Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Loch Striven and the Bouncing Bomb

Today, May 16, 2013, marks the 70th anniversary of Operation Chastise, better known more popularly as the Dambusters Raid, thanks to the publicity it has received over the years in the 1955 film, The Dam Busters.

Dan Snow presented The Dambusters: 70 Years On, a tribute to World War II’s Dambusters raid, as veterans and their families gathered to remember the bravery of the 133 men who undertook it. Live from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, on Thursday May 16, 2013 , 19:00 BST on BBC 2: BBC iPlayer – The Dambusters: 70 Years On

The BBC later published a follow up story, including superb video of the surviving Lancaster and Spitfire flying low over Derwent reservor, used for bouncing bom practive flights, followed by a pair of low and slow Tornadoes. The RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and 617 Squadron flew over the dam in Derbyshire’s Hope Valley on Thursday lunchtime.

See also Dambusters raid: Retrace the daring journey, which includes the hand-coloured map from the official June 1943 British Air Ministry report on the Dambusters raid.

In preparation for the raid, many tests were carried out, both in the laboratory to prove the concept, and at various locations around the country to prove the full-size versions, and train the crews in advance of the raid itself.

On such location was Loch Striven, where dummy Highball bombs were dropped as part of the tests. These dummies contained no explosives, and the empty steel casings were filled with concrete, with stories of some having been made of wood, constructed and filled with wood, sawdust, and glue by CE Morris Furniture of Glasgow. These were abandoned and left in the loch after the war, but were located during dives carried out during 2010. Our Loch Striven page contained links to footage of the dives, showing the dummy bombs as found, but the urls have changed over the years, and we eventually lost track of them, so the links on the page no longer work. They may be available elsewhere, with a bit of searching.

We were told of plans to return to the site, and to raise one or more of the bombs for display in museums, with the first to be presented to the Brooklands Museum in Surrey, where the Barnes Wallis collection is held. If more were raised, then they will be placed in local museums. It is worth noting that at present there are no complete Highballs on display anywhere.

Note that Hihghball was the naval version of the bouncing bomb, intended to be used against ships. This version was never used operationally.

Spherical bombs seen in the film were dummies. The device was still classified as secret when the film was made, and shots that would have shown the final cylindrical design were censored.

Loch Striven was closed off while the tests were being carried out there, and a number of writers have describe how the Lumberjills were sealed in their cabins, with the windows covered and guard on the doors, while the bomb was being tested there, and smoke screens used to hide the public view along the loch from its entrance.

It may be that the footage in the clips below show Loch Striven, beginning at approximately 2:00 minutes – but this is just speculation from various discussion of the clip:

Upkeep practice

Upkeep practice bomb under modified Lancaster bomber

The picture is described as showing a practice Upkeep weapon attached to the bomb bay of Wing Commander Guy Gibson’s Avro Type 464 (Provisioning) Lancaster, ED932/G ‘AJ-G’, at Manston, Kent, while conducting dropping trials off Reculver.

The raid revisited

One of the disturbing trends I have spotted in recent years is for some historians to revise the value of a number of World War II operations, generally to downplay their effectiveness – and the cynic in me would probably add that this pronouncement might be accompanied by a new book they have just published to back up their claim.

Chastise, or the Dambusters Raid, is one such operation, which has come in for increasing claims that if it was not an outright failure (not all the dams were breached as planned), its effectiveness has been grossly overstated.

I find such revelations surprising, and disappointing, as they come from established historians who have written to the contrary in the past, and I see the name of the advisor to the classic series “The World at War” included amongst them.

Granted, I would have no argument with any claims that the Dambusters raid, and many other similar operations, were highly, and even over-played in terms of positive propaganda terms at the time when presented to the public. But this was in time of war, when such emphasis was essential to maintain morale.

But to go back decades later, and say that they were ineffective is ridiculous and even borders on the disrespectful to those who took part.

It’s also hard to understand, since those voicing such opinions should know better, and that the value of such raids was not their obvious result – the breaching of the dams in this particular case – but the strategic cost to the enemy, and wider effects of the raid’s on the use of resource, labour, material, and time. They seem to forget that everything used to rebuild after this raid had to be taken off another job being made to support the German war effort. The country was already working flat-out to support its armed forces and aggression. It menfolk were conscripted and sent to the front, labour was at a premium, made possible only by the enslavement of many conquered peoples, forced to work on Nazi weapons production. This included people taken from as close as the Channel Islands, which the Germans occupied during the war.

That the Germans were able to quickly restore the dams and their production in the area affected by the raid is testament not to the failure of the raid, but to how important the area was to the Germans.

Dan Snow writes in the BBC Magazine:

The Germans certainly rose to the challenge: the dams, which had taken five years to build, were repaired by armies of forced labourers working around the clock in just five months.

A major hydroelectric power station at Herdecke was out of action for weeks, not months, thanks to a similarly Herculean effort. Thousands of troops, Hitler youth