Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Dam Busters

I wrote a commemorative piece on the Dam Busters raid, which took place 64 years ago today, for Pajamas Media. The appeal of Operation Chastise, as it is formally called, lies in its dramatic elements. The flight against great odds led by a dashing young hero. An experimental weapon designed by an eccentric British inventor. A multinational attack crew, representing "the last muster of the British Empire". And final success after repeated and heartbreaking failure. A story that would have been amazing if it were fiction but it was fact.


Blogger Fat Man said...

DVD of the 1955 black and white movie.

Count me as very skeptical that Hollywood in its PC dotage can equal the original.

5/17/2007 05:03:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

I have Guy Gibson’s book at home, as yet unread.

Another stirring and similar tale is that of the RAF effort to breach the walls of the French prison where many Resistance fighters were held before D-Day. In true cinematic fashion, the attack was successful but only the leader was lost.

And I read an interesting explanation of Guy Gibson’s death. Working as a pathfinder, his Mosquito suffered a failure shortly after takeoff and had to return to base. He insisted that he be given a specific other back-up Mosquito, and set off again. But that Mosquito had never been armed with the required marking bombs, so it appears that he made repeated passes in the target area trying to drop bombs that were not even on board. Ultimately, it was his determination to complete the mission no matter what and his stature as a hero that led to his death – no one could say “No” to him.

5/17/2007 05:46:00 AM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

PBS had a Nova (or was it "Secrets of the Dead") episode about this. Quite good.

5/17/2007 06:20:00 AM  
Blogger ricpic said...

The movie Dam Busters was great! I saw it as a kid and the excitement of those low flying runs against the dams, and, of course, the release of the skip-bombs, was tremendous. I don't know if the actual missions were flown at night but that's the way they were portrayed in the film with the moonlight intensifying the drama of the whole thing.

5/17/2007 06:56:00 AM  
Blogger Maj_Gen_Stanley said...

Ricpic - It was flown at night. The RAF had learned that it was prohibitively expensive to fly over Germany in the the 8th Air Force learned, too (until the P-51 came along).

The Dambuster Raid dispatched 16 Lancasters; 8 returned to England.

No. 617 squadron was a hand-picked elite unit chosen for their skills. They were later used to mask the approach of the D-Day armada, and also sank the Tirpitz.

5/17/2007 07:03:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

By the way, I don't think the dog's name actually was "Goner" That was changed for the film. Why?

I believe that the dog was a BLACK Lab and his name started with "N"
Anyone want to guess what the name was?

Hint: It got O.J. out of a murder conviction.

5/17/2007 07:04:00 AM  
Blogger Pickleking said...

Does anyone remember the motto of the 617? "Apres moi, le deluge".

5/17/2007 07:45:00 AM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

fascinating how they perfected the skip bomb accuracy--all the bomb design had been completed, but they were still having trouble getting the skip right because the release altitude was so extremely narrow and critical.

Finally solved it with two searchliights set on either wingtip, the beams set to converge on the water surface at the correct altitude.

Pilot barely eased down, bombardier watched the two spots slowly merge to one, then pushed the button.

5/17/2007 10:45:00 AM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

That solved elevation, windage was no problem with the wide targets--but wonder how they solved range? Too short, bomb sinks, too long, bomb bounces over top of dam. Those dams had low freeboards, too. Guess I'll rent that movie again.

5/17/2007 10:51:00 AM  
Blogger Mojoski said...

Thanks so much for sharing this story. I was ignorant of these heroes before reading your article. Exciting and awe inspiring stuff!

5/17/2007 11:26:00 AM  
Blogger Stuart said...

My god father is Nick Nilans. He joined the RCAF before the US got into WWII. "Nicky" flew the mission and had to clean the remains of his tail gunner out of the Lancaster afterwards...he's still alive living in Northern Wisconsin. I remember him as a handsom guy who was a real adventurer and all around very cool guy.

5/17/2007 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger Chavo said...

I had a chance to visit the place where the did the practice bomb runs several years ago. I took a very long walk with a friend of mine marvelling all the while of their accomplishment. It is truly a fine and private place.

5/17/2007 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

A little bit astonishing that Wretchard could put a small post about a rather obscure WWII operation that involved a few hundred people sixty-four years ago --and then of a few comments, one is from the god-son of one of the fliers, and another has walked the training grounds where the raid was organized. What a reach--

5/17/2007 01:01:00 PM  
Blogger Chavo said...

Truly. Quite a testimonial to the Belmont Club I'd say.

5/17/2007 01:38:00 PM  
Blogger PeterBoston said...

