Over 70 years since Operation Chastise, aka the Dam busters raid, was instigated during World War II and we see the two remaining airworthy Lancaster bombers fly over Derwent Dam.
The Dam, set along Derwent reservoir in Derbyshire, was where the RAF’s 617 squadron practiced and simulated their planned attacks on the Ruhr region of Germany. The operation required practice due to the new and advanced technology that would be used during the attacks – notably the ‘bouncing bomb’. Sir Barnes Wallis designed the bomb and it was designed to bounce across water in a measured approach towards the target, avoiding any obstacles along the way. The Dam busters raid was the first time these bombs were used and they were intended to reach the dams and explode underwater.
Bombing missions were clearly dangerous under normal circumstances, as the pilots were required to fly over enemy territory and risk being shot down. But the use of the bouncing bomb required the pilots to fly incredibly low – 100ft or lower at some points. This not only intensified the danger but also made the drop even more difficult. Those planes that made it towards the target then had to precisely release their bombs.
The raids took place on the 16th-17th May 1943 and were incredibly successful. Two dams were breached – the Möhne and Edersee dams – and a third (the Sorpe) damaged. The floods that followed the bombings affected factories and infrastructure, destroying mines and two hydroelectric power stations. These raids successfully combined science, skill and determination to slow German production and negatively affect their war effort. Rapid German repairs did however ease the damage caused by the raids.
The Dam busters raid stretched the men of the 16th squadron to their limits. They were held together and led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC DSO DFC. He was a highly courageous leader, leading by example, and had flown over 100 operations during the war. He was dedicated to the cause, a skilled pilot and most importantly was respected by his men. The raids on the Dams were famously successful and it was for his role and leadership within bomber command that Gibson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and the Victoria Cross (VC). He sadly died on a late mission in the war.
The last flight of the Lancaster’s was a once in a lifetime sight and a tribute to those who died, not only during the dam busters raid but also those from bomber command who never saw the end of the war.