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Category: Air support

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The Dambusters; 617 Squadron RAF but Australia was there

Lot image Very few exploits of WW2 involve as much admiration as the raid on the German dams of the Ruhr valley.

The famous and new 'bouncing" bomb (mine)and the men who delivered them have become legend.

<<< Current badge of 617 Sqn with their motto "Apres Moi Le Deluge" (After Me The Flood)

Bomber Command Daily Report 18th May 1943 Extract


19 Lancasters of 5 Group were detailed to attack the Moehne, Eder, Sorpe and Schwelm Dams.

MOEHNE DAM. 5 Lancasters attacked at 0038-0049 hours, dropping 5 special mines. The attacks were reported accurate and large water spouts, some of which caused water to over-run the dam, marked the bursting charges. The first aircraft, in spite of the accuracy of their attacks, did not apparently breach the dam; but the fourth and fifth aircraft caused two adjacent breaches, conservatively estimated to cover 30 yards of the dam, although the depth of the breach was not seen. The formation commander observed that water was pouring through the dam and the river below soon became several times its original size for a distance of 3 miles downstream. The Power House, situated immediately beneath the dam, completely disappeared under the water.

EDER DAM. 3 Lancasters attacked between 0139-0156 hours, dropped 3 special mines, 2 aircraft report that their attacks were visibly successful, one causing a hole about 30 feet below the top of the dam, and the other making a gap about 9 feet wide on the Eastern side. A torrent of water pouring through caused a tidal wave about 30 feet high to sweep down the valley.

SORPE DAM. 2 Lancasters attacked at 0046 and 0314 hours, dropping 2 special mines. The first aircraft reported that his attack caused the crown to crumble over a distance of 15-20 feet and the second aircraft reported that after his attack the dam was crumbling over a much greater distance. The latter aircraft returned to the Moehne Dam and reported that water was pouring through two large breaches in powerful jets.

SCHWELM DAM. 1 Lancaster attacked at 0337 hours, dropping 1 special mine without visible results. This aircraft also visited the Moehne Dam and reported difficulty in identifying this target which was obscured by a sheet of water 7 miles long. Roofs of houses could be distinguished projecting above the water which as flowing very fast.

The weather was good, there being bright moonlight with some intermittent mist in the valley.

8 Lancasters are missing, three of which are reported by radio transmissions to have attacked their targets. There is day photographic confirmation of the effectiveness of the attacks on Eder, Moehne and Sorpe dams.

Aircraft Target Result
First Wave
G Moehne Dam
M " " Missing. Shot down over target after attacking.
P " " -
A " " Missing. Dam breached.
J " " 2nd breach made.

hole blasted in the Moehne Dam photographed the following morning

L Eder Dam Small breach made.
Z " " Missing. Damaged by own mine which exploded on parapet of dam.
B Missing before target was reached. Shot down near Dorsten.
N Eder Dam Large breach.
Second Wave
E and K Missing, one at least before target was reached.
H Returned early (flew too low over Zuider Zee, struck water and lost mine)
W Returned early (hit by flak at Vlieland)
T Sorpe Dam Crown of dam crumbled.
Third Wave
C Missing. Detailed to attack Lister Dam, but no confirmation of the attack was given.
S Missing before reaching target. Exploded in mid-air near Tilburg.
F Sorpe Dam Top of dam crumbled further.
O Schwelm Dam -
Y Detailed to attack Lister Dam, which could not be found owing to mist in the valleys.

The Inventor of the "bouncing" bomb, Barnes Wallis

Barnes Wallis The story of 617 Squadron began with the aircraft designer Barnes Wallis who when hostilities began, was determined to make his personal contribution to the war effort. He was acutely aware of the inability of existing aircraft and weapons to carry out effective attacks on Germany's basic sources of power and set about developing a series of weapons that were to transform the meaning of air power. 

He first tried to interest the Air Staff in a ten ton 'earthquake' bomb of great penetration, but since no existing aircraft were capable of carrying such a weapon, there was understandable scepticism and a reluctance to risk diverting valuable war effort. 

Since considerable interest had been aroused by the possibility of breaching the Ruhr Dams, Barnes Wallis then concentrated his attention on this project. By experimenting with a model dam he found that a bomb capable of carriage by the new Lancaster, would breech a dam the size of the Moehne, provided it exploded immediately alongside the dam wall, below the surface of the water. Anything like a torpedo was unsuitable, as it was believed the Germans had anti-torpedo nets strung along the surface of the lake. Further model tests proved that a bouncing bomb was possible and so the go ahead was given. On 4 December 1942 the first bouncing bomb was tested.
Wallis also either invented or helped invent the two most useful non-nuclear bombs of WW2, the "Tallboy" and the "Grand Slam" and the swing wing style of aeroplane that led to the F111.
Diagram showing how the bomb should work against a dam when fired from correct altitude and speed
Diagram showing how the bomb should work against a dam when fired from correct altitude (60 feet) and speed (220 miles per hour)

The Reasons and the Details

The great German Dams were vital to the industries of the Ruhr. They provided hydroelectric power, water for cooling and other industrial purposes, and also domestic water. In addition, if the dams could be successfully breached a great deal of flood damage would result. 
The Eder dam before the raid

The Eder Dam before the raid (above) and after (below)

Photograph showing damage to the Eder dam

Briefly the operational plan was as follows. Nine aircraft, led by Guy Gibson, were to attack the primary target, the Moehne Dam. Once this had been breached they were to go and attack the Eder Dam. A second wave of five aircraft was to fly directly to the Sorpe Dam and attempt to breech it. Finally a third wave of five aircraft was to act as reserve following behind the two waves.

On the night of 16 May 1943, only two months since the formation of the Squadron nineteen specially modified Lancasters, each carrying one of Barnes Wallis' bouncing bombs, took off from Scampton and set course for Germany.

Of the nine aircraft comprising the first wave, one was lost en-route and another whilst attacking the Moehne Dam. When this dam had been successfully breached two aircraft turned for home, whilst the remaining five, led by Gibson, flew on to the Eder Dam which was breached at the cost of one more aircraft. On the return journey another aircraft of the first wave was lost. Of the second wave, two aircraft were compelled to abandon the sortie and two more were lost en-route to the target, leaving only one of the original five to attack the Sorpe Dam. 

This it did with partial success, and a portion of the dam wall was seen to crumble after the bomb had exploded. The third wave was used to attack the Sorpe Dam again and also secondary targets. Two aircraft of this wave were lost.

The operation was an outstanding success but the cost had been high. Eight aircraft and fifty airmen failed to return. Wing Commander Guy Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross and altogether thirty three of the aircrew were decorated for their gallantry. Shortly after the raid the King and Queen visited the squadron whilst at Scampton and approved the badge and motto - 'Apres Moi Le Deluge'.

The Lancaster's that carried the "bouncing barrels bombs"

A Lancaster flying towards the dam at the 60th Anniversary (c) Tony Cunnane 1993

Lancaster modified for the dam raids with 'Upkeep' bomb attached
The " bouncing barrel bomb" can be seen hanging below the belly of a specially modified RAF Lancaster.

The men who flew the Lancasters 

Gibson and two colleagues
Coutesy of Trustees of the RAF Museumm, Hendon; Wing Commander Guy Gibson's medals

The medals of Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC DSO & bar DFC & bar

The Aussies who were there

London, England. 1945-03-21. Portrait of the most highly decorated Royal Australian airman flying, 22 year old 407729 Flight Lieutenant David John Shannon DSO and Bar DFC and Bar, of Bridgewater, SA, member of the Dambusters, was one of nineteen Australian airmen who attended Buckingham Palace for an investiture.

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