(Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
When it comes to iconic missions of the RAF, there are few that are as notable as the Dambusters. The Lancaster Raid took out a German dam with the legendary bouncing bomb. The Dambusters Raid earned its place in history, but not everything went as planned.
During WWII, aerial bombing was essential for victory yet still in its infancy. Dive bombing is more accurate, yet limited to the use of smaller bombs. Carpet bombing causes massive destruction but was very inaccurate and often takes a toll on civilian populations.
Dams were a key weakness of the Third Reich, providing electricity and clean water to large populations. They are vulnerable and defended using anti-torpedo nets and reinforced concrete. The bouncing bomb emerged as a means of destroying German dams. Using its ability to skip over the water’s surface to avoid defenses before sinking and detonating. The Royal Air Force now had the means of destroying dams, but the execution would prove more difficult.
On May 16th, 1943, 19 Lancaster bombers departed from Great Britain to take out dams located in Germany’s Ruhr Valley. Shortly after leaving, the bombers encountered anti-air fire over the Netherlands. Another two bombers collided with power lines crashing into the ground. Another bomb flew low to the water, hitting a wave, losing its bomb forcing it to return.
Upon arrival at the dam, the Lancasters missed their initial strikes and fell under more anti-air fire. Fortunately, the remaining bombers successfully destroyed the dams after their bombs detonated near the dam. Floods destroyed nearby towns, destroyed factories and it took the Germans five months to repair the dams.
In total, 8 Lancasters were shot down, 53 crewmen perished and another 3 were captured by Germans. However, estimates claim that over 1,000 prisoners of war met their fate when the dams ruptured. History tells of the success, but not those who gave their lives to make it happen. Despite the loss of life, there were many who defended the mission.
“I have seen nothing… to show that the effort was worthwhile except as a spectacular operation.”
– Sir Arthur Harris (Royal Air Force Marshall)
Real Engineering takes a deeper look at the development of the bouncing bomb and Dambuster Raid in this video.