Wing-Commander Guy Gibson: The Dambusters Raid


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The above photograph shows Wing-Commander Guy Gibson, who took part in one of the most famous actions of the Second World War - the Dambusters Raid.

In March 1943, a new squadron was specially formed to carry out a difficult mission. The task of 617 Squadron was to damage the dams that powered the factories in the Ruhr Valley and to cut off the water supply to the German arms industry. It was led by 24-year-old Guy Gibson.

On 16th May 1943, 19 Lancaster bombers of 617 Squadron took off from RAF Scampton. It was a clear moonlit night, to aid navigation. The planes carried specially designed 'bouncing bombs'. In the days before computer-aided bombing, a bouncing bomb would maximise the chances of actually hitting a target. Each bomb would need to be dropped from 60 feet, at right angles to the dam wall, very close to the dam. It would then bounce across the water to the target and explode.

The raiders attacked three dams. The Möhne and Eder dams were successfully breached and the Sorpe dam was damaged.

The mission was extremely dangerous. Eight planes were lost. Of the 133 men who took part in the raid, 53 lost their lives and 3 were captured after bailing out. The bravery of the aircrew who flew on this mission was recognised with 33 gallantry awards, including a Victoria Cross for Guy Gibson.

Though the Germans repaired the dams quickly, the impact of the raid was huge. It destroyed farmland, 25 bridges and 11 factories. Another 114 factories were badly damaged. It disrupted road and canal transport, and power, water and gas supplies all through the area. In the flooding below the Möhne there were 1,294 casualties, including 593 foreign workers. Another 47 people died below the Eder. For the rest of the war, the Germans had to divert an extra 10,000 troops to guard the dams.

This attack on Germany's industrial heartland was celebrated in the British press. Leaflets were dropped over the occupied countries in Europe showing before and after photos of the dams. The success of the raid and the courage of Gibson and his Dambusters became a source of national pride.