This year marks the 70th anniversary of the famous Dambusters raid, when a group of highly trained RAF aircrew flew their specially modified Lancaster bombers to attack three dams in the German industrial heartland of the Ruhr. The secret of the operation rested on a unique bomb designed and tested by the brilliant aeronautical engineer Barnes Wallis. He had worked on the principal of an object dropped at the right height and speed over water would skim across the surface until it hit a target and exploded. He eventually devised a cylindrical shaped bomb mounted in callipers on the underside of the Lancaster and rotating backwards to ensure the bomb remained close to the dam wall after it struck.
Nineteen aircraft of 617 Squadron, each carrying a five ton bomb, took off from Scampton in Lincolnshire and flew low level across the North Sea. Two dams, the Möhne and Eder, were breached, while the Sorpe was damaged. Massive tidal waves roared down the valleys flooding numerous factories and houses. Fifty-three aircrew died in the attack codenamed Operation Chastise. Three other dams, the Diemel, Ennepe and Lister were also possible targets.
Ten years after the war, the film The Dambusters was released to huge acclaim and its iconic theme has been played ever since in a variety of guises, while the film has been reissued for newer audiences.
The Möhne dam, the largest in Germany, is now the Möhnesee, a large recreation resort with no mention of the drama that unfolded here all those years ago. The dam face still shows the extent of the damage and that it was brick built as opposed to concrete. The dam was rebuilt in five months by a massive labour force and subsequently heavily defended in the event of another raid, the repaired brickwork contrasting to the original structure dating back to the early twentieth century.
In the intervening years the raid has been the subject of a number of docu-dramas aimed at both television and the home market. This new DVD documentary opens with footage from the 1955 film showing three Lancasters crossing the enemy coast and goes on to tell the story of the development of the Upkeep bomb and its smaller rival Highball, a spherical bomb test dropped from Mosquito aircraft but never used in anger.
Whilst the general story of the raid covered in the DVD is well-known, there is some new aspects for the viewer, including some interesting and previously unseen footage which shows the flooded areas and the resultant casualties, a grim reminder of the tragedy of war. A German historian and a number of flood survivors give their views on the raid and the events that immediately followed it. Well-known aircrew from the operation also feature.
An interesting point that comes to light is that the Sorpe dam, an earth dam with a concrete core which was only damaged, was in fact more important than the Eder dam which was destroyed. While the armchair historians pass judgement over sixty years later as to whether the raid was a success or not, those who flew the mission were convinced it was. The propaganda value of the outcome at the time was also overwhelming.
This is an interesting and well produced account of the raid.
Review courtesy of Britain At War Magazine.