RAF Benevolent Fund commemorate Dambusters Raids on 80th Anniversary

Wednesday 17th May 2023

On 16 May wreaths were laid at the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park to mark 80 years since the Dambusters undertook their daring raid in the Second World War.

 Air Vice-Marshal Chris Elliot, on behalf of the RAF Benevolent Fund, and Air Vice-Marshal Simon Edwards, on behalf of the Royal Air Force, laid wreaths at the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park to mark the 80th anniversary of the Dambusters Raids which took place on the night of 16 – 17 May 1943.

Members of the RAF’s 617 Squadron were assembled to conduct a bombing raid to destroy three dams in Germany’s Ruhr Valley.  The mission known as Operation Chastise, involved 133 aircrew flying 19 specially adapted Lancaster bombers. 53 men were killed during the operation and three were captured.

RAF Benevolent Fund Controller Air Vice-Marshal Chris Elliot said:

“The Fund are immensely proud to commemorate Operation Chastise on the 80th anniversary of the Dambusters raids. We pay tribute to the brave legacy of the members of the RAF’s 617 Squadron. Their loss must never be forgotten, and we will continue to honour their memory by supporting the Second World War and National Service veterans who require our help.”

The Dambusters raid

This year marks 80 years since the daring Dambusters raid, an audacious bombing raid to destroy three dams in the Ruhr valley, the industrial heartland of Germany, codenamed Operation Chastise. The dams were fiercely protected. Torpedo nets in the water stopped underwater attacks and anti-aircraft guns defended them against enemy bombers. Initially thought of as a mad cap idea, Dr Barnes Wallis, an aeronautical designer, won over the RAF with his innovative bouncing bomb design. A missile that would skip across the water, hit the dam and roll to the bottom before exploding.

The bomb needed to be dropped at the right speed, at the right distance from the dam and at the right height above the water so needed highly skilled crew. 617 Squadron was specially formed for the mission and Wg Cdr Guy Gibson was given just three weeks to assemble the air crews and ground support staff he needed. Then followed eight weeks of intensive low-level flying training.

Nineteen specially-adapted Lancasters took off on May 16, carrying 133 airmen. We lost eight Lancasters that night – 53 young airmen were sadly killed. Sadly this was not uncommon during the Second World War where we lost more than 55,573 young men in Bomber Command alone.

The mission was top secret, with only the highest ranking officers aware of its intended target before the men were briefed on the evening of May 16.

The crews were dispatched in three waves, each targeting a different dam. Although the raid was widely reported as a success, this was tempered by the significant loss of life, something which Barnes Wallis himself deeply regretted. Those crews which were lost were shot down by anti-aircraft fire or crash landed after hitting power lines.

Upkeep was a 9,000 pound cylindrical mine that was designed to bounce across the surface of the water until it hit a dam. It would then sink and a hydrostatic fuse would detonate the mine at a depth of 30 feet.

In order to operate effectively, Upkeep had to have backspin imparted on it before it left the plane. This required specialist apparatus that was designed by Roy Chadwick and his team at Avro, the company that also manufactured the Lancaster bombers.

The press reported the operation as a great success, though for many involved in the raid, and particularly Barnes Wallis, this was severely tempered by the loss of life in 617 Squadron. Wallis wrote that: “For me the subsequent success [of the raid] was almost completely blotted out by the sense of loss of those wonderful young lives.”

Dambuster facts

  • Known as Op Chastise, carried out overnight on 16-17 May, 1943
  • 19 specially adapted Lancasters from 617 Squadron took part, carrying 133 airmen
  • Lancasters dropped ‘bouncing bombs’ invented by Barnes Wallis, codenamed Upkeep
  • They were adapted to not only carry the 9000lb bombs but also the mechanism needed to start them spinning
  • 617 Squadron was led by Wg Cdr Guy Gibson who hand-picked many of the men for this mission
  • They set off from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, where Gibson’s dog is still buried having been run over the morning of the raid
  • Target was three dams of the Ruhr Valley, flooding German factories, mines and power stations
  • Mohne and Eder dams were breached and Sorpe partially damaged
  • 53 Allied airmen were lost, eight crews/Lancasters did not return
  • 1,700 civilians were also lost, mostly drowned and almost half of which were foreign POWs and forced labourers
  • May was chosen as the dams would be at their fullest thanks to melting snow
  • The Dambusters film was released in 1955 starring Michael Redgrave as Barnes Wallis and Richard Todd as Guy Gibson

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