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Artefact of the Month

THE ATTACK ON THE RUHR DAMS SEVENTY YEARS AGO

On 18 March 1943 Wing Commander Guy Gibson, a Bomber Command veteran of 170 operational sorties, was asked by Air Vice Marshal the Hon R A Cochrane, AOC No 5 Group to do one more operation. Gibson was to command a new squadron to be based at Scampton, near Lincoln with personnel drawn from other squadrons in the group. Ten days later Gibson was told that his No 617 Squadron was to attack the dams of the Ruhr, Germany. After intensive low level training the squadron’s targets were finally revealed to senior squadron members on Saturday 15 May. The raid (Operation Chastise) was to take place the following night and on Sunday 16th all nineteen crews were briefed, all aircraft prepared and the ‘Upkeep’ weapons loaded on to the modified Lancaster Mk IIIs.

The operational plan was for a nine Lancaster bomber group led by Gibson with Hopgood, Martin, Young, Astell, Maultby, Maudslay, Knight and Shannon to attack the Möhne and Eder dams. A second group of five led by Flight Lieutenant J C McCarthy with Byers, Barlow, Rice and Munro was to attack the Sorpe dam. A third reserve group consisted of five aircraft led by Flight Sergeant W C Townsend with Anderson, Brown, Burpee and Ottley. All aircraft were to take-off, not to exceed 1,500 feet over England and then fly at low level to their targets.

On reaching the Möhne dam, Gibson attacked first – the German flak gunners failed to hit his aircraft AJ-G, the weapon was released, bounced three times but exploded short of the dam. Hopgood attacked next but was hit on the run-in by the enemy flak, his Upkeep was released late, bounced over the dam wall and exploded under the aircraft as it climbed away. Hopgood’s aircraft crashed near Ostönnen, north-west of the dam – only two of the crew survived. To confuse the enemy gunners and draw their fire away from Martin, Gibson switched on his lights and flew alongside as Martin made his run. However, Martin’s Upkeep veered off and exploded three hundred feet to the left of the dam. ‘Dinghy’ Young was next to attack – Martin flew alongside and Gibson orbited north of the dam to detract the attention from the attacking Young whose weapon hit the wall dead centre. Maltby’s Upkeep also was a direct hit and the Möhne dam was breached.

At the Eder, Shannon, under Gibson’s control, attacked first and claimed he had partially breached the wall. Maudslay followed but his aircraft was damaged when his weapon exploded on the dam parapet. However Les Knight, the next to attack, breached the dam wall. McCarthy was the only one of his group to reach the Sorpe and his Upkeep resulted in damage to the parapet of the dam wall. Of the reserve group, Brown also dropped his weapon on the Sorpe but failed to damage the dam. Eight of the nineteen Lancasters failed to return and of the 133 aircrew who took part in the dams raid, 53 were killed.

A PIECE OF THE MÖHNE DAM IS DISPLAYED IN THE DAMBUSTERS’ EXHIBITION IN THE MUSEUM’S MIDDLE HALL

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