This operation of the British Royal Air Force remained in history under the code name Chastise. The meaning of this English word is translated “punishment”, “punishment” or “flogging”.
The operation was carried out by British pilots from the 617th squadron on May 17, 1943. Subsequently, this unit received the unofficial name Dambusters (dam destroyers) and began to be used to deliver high-precision strikes against enemy infrastructure.
With the help of specially designed “jumping bombs”, they managed to break through the dams of hydroelectric power plants on the Edere and Möne rivers, and also slightly damage the dam at Zorp. By the way, the Möhne dam at that time was considered the largest in Europe.
As a result of the air raid at the hydroelectric power station, about 1,500 people died, mostly foreign workers who were forcibly driven to Germany. The water washed away several settlements, mines, factories and airfields in the Ruhr region. Other businesses were also affected. They were cut off from the routes of delivery of raw materials and supplies, as well as deprived of the supply of electricity. The breakthrough of the dams negatively affected the German economy. The German war machine felt its consequences until the very end of the war.
The bombing was attended by 19 British bombers, of which eight did not return to the base. The details of the operation were preserved thanks to the memoirs of 617 Squadron Commander Guy Gibson. Although he died in 1944, before he lived to see victory, he managed to manage to describe this most famous British air raid during the Second World War. The Minister of War Industry and Armaments of the Third Reich Albert Speer, referring to this operation, praised its negative significance for Germany:
With just a few bombers, the British came close to completing their mission and achieved much greater success than when they sent thousands of planes to bombardments.
British aeronautical engineer Barnes Wallis became the author of the idea for this unique operation of the RAF. The main highlight was the design of the bomb itself and the way it was used.
It was quite difficult to blow up the dam. Not only because it was strong, but also because of the protective anti-torpedo nets installed on the dams.
As told in the BBC, Wallis figured out how to bypass the defense, remembering how he played “pancakes” on the shore of the reservoir as a child. This game is also known in Russia. You just need to run a flat stone parallel to the water so that it bounces repeatedly, touching its surface.
The engineer figured out how to make a five-ton drum-shaped bomb slide on the surface of the water. Before dropping, a special engine untwisted the bomb, it, bouncing on the surface, reached the dam, after which it rolled down it to a depth, touching the dam, and exploded there. True, this principle was not disclosed in Gibson’s book for reasons of secrecy.
For the idea to work, the bombs had to be dropped at a precisely calculated distance from the dam and at a low altitude. In this case, the plane must move at a certain speed. To fulfill these conditions, specially designed devices were used. For example, the height was determined by the convergence at one point of two beams of searchlights installed on the nose and in the tail of the aircraft.
The flight followed in a straight line at a speed of 390 kilometers per hour, ignoring the fire of German anti-aircraft guns, at an altitude of 18 meters with bombs suspended under the fuselage. This was not an easy and dangerous task.
Preparation and implementation of the operation
British-made Avro Lancaster Mk III bombers were selected for the mission. These excellent aircraft had two major drawbacks. They were not able to climb to great heights, and their defensive armament was extremely weak. But both of these disadvantages did not interfere with the successful completion of the assignment at all.
Lieutenant Colonel Guy Gibson, who at that time was only 25 years old, formed crews from the same young, but already experienced combat pilots. They had been preparing for the operation for several weeks.
And finally, on May 17, 1943, this famous air raid took place. 19 “Lancaster” at low altitude in three waves moved towards the Ruhr. One of them, having touched the sea surface, lost his bomb, so he had to return. Two more planes, flying over the Netherlands, caught on power lines and crashed. Another one was shot down on the way by a German anti-aircraft gun.
And although in the end the British lost eight aircraft, they managed to reach their goal and flood the valley.
Was the operation successful?
There is no consensus on whether the bombing can be called successful.
For example, Reich Minister Albert Speer recalled that the Germans had succeeded in rebuilding the dams by October 1943. At the same time, he was surprised that the British aviation did not interfere with the restoration work, which was much easier to do than to break through the dams.
On the other hand, the bombing did not harm the enemy’s manpower, but led to the deaths of prisoners of war and forced laborers driven from all over Europe.
The aim of the air raid was completely different. The task was to drain water from reservoirs, drain shipping canals, and cut off the supply of electricity to enterprises. In other words, the British were planning to paralyze the work of the German war industry.
And for a while they succeeded, but in the conditions of military operations it meant a lot.
Be that as it may, Guy Gibson and other pilots from the 617th squadron of the RAF did everything to bring the victory over the Nazis closer. At least that’s what they say in the Western press. Lieutenant Colonel Guy Gibson managed to stay alive then. But the very next year he died in an air battle. And the squadron headed by him and went down in history under the name “Dambreakers”.