in favour of the Allies. They hoped, by use of a special weapon, to breach three of the Ruhr dams when they were at their highest level of water storage. The weapon was a product of the agile mind of Sir Barnes Neville Wallis, and it became the precursor of many of the exceedingly effective weapons which issued from the agile mind of this superb scientist. The bomb was built in the shape of a drum, and dropped with the case spinning in reverse to the motion of the aircraft. The idea was that the spinning bomb would hit the waves and then ‘bounce’ forward, dropping, bouncing and slowing on the water as the bomb advanced.

The trouble with the attack, which had to be carried out at an extremely low altitude and in a straight line, was that the bomber could be tracked and attacked by seriously-accurate German anti-aircraft fire during the predictable approach path. The Moehne, Eder & Sorpe dams were chosen as targets, and theLancasters of 617 Squadron, modified to carry the three ton weight of the bombs which had to be held partly outside the bomb-bay as the spin had to be applied before the bomb was released, set off on their mission. The Moehne and Eder dams were successfully breached, albeit with heavy loss to the attacking squadron; with eight of the nineteen bombers failing to return, and fifty-three fliers in total died during the operation.Squadron Leader Guy Gibson received the Victoria Cross, there were also five D.S.O.’s, ten D.F.C.’s and four Bars, two Conspicuous Gallantry Medals and eleven Distinguished Flying Medals and one Bar. 

It was hoped that the resultant torrents of water would damage war industries, halt electricity generation, clog rail routes and damage the German war effort. The actual effect was rather different; in that the electricity supplies were back in business due to an emergency pumping system built by a forward-looking German generation industry; the great percentage of deaths were actually of P.O.W.’s, and the rail system was rebuilt where damaged in typical German quick-time, mainly by the use of slave labour. The surprising outcome was a rapid decline in food production, as large areas of arable land were flooded, as well as huge numbers of farm animals killed. German civilian morale suffered greatly. British morale went sky-high, as the pictures of the broken dams were shown in cinemas and in the newspapers.

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old.

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.  


Image from the works of Ronald Suchiu

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11 thoughts on “Not Forgotten

  1. Whatever sophistry will likely follow any praise of Allied War efforts here on ATW, you are correct to credit the RAF for its great service.

  2. The sophistry comes from many sources.

    Do not forget that every one of those planes, and the rest of the British war effort, was entirely funded by taxation.

    Some would have left Britain absolutely defenseless at the most dangerous hour.

    Had bad policy been followed, you’d all be dead, or speaking bad German.

  3. Still, lads, I suspect there’d be a little more sophistry about this from your quarter if all those dead prisoners (almost a thousand young Russian women killed) were Americans.

  4. Phantom , you make some very valid points ,especially re. forward planning ; one must give thanks that a certain Winston Churchill was at the helm at this time of need .I firmly believe that without him we would be speaking bad German .

  5. Not at all Noel. The loss of life does not diminish the service of the RAF during the War. War is full of snafus, fiasco and tragedy.

  6. He is one of the few historical figures whose reputation is only enhanced over time.

    He had absolute moral clarity on the most important thing.

  7. mahons

    But there are always second guessers and weasels, who know it all when something goes wrong.

    If 1000 US or UK POWs were drowned by something that our allies did, all these critics would have said that with their 20 20 hindsight that something else should have done.

    Second guessing is something that I despise. You see it all the time here and everywhere.

    But of course those RAF guys were magnificent.

    How many high school or college kids in England or America know anything about this? Any?

  8. Friendly Fire and collateral damage are a tragic part of war, many US paratroopers were killed by our own forces in the invasion of Sicily which doesn’t diminish the bravery of those who drove the Germans out of Sicily. The US Air Force accidently killed hundreds of Allied POWs on at least one bombing run which also doesn’t diminish the bravery of those who served in that War.

  9. “Not at all Noel. The loss of life does not diminish the service of the RAF during the War. War is full of snafus, fiasco and tragedy.”

    Absolutely right. War makes men mad. There are so many imponderables, and whilst plans may be meticulously prepared, when it comes to the event improvising under pressure counts.

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