On March 21 1943 the Royal Air Force formed No.617 squadron at RAF Scampton, just north of the City of Lincoln, for the specific task of attacking three major dams (the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe) in the Ruhr valley with the intention of causing so much flooding that German industrial production would be severely hampered.
The Squadron, commanded by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, was provided with the most experienced and expert flying crews available in the British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand Air Forces. This was essential as the mission would require the bombers to attack the designated targets at night from an altitude of just 60 feet above the water, at a speed of 240 mph, and release their unique barrel shaped ‘bouncing bombs’ at a precise distance.
The reason for such a low-level attack was to allow the bomb (created by inventor Barnes Wallace) to skip across the water (like a pebble skimming across a lake), bouncing over torpedo nets, until it struck the structure of the damn wall. It would then sink to the dam’s base, exploding, and thus fracture the dam’s sturdy walls.
After intensive night and low-altitude training the mission was launched on the night of 16/17 May 1944. The operation would prove extremely costly in aircraft and crews. One aircraft would abort after losing its bomb en-route to the target. But the others were able to destroy two of the three targets causing wide spread flooding. Of the 133 men who started off, no less than 53 would be killed in action with three others, bailing out of damaged aircraft. to be taken prisoners of war.
Whilst the Germans were able to make good the damage in a relatively short space of time it would require some 20,000 workers to be taken off work on the Atlantic Wall to complete the repairs. Barnes Wallace would later be critical of the fact that the RAF did not make further attacks with conventional bombloads to disrupt the repair work.
Nonetheless, the raid proved a great morale booster to the hard-pressed British public, and Guy Gibson would receive the Victoria Cross from King George for his role in drawing enemy flak away from other attacking bombers making their approach to the target.