Today is the 75th anniversary of the Dambusters raid, where a squadron of 19 Lancasters flew a dangerous and daring mission to destroy hydroelectric dams in the Ruhr Valley. They successfully breached one of the main targets, the Möhne dam, as well as a secondary target, the Eder dam. They also damaged (but did not breach) the Sorpe dam. Operation Chastise, as it was known, was deemed a success—although the damage only disrupted German industry in the Ruhr for a few months until the dams were repaired, the morale boost to England from what the raid was able to accomplish was significant.
The raid happened in the pivotal year of 1943. Going into that year, Allied victory was by no means assured, although there were certainly promising signs in Europe. Germany ended 1942 encircled and starving at Stalingrad; within a little over a month they would be defeated in a battle that in the final accounting resulted in nearly 2 million casualties, 1.1 million of them on the Soviet side. Henceforth, the Axis in Europe would slowly be pushed back. In May of that year, just a few days before the Dambusters raid, the Allies achieved victory in North Africa. Italy was pushed out of the war by the end of the year.
Some of the most horrific events of the war took place in 1943. This was the year of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Today is also the 75thanniversary of its tragic end, in which the ghetto was utterly destroyed and all its inhabitants either killed or sent to the camps.
So the morale victory of the raid came at a key point in the war. However, the casualties from the raid were high—8 of the 19 Lancasters were lost, with 53 of 130 crew killed and 3 taken prisoner—which may account for why a followup raid was not attempted.
The main other issue was aiming. A handmade y-shaped device that allowed the bomb aimer to line up the prongs with the towers of the dam was the “official” solution, but other solutions involving marks on windows and string would also be used.
The Lancasters themselves were supplied in March, and the squadron assembled under Guy Gibson in the same month to begin practicing. Gibson, who would win the Victoria Cross for his actions after his bombing run to distract flak away from the planes following him, was at 24 was a veteran of over 170 bombing runs, a stat that nearly boggles the mind today—we often forget how young soldiers were during WWII. They had about six weeks to train, without a clear indication of what their precise mission would be, using untried technology. To reach Germany, the squadron had to fly as low as possible (so low that more than one plane was lost to electrical wires and towers) before their bombing runs.
It’s pretty astounding what was accomplished.
Of course, it’s me, so there have to be ruins. Here is a link to a photo of the Möhne dam after the bombing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Chastise#/media/File:Mohne_Dam_Breached.jpgHere is a similar photo of the Eder dam: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edersee_Dam#/media/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-C0212-0043-012,_Edertalsperre,_Zerst%C3%B6rung.jpg
I was of course curious as to whether there were any lasting traces to be seen at the dams, where emergency repairs were completed by September of 1943. For the most part, if the photos are to be trusted, the answer is no. I did find a really interesting article from the Guardian about 15 years ago describing a visit to the dams as they are today. https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2003/may/06/artsfeatures