Dambusters remembered, 70 years on: Celebrations this week will mark the famed wartime mission
Paul Bignell is an Assistant News Editor at The Independent. He has previously been the acting News Editor of the i Paper, a home news reporter for The Independent for one year and a reporter for the Independent on Sunday for six years.
Sunday 12 May 2013
The Dambusters squadron, whose daring and audacious raid during the Second World War is often held up as an example of bravery and ingenuity, will be celebrated around Britain this week which marks the 70th anniversary of the May 1943 mission, codenamed "Operation Chastise".
The usefulness of the midnight operation, which destroyed three German dams, has been disputed over the years. But it showed Britain hitting back after years of suffering in the Blitz and gave the country a much-needed morale boost.
This week, celebrations will take place in several parts of the country, including a flypast from one of the aircraft involved. A handful of the few remaining crewmen belonging to 617 Squadron – including the last remaining pilot who launched the famed bouncing bomb at the heart of industrial Germany, causing major flooding in the Ruhr Valley in Germany's industrial region – are to gather by the peaceful shores of the Derwent Reservoir in Derbyshire to pay their final respects to the 53 airmen who lost their lives.
This week, the spotlight could also fall on the stalled Peter Jackson remake of the 1955 film, The Dam Busters. Jackson, who directed The Lord of the Rings, had initially expressed interest in remaking the film in the mid-1990s, but Mel Gibson had already bought the rights. The actor later dropped the project and in 2005 they were obtained by Jackson. Stephen Fry then began working on the script and was given access to recently declassified government documents.
But delays have resulted in the film being shelved. The flypast on Thursday will see one of only two airworthy Lancaster bombers perform two rounds over the Derwent Reservoir, followed by a flypast by a current 617 Squadron Tornado jet. The reservoir was used for practice runs by the original 617 Squadron before the raid.
On Friday, Radio 2 will broadcast its breakfast show live from RAF Scampton, near Lincoln, from where the bombers took off on 16 May 1943. There will also be a concert in front of a 2,500-strong audience in a hangar at Biggin Hill airfield in the evening.
Commander Guy Gibson led 617 Squadron on the raid. The squadron carried the bouncing bombs developed by Barnes Wallis. These, when dropped from very low altitude over water, would skim along the surface, skipping torpedo nets until they sank in front of their target – in this case, three dams along the Ruhr in Germany – and explode with devastating force.
Though the raid was seen as fairly successful – especially in propaganda terms – the human cost, on both sides, of Operation Chastise was high. Some 1,300 people were killed and, out of the 133 airmen who set out, 53 did not return. Eight out of 19 aircraft were lost.
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