AVM R A Cochrane, Wg Cdr Guy Gibson, King George VI and Gp Capt Whitworth discussing the ‘Dambusters Raid’ in May 1943
18.00 (16 May 1943) “We are going to attack the great dams of Germany”, Wing Commander Guy Gibson revealed to his men in their final briefing. They had been training to fly at low height and deliver a bouncing bomb over water, but for most, this was the first they knew of their targets.
19.30 The crew were given their last meal – two eggs and bacon. Some of the canteen staff guessed that they were about to fly out, as it was the only time that they were given two eggs. Some of the men knew that this would be their last ever mission, and gave instructions for their affairs to be put in order.
21.28 The first of three waves of Lancasters took off from RAF Scampton. Cloaked in secrecy as ever, they flew out under complete radio silence. The 19 planes, carrying a total of 133 airmen, took different routes to trick the Germans into thinking the raid was bigger than it was.
Hailey Dixon, The Telegraph, 16 April 2013
Imagine purchasing your Starbucks latte from a 24 year old employee and wondering if they had the abilities to lead 133 airmen, flying less than 100 feet off the ground, and delivering an experimental weapon never used before in combat! This is what occurred 77 years ago (16/17 May 1943).
Part of the home quarantine “battle rhythm” has been an evening movie starting with the Marvel series and since “May the 4th,” the “Skywalker Saga.” After viewing the films, we watch the “making of shorts” to learn more about the “background story.” The first Star Wars film (Episode IV, A New Hope), director George Lucas incorporated certain aspects of World War II aerial combat film and movies such as The Dambusters.
The 1955 classic captures the élan and bravery of 617 Squadron; however, the real story is even more impressive.
RAF crewmembers were from across the Commonwealth (and an American Joe McCarthy, who had joined the Royal Canadian Air Force before America’s entry into the war) crewed the modified Lancasters. Losses were heavy, 53 airmen were lost, three taken prisoner, and eight aircraft shot down (1/3 of the entire losses experienced by the group during the war).
Many German workers previously dedicated to Atlantic Wall preparations were reassigned to repair the breached dams.
Twenty-nine years ago, you may have heard of a similar effort to develop an experimental weapon. In just two weeks the GBU-28 Bunker Buster was designed and tested (19 February 1991) and declared ready for use. On 27/28 February two weapons were dropped on a target located at the al-Taji Airbase. The first missed due to a misidentification, the second successfully hit the target.
The GBU-28 is still part of our munitions inventory.
The Royal Air Force’s 617 Squadron was the first to transition to the F-35 in 2017.
Wing Commander Guy Gibson was lost in action on 19 September 1944 (shot down over Occupied-Holland).
A beer commercial in the late 1990s acknowledged this feat of airmanship and the 1955 movie was restored and shown at London’s Albert Hall in honor of the 75th anniversary (unfortunately not available on Blue Ray at this time).
Until Next Month…
Col (ret) Jeff Decker