Royal Air Force No. 617 Squadron attacked German dams in Operation Chastise, otherwise known as the Dambuster Raids.
617 Squadron was formed specifically to attack three major dams that provided hydro-electric power and water to the Ruhr Valley, an area of enormous industrial significance to Germany. Operation Chastise was developed with the intention of destroying the dams and depriving the German war effort of the Ruhr’s potential output.
The operation was developed in such secrecy that, with just two nights to go until the night of the attack, only Wing Commander Guy Gibson and a small number of key officers knew the intended targets. Despite being just 24 years old, Gibson had already flown over 170 missions and had been specifically chosen to lead 617 Squadron.
The destruction of the dams depended on the correct deployment of a new explosive that had been invented by Barnes Wallis, the Assistant Chief Designer at Vickers aircraft factory. Nicknamed the ‘bouncing bomb’, he created a cylindrical bomb that would be spun backwards at a speed of 500rpm before being dropped onto water from a precise height at a precise speed. The bomb would then bounce over the torpedo nets installed in the dams’ reservoirs before spinning down the dam wall and exploding.
The squadron began their mission from RAF Scampton on the evening of 16 May. Arriving at their targets in the early hours of the 17 May, they breached two of the dams and lightly damaged the third. Eight of the aircraft were shot down during the mission and 53 airmen were killed. The flood waters from the breached dams killed up to 1,600 civilians in the Ruhr Valley, and slowed German industrial production for a number of months while repairs were carried out.