Eighty years ago today, the RAF carried out one of the most audacious raids of the Second World War. “Operation Chastise”, better known as the Dambusters Raid, represented an extraordinary combination of ingenuity, courage and determination.
It required the use of new ‘bouncing bombs’, specially invented by the famous Barnes Wallis to blow up dams in Nazi Germany. However, in order for the bombs to work, they had to be dropped from a height of just 60ft while maintaining a speed of 232mph, all while under enemy fire. Once released, the bombs would spin backwards as they bounced and, on hitting the dam, that spin would take them down to the bottom of the dam wall, where they would explode. Only by achieving this degree of accuracy did the raid stand a chance. Remarkably, two out of the three dams were destroyed.
The Imperial War Museum records that 53 of the 133 aircrew were killed. “On the ground, almost 1,300 people were killed in the resulting flooding. Although the impact on industrial production was limited, the raid gave a significant morale boost to the people of Britain,” it adds.
Such civilian casualties would have been shocking before the war and have rightly become so again in modern times. However, there is no doubt that the bloodiest war the world has ever seen, in which an estimated 35 million to 60 million people lost their lives, had to be fought, and that the bravery shown by the Dambusters’ crews is to be saluted.