The Dam Busters

On the evening of May 16th, 1943, 15 specially modified Lancaster Bombers from the Royal Air Force No. 617 Squadron launched into the night on a mission, the likes of which had never been seen. The mission was code named "Operation Chastise"
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Each bomber. carrying a unique device designed by Barnes Wallis, assistant chief designer at Vickers. A single purpose cylindrical 9,000 lb bomb, armed with a hydrostatic fuse, ingeniously designed to be spun backwards at 500 rpm before release. As the bomber would level off on its run, no more than 60 feet above the water, while traveling at 240 mph. The bomb would be dropped at a calculated distance to target, bounce off the water, and continue skipping across the surface towards the intended destination. Once the bomb impacts the side of the targeted dam structure, the residual backward spin would cause it to submerge, and roll itself downwards, deeper towards the base of the dam before its detonation.
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According to plan, the bombers spit into three formations, carefully avoiding known concentrations of enemy anti aircraft emplacements, and were timed to cross the enemy coast simultaneously. Formation No. 1 took off in groups of three at 10-minute intervals, dropped to 100 feet to avoid radar detection, and flew onwards towards the Netherlands in the dark of the night, skirted the airbases at Gilze-Rijen and Eindhoven, navigated around the Ruhr defences, then north to avoid Hamm before their final turn to target south for the Möhne River.
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Formation No. 2, also at treetop level, flew a track further north, crossing the IJsselmeer, then flying south beyond the Möhne to the Sorpe River.
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The beginning of the mission was when losses began to mount... one aircraft in formation 2 was struck by flak, and was forced to turn back, while another flew so low, that it came into contact with the waves. The bomber recovered, but unfortunately, its lone bomb was torn away, forcing it to turn back as well. This left 13 bombers continuing at treetop level in the dark into Germany
Formation No. 1 arrived over the Möhne lake, as the first bomber "G for George" completed the initial bombing run, followed by “M for Mother". The third aircraft was struck by flak as it skirted across the water. The pilot managed to release its payload, milliseconds off time, sending the bomb bouncing over the dam, detonating, sending the shock wave back towards the belly of the Lancaster, heavily damaging it as she attempting to climb away, one wing disintegrated, causing the bomber to lose control, and crash. As the crew were attempting to flee, another bomber flown by Gibson flew low, directly across the dam to draw fire away from the crew of "M for Mother”.
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At that time, "P for Popsie" started her run, and although heavily damaged during its approach, she managed to drop on target, followed by "A for Apple", then finally "J for Johnny” when the massive concrete-and-steel gravity Möhne Dam gave way…releasing 330 million tons of water into the western Ruhr region. A torrent of water 32.5 feet high swept through the valleys of the Möhne and Ruhr rivers below.
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Heavy fog began to blanket the Eder Valley, obscuring the Eder Dam. Although not heavily defended with anti - aircraft positions, the mountains that surrounded the area, and low visibility made for a difficult target. "L for Leather" made six runs before breaking off its attack, "Z for Zebra" then started her run, released, and watched as the bomb struck the top of the dam detonating and sending the blast directly back to the climbing bomber….severely damaged, but remaining airborne. L for Leather made one more attempt, and successfully delivered on target, followed by "N for Nut”, the very last bomb remaining in the formation. "L for Nut" placed her bomb right on target, and the dam exploded in a wall of fire and water that soon began to rush down Eder Vally.
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Only two “Dam buster” bombers made it to the huge earthen Sorpe dam, the one least likely to be breached due to its structure. This dam would have to be bombed lengthwise, unlike the two previous dams. "Y for York" never arrived after encountering enemy fire en route that damaged their aircraft, followed by dense fog which made their attempts to find the target unsuccessful. “T for Tommy” arrived over target just past midnight only to find an impossible approach. A church steeple in the village of Langscheid, lay directly in line on top of the hill overlooking the dam, forcing the crew to maneuver in its dive with only seconds before the bomber had to pull out, and avoid impacting the higher ground that lay on the other end of the dam.
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"T for Tommy” managed the nighttime labyrinth approach to its target, delivered her payload right on the mark, but only the crest of the dam had been blown off; leaving the the main body of the dam intact. After having already attempted 7 runs in the dense fog, the crew of "F for Freddie” cleverly dropped incendiary devices on either side of the valley, igniting a forest fire that generated enough heat to lift the fog that was hiding the enemy dam. "F for Freddy", now turning back for her run, with a clear visual line to target, made a direct hit on her eighth and final run. In spite fo the bomber crews best efforts, The Sorpe dam was not breached, and remained intact
 
On the homeward flight Lancaster AJ-A “A for Apple” was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed along the shoreline 2 km south of the Dutch coastal resort of Castricum aan Zee, “C for Charlie” was lost en route to the Lister Dam. “ B for Baker“ impacted power lines during her run, and crashed immediately after. “E for Easy” also impacted power lines. “C for Charlie” was brought down over Germany. K for King” was shot down over the Dutch coast, along with “S for Sugar” nearby. Z for Zebra” was also shot down on her last leg homeward bound.
 
A photo-reconnaissance Spitfire, was launched to survey the results of the “Dambusters”. Piloted by Flying Officer Frank 'Jerry' Fray, departing from RAF Benson at 07:30 hours and arrived over the Ruhr River immediately after first light.
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When I was about 150 miles from the Möhne Dam, I could see the industrial haze over the Ruhr area and what appeared to be a cloud to the east. On flying closer, I saw that what had seemed to be cloud was the sun shining on the floodwaters. I looked down into the deep valley which had seemed so peaceful three days before but now it was a wide torrent. The whole valley of the river was inundated with only patches of high ground and the tops of trees and church steeples showing above the flood. I was overcome by the immensity of it.
— Jerry Frey
 
The RAF Dambuster raid resulted in a loss of electrical power in factories and households in the region for two weeks. Coal production dropped by 400,000 tons, and steel production on the Ruhr dropped to only one quarter after the raid.
 
"That night, employing just a few bombers, the British came close to a success which would have been greater than anything they had achieved hitherto with a commitment of thousands of bombers.”
 
Abert Speer - Minister of German Armaments and War Production
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Fifty three of the one hundred and thirty three aircrew who participated in the "Operation Chastise” mission never returned... a casualty rate of almost 40 percent. Thirteen of those killed were members of the RCAF and two to the RAAF
 
From that day, they became known as the "Dam Busters”, and of the survivors of the mission, 34 were decorated at Buckingham Palace, with Raid leader, and commander of “G for George” being awarded the Victoria Cross. For the remainder of the raiders, five Distinguished Service Orders, 10 Distinguished Flying Crosses and four bars, two Conspicuous Gallantry Medals, eleven Distinguished Flying Medals and one bar awarded.
 
Following the Dams Raid, 617 Squadron remained together, operating as a specialist unit, with a new motto, Après moi le déluge ("After me the flood")
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