The Dambusters Raid
Our guest speaker for this month was David Keen. David's talk was about the famous Dambusters raid carried out by the RAF's 617 Squadron in 1943.
We've added a video of Eric Coates Dambusters March so you can listen to his stirring music whilst you read about David's talk.
(Note: we've linked this video from youtube, so be aware you may have an advert pop up at some point. Just click on the little x in the corner of the ad to make it go away!)
The meeting was well attended. The photographs were taken of our members prior to the meeting getting started.
Further down the page we've added photographs in a Gallery. Most of the pictures were used by David in his talk. If you click on one of them you can enlarge and see them more clearly.
The links open up in a separate tab or window and give more information about the mission.
The Talk…separating the fact from the fiction…
David began his talk by referring to the well known film of the raid based on Paul Brickhill’s book. Whilst the film had all of the elements of the missions he pointed out that the restrictions of the script meant certain facts were either left out or embellished. The reality was, in some areas, different to the film. For dramatic effect film script writers sometimes include scenes in a movie that did not happen.
But the real story was no less dramatic. His talk went into detail about people who carried out the missions, and the men who made it happen. Along the way the raids were nearly scuppered because the officer commanding the RAF, Sir Arthur Harris, believed the idea was a non-starter. Harris took some convincing of its value to the war effort. Harris was wary of ‘crackpot’ ideas and didn’t believe the plan that Wallis came up with would work. Wallis disagreed and, eventually, Harris was complimentary about the idea. Ultimately he came to see their value and, as we know, the missions went ahead
The start of David’s talk concentrated on the lead up to the raids on the dams in the Ruhr Valley. He shared with us the development of the idea of bombing the dams and the strategic reasons for doing so. He then went on to give details of the main characters, Barnes Wallis, Arthur Harris, Guy Gibson and the crews of 617 Squadron.
The talk went through the bombing of the three dams (Möhne, Eder and the Sorpe) and the difficulties the missions would come up against. David took time to explain in detail about the dams and showed photographs that were taken by aerial reconnaissance, both before and after the raids.
The Ruhr Valley was the part of Germany where many of the armaments factories were located. The water held by the dams was vital for Germany’s manufacturing of their weapons. He showed pictures to help members understand the difficulty of breaching the dams.
He said that using conventional bombs to hit the dams would prove to be very hard. The dams were extremely robust and trying to breach them with conventional bombs would result in failure. This was because of the thickness of the main dam walls. Hitting the wall in the right place was key. This was when Wallis came up with the idea of a ‘bouncing’ bomb that would impact the walls of the dam in the right place so as to do maximum damage. The eventual design of the bombs would be cylindrical and not spherical so that the bombs could skip over the water.
In order to get the bombs to hit their target, and have the necessary impact, the aircraft would also have to approach the dams at a height of sixty feet. This meant the flight path to reach their targets was extremely hazardous and made the missions much more dangerous than dropping bombs from thousands of feet over them. Therefore getting the accuracy for hitting the targets became crucial to obtaining a successful outcome.
David went on the say that though the missions were deemed to be successful, the final outcome wasn't as good as those in charge hoped. Under strict instructions from Hitler Germany were able to rebuild the dams within six months and within months their factories were restored to full production.
However the outcome of the war was certainly influenced because of the fact that the attention of the German’s was distracted. Instead of focussing on more important areas for their campaign (with D-Day coming) the missions to destroy the dams did help the nation to gain victory, but for other reasons.
Despite the amazing efforts of the raids eight of the nineteen aircraft were lost. This meant that many of the crews lost their lives. In the pictures of the crew list (below in the gallery) those highlighted in red did not make it back.
David went on to give details of the crews who manned the aircraft and related stories about them. The last member of the squadron, Les Munro, died in August 2015. Sadly one of the members, Sergeant Frederick Tees, was severely effected by his experience of the raids and he took his own life in 1980, at the age of 60.
Wing Commander Gibson, then a Squadron Leader, survived the raids but was later killed in another operation at the age of 26.
David showed a picture of the telegram sent by Sir Winston Churchill congratulating them on their success. It was amusing to hear David talk through the words with a very passable impression of the great man!
The talk was very well received and the audience gave David a rousing round of applause.
Clicking on the photos will enlarge them. You can navigate using the arrows either side of the pictures, in any direction.