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April 2024 Meeting Report

The Dam Busters 81st Anniversary, by David Taylor

The speaker at the April meeting was David Taylor whose subject was the Dambustersí Raid or Operation Chastise in 1943. This raid was the only operation in WWII with bombs specially designed for the purpose by Barnes Wallis, who worked for Vickers and was involved with the R100 and R101 airships. Even in 1937 he was experimenting with bombs for dams and located a disused dam in the Elan valley in mid-Wales. He also took high level photographs of the 3 dams in Germany. Teddington National Physics Laboratory was used to test model bombs.

For the Mohne Dam a 15 ton bomb was needed and only a Lancaster bomber could carry a bomb this big. The catapult used to propel the model test bomb is still in the Elvington Museum near York. The half-size bomb was tested on Chesil Beach.

Guy Gibson was chosen to lead the raid under Group Captain Whitworth, commander of RAF Scranton where the new squadron was to be based. Originally called squadron X it became squadron 617. The suggestion in the film that the idea for the two heights bomb came from the Windmill Theatre spot lights is a myth! Practice runs took place at Reculver Bay in Kent and over dams all over the UK including the Derwent reservoir in Derbyshire. The coathanger type bombs came with nails to line up with the dam turrets.

The Lancasters were modified at Farnborough and then flown to RAF Scranton. One of the plane deliverers was Lettice Curtis. The bomb bay was cleared out and the transporters were not allowed to see the modified bomb bay. There was a device in the bomb bay to rotate the bombs backwards.

The attacks on May 16 hit the Mohne Dam with 5 bombs, the Eder dam with 4 and missed the Sorpe dam as the bombs did not spin. Guy Gibson won the VC and was given a desk job to write a book about his experiences. He returned to flying in 1944 and was killed on 19 September when his damaged Mosquito crashed in the Netherlands.

Tim Wreghitt and Mary Dicken

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