WWII British aviators were a very special breed - probably as courageous and daring, and who made as big a contribution to Western Civ, as The 300 so many years ago. The Dam Busters, the Battle of Britain, and those ancient Swordfish biplanes sinking German battleships in the North Atlantic and Italian battleships in Taranto are truly the stuff of legend.

Is WWII history still being taught in Britain? What a shame if not. The legends of men accomplishing dangerous things breathes vitality into a nation.

5/17/2007 02:07:00 PM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

Really. Daylight bomber crews over Europe in 1943--the "magic 25" was a near-impossible dream. Pacific fliers who if shot down had a million miles of empty ocean to float on until sharks or thirst got 'em. And they were kids, age-wise.

5/17/2007 02:27:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

Yes, Buddy L, quite a reach for The Belmont Club.

And to think - one of my high school teachers - for mechanical drawing and math - was a Navigator/Bombardier on The Dolittle Raid, 18 April 1942, from the USS Hornet.

By the way, I just looked through Guy Gibson's book that gives his own account of the Dambusters raid and I can confirm the information about his dog's real name.

After the dambusting raid 617 Sqdrn went on to take on many other special misisons, using other bombs designed by Barnes Wallis. They sank the Tirpitz, I believe.

5/17/2007 03:03:00 PM  
Blogger |3run0 said...

"That solved elevation, windage was no problem with the wide targets--but wonder how they solved range? Too short, bomb sinks, too long, bomb bounces over top of dam. Those dams had low freeboards, too. Guess I'll rent that movie again."

IIRC, they used a cutout with the outline of the towers at the end of the dams. When the cutouts coincided with the actual towers, they were in range. Or perhaps they just used the Force...

The 617 did a lot of precision bombing afterwards, against tunnels, ships, V1 Launchers, etc. I believe they still exist today as a Tornado squadron.

5/17/2007 03:19:00 PM  
Blogger dbsfacs said...

Swam in the Edersee many times while in GFR courtesy of Uncle Sam. In-laws had a weekend home nearby. Father-in-law gave me a copy of the book to read while I was there. Thanks for the memory.

5/17/2007 03:34:00 PM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

Hard to believe, but that Doolittle raid was only four months after Pearl Harbor. Then a bare two months later (and in response to Doolittle) the EOJ attacked Midway.

USS Hornet, which had launched Doolittle, then also launched Torpedo Squadron 8, which flew away into the Great Beyond (save a lone survivor), where the Spartan 300, and the Texians of the Alamo, among others, are gathered.

5/17/2007 04:10:00 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

The principal of my Prep school was 'Eg' Maltby, father of one of the pilots and both his son and Gibson went to my secondary school, (Called a 'Public School' in the UK) We later lived in a house that had been on one of their practice routes and my stepfather remembered them flying up the valley in the dawn light, low enough to shake things off shelves.

5/17/2007 04:29:00 PM  
Blogger Pyrthroes said...

In the fall of 1963, Gen. Doolittle visited Shemya AFS in the Aleutians on his way to Tokyo. A cordial, unprepossessing man... indomitably courageous, to me at 23 a breed apart. Heroism came naturally to him, as to Chenault who he knew well.
We only pray that such men's unobtrusive valor will rise to America's defense in parlous times to come.

5/17/2007 07:00:00 PM  
Blogger Beverly said...

My brother-in-law's uncle was the bombardier on the Enola Gay: Ferrabee. My brother-in-law says he never regretted dropping the bomb. It was a harsh necessity of war.

5/17/2007 08:27:00 PM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

Incredible. Just incredible.

5/17/2007 08:44:00 PM  
Blogger 5050noline said...

Correct on both the method used to gauge the height above the water and of using the distance between the dam towers to assess the correct range to drop the bomb - as long as the aircraft was 'on speed'.

I was based at Gutersloh (RAF; 18 Sqn) in the '70s and made frequent visits to the Mohnesee in my Wessex helo (S58 with x2 turbines shoe-horned into the front). Did my own re-enactment many times (Daytime only tho' - left, left, steady, steady, bomb gone...:-)), as did other sqn pilots...until we got the mess age that it was a trifle insensitive...

The repair to the breach in the dam can clearly be seen from the 'dry' side.

617 CO's dog was called 'Nigger'. It was a black Labrador. It is part of RAF folklore. Is there a problem with this? It is a matter of historical fact, like it or not, or if the word presents a problem nowadays in some quarters. In those days it did not, so lets be accurate. 'Goner', my arse.

My username is a tribute to (maritime) bomber pilots. 'Bracket 50ft /50ft, no line error'.

5/19/2007 02:41:00 PM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

What I said earlier about "reach", those last few (fascinating) posts have raised it several orders. I'm humbly amazed.

5/19/2007 06:33:00 PM  

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