Immortalised in public imagination, Operation Chastise - better known as The Dambusters' Raid - was one of the most ambitious missions undertaken by the RAF during the Second World War.
Operation Chastise called for the breaching of three enormous dams in the Ruhr valley – the heart of German industrial production – with the use of advanced 'bouncing bombs' built for the mission.
617 Squadron, led by 24 year-old Wing Commander Guy Gibson, was assembled at RAF Scampton on 21st March specifically for the operation.
British engineer Barnes Wallis’s innovative ‘bouncing bomb’ was a marvel of wartime engineering. However, the conditions needed to be exact in order to destroy the dams. The bombs had to be dropped from exactly 60 feet (18.29m), at a speed of 220 mph (354 km/h) and at a certain distance from the target in order to skip across the water and into the dam face before exploding at depth.
To make it even more challenging for the pilots, the entire mission had to be flown at low-altitude, into anti-aircraft fire – and at night.
Gibson had free rein to comb other Lancaster squadrons for the crews he thought would best accomplish the mission; yet for weeks not even he was told of the unit's task, only that low-level flying over water was essential. Training took place in and around the dams and reservoirs of Derbyshire.
Nineteen specially modified Lancaster Bombers carried out the attack during the night of 16th/17th May 1943. They successfully breached the Mohne and Eder dams, but failed with attacks on the Sorpe and Schwelme. Thanks to the mission German productivity in the region was set back until September.
Following his crew's initial run Gibson flew repeatedly over the Mohne and Eder dams to draw fire away from the other aircraft, and was later awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry. Thirty-two other members of the Squadron were also decorated, but eight aircraft and their crews were lost during the night.
The modern-day 617 Squadron is based at RAF Lossiemouth and flies the Tornado GR4.
This post was originally published to commemorate the life of Les Munro, the last surviving member of 617 Squadron to take part in Operation: Chastise.
All images courtesy of IWM Collections.
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