NWORA Remembrance Vol.4 - NE99

NE99

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T he idea was to attack the dams in the Ruhr Valley of Germany. A successful attack would damage water production and electrical production in the industrial heartland of the Nazi state and flood a huge area of the region. Intense study of the project showed that to breach the massive concrete walls of the dams would require multiple accurate, repeated powerful blows. But since the attacks would have to take place against fierce enemy defensive fire and overcome torpedo nets. Bomber Command soon dismissed the project as impractical. A solution was at hand, though, in the hands of Barnes Wallis, a British aeronautical engineer who had taken employment with the firm of Vickers in 1913, for whom he had designed airships. He pioneered the use of geodesic designs in engineering, which he utilized in his develop- ment of the Wellesley and Wellington bombers. The whole dams scheme had been Barnes Wallis's brainchild in the first place. He now invented a 10-ton drum-shaped, bouncing bomb that would skip over the surface of water the way a flat rock will skip when thrown by a child at a certain angle. Spinning at 500 RPM, It would hit the wall and sink down and explode at the base. The bomb was codenamed "Upkeep." The Chief of the Air staff "bought" the idea and ordered 5 Group RAF to ready a special squadron to strike the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams; Operation Chastise thus took place on the night of 16-17 May 1943. Wing Commander Guy Gibson was given command. Based at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire he divided 617 Squadron into three flights of the new B Mark III Special Lancaster bombers whose bomb bays had been altered to carry their unique cargoes. No patch of water of any size in Britain escaped the attentions of 617 Squadron for several weeks as the crews practised night-flying 100 feet above the surface testing their crossed spotlights to establish altitude and special bombsights designed to triangulate upon features of the dam walls to establish the correct range at which to loose the bombs. In the event, Gibson's No.1 flight of nine aircraft lost one unit on the way to the Mohne when it hit high tension wires. Flight 2 lost all but one unit to enemy action on the way to Sorpe which was earthen rather than concrete. Flight 3 stayed in reserve but sent three units to attack Sorpe. Gibson reached the Mohne, released his bomb, which worked perfectly and breached the dam. After another breach by one of his flight he led his three surviving units to Eder, where they scored three hits and eventually breached its wall. Operation Chastise cost the squadron 8 Lancasters, with 53 men killed and three taken prisoner. The breaches of the Mohne and Eder dams flooded the countryside with 330 million tons of water, ruining farm production and reducing water production by 75%. 1600 people were killed including slave labourers and Soviet prisoners of war. The Germans restored the damage within a fairly short time, but British prestige around the world – especially in the United States – soared, and so did morale at home. Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross while other members of 617 Squadron were rewarded with five Distinguished Service Orders, 10 Distinguished Flying Crosses and four bars, 12 Distinguished Flying Medals and two Distinguished Conduct Medals. Canadians played a prominent role in the Dams Raid. Of the 133 who flew that night, 30 were Canadian, six from Alberta alone. 14 were killed and one taken prisoner. Exactly 50% of the Canadians who took off never returned. Four who survived were killed in action later in the war. One American F/L J. McArthy, a member of the RCAF, flew on the raid. Forget-me-not Remembrance Vol.4 3 The Dam Busters By Terence Cottrell BA(Hons), MA, JD. RCAF AIRCREW WHO SURVIVED OPERATION CHASTISE Rear Row (L to R): Sgt.S. Oancia, F.E. Sutherland, H.E. O'Brien, F/Sgt K. Brown, F/Sgt H. Weeks, F/Sgt J.W. Thrasher, F/Sgt G. A. Deering, Sgt W. Radcliffe, F/Sgt D. A. MacLean, F/L J. McCarthy, F/Sgt G.S.MacDonald. Front Row (L to R): Sgt P. E. Pigeon, P?O T. Taerum, F/O D.R. Walker, Sgt C. B. Gowrie, F/L D.Rodger

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