The Dambusters raid is undoubtedly the most famous British bombing mission of the Second World War, a dramatic success that saw a small formation of bombers destroy two major dams that supplied the Ruhr with water and hydroelectric power. The raid was immortalised in film, and was the subject of a major British propaganda campaign during the war. Even after you strip away the exaggerations and myths the tale is still fascinating. We start with Barnes Wallis, the archetype of the 'boffin', and his efforts to develop a bomb that could damage the dams.
Once the 'bouncing bomb' was a reality we move to the RAF and the rush to create a squadron that could drop the bomb with the precision needed to make the attack a success in the limited amount of time before the water reached the ideal level for the attack. After this we follow the raid itself, a complex operation in which the squadron was split into a main and reserve force, each with a list of several dams to attack. This is where we first begin to appreciate the human cost of the raid, as aircraft after aircraft was lost. Finally there is the aftermath of the raid, both physically on the ground and its wider impact.
This account of the operation takes into account recent research that has answered some of the previously unanswered questions about the raid (and in particular on the fate of some of the lost aircraft). The account of the raid itself is excellent, giving more prominence to the efforts of the diversionary and reserve forces than is often the case, and thus giving a better idea of the complexity and cost of the operation than accounts that focus on the successful main force.
The text is supported by some useful maps, and in particular by three 3D illustrations showing the attacks on the Eder, Sorpe and Möhne dams, complete with the approach routes take to attack each bomb (this makes it clear how different the attack on the Sorpe was - our image is of a Lancaster heading down a lake towards the face of a dam, but here the aircraft flew along the earthwork dam and dropped the bomb without setting it spinning, in the hope that it would roll down the bank and detonate near its base).
This book provides a very useful account of the dams raid, combining the results of modern research with a clear account of the raid, the scientific work that preceded it and the impact that it had. If the material effects of the raid proved somewhat disappointing, the impact on British morale and prestige at a key stage in the war was invaluable. The raid demonstrated that the RAF was indeed capable of striking hard at Germany, at a time when Bomber Command was struggling to have an impact.
Initial Strategy and Weapons Development
Plan and Practice
Author: Douglas C. Dildy