The Dambuster bombing raid of May 1943 was undertaken by the Royal Air Force No. 617 Squadron, which gained the name "Dam Busters" due to the details of the mission, although its official name was “Operation Chastise”. The mission was to blow up three dams in the Ruhr valley in Germany in order to destroy German factories and power plants which relied on the dams to keep working.
This was not a pleasant mission, because it would eventually mean that a lot of people would die, however the British forces thought it was still important to prevent the further loss of lives that would occur because of the weapons that were being produced in the factories they were trying to destroy.
It was also very unpleasant (and extremely dangerous) for the crews of the aeroplanes, which were 19 specially adapted Lancaster bombers, who risked their lives to deliver their deadly cargo.
Mr B and George ‘Johnny’ Johnson DFM: the last British Dambuster
George pictured with the rest of his 617 squadron in 1943
These huge planes were required to carry a very special type of round, barrel-like bomb. These bombs were invented and developed by a very intelligent engineer called Barnes Wallis, and were spun backwards before being dropped in a similar way to when you skip a stone across a pond. This meant that the bomb actually bounced along the top of the water until it hit the dams where it was intended to explode, which led to them later being called “bouncing bombs”.
Eventually, after much preparation but only six weeks of crew training, the mission took place on the evenings of the 16th and 17th May 1943, and two out of three of the dams were destroyed by the “bouncing bombs”, resulting in the loss of two German powerplants, the two dams themselves, and several factories and mines.
However, the human cost of the destroying the dams and factories was very high. Out of 19 planes that set out on the mission, 8 of them were shot down with the loss of 53 brave airmen. In addition, 1600 people who lived and worked near the dams in Germany also died, many of whom were captured Russian soldiers who had made to build the dams by the Germans.
I recently had the opportunity of meeting a gentleman who flew in one of the Lancaster bombers with a very important role. He is the last British survivor of the raid and his name is George Johnson, known as “Johnny” to his friends. Although he finished his career as a Squadron Leader and finally a teacher, he was an RAF sergeant in 1943 and his job on the mission was as a “Bomb aimer”, which was the person who pressed the button to release the bombs at the correct moment in order to make them hit the dam. For this reason he was very important to the success of the mission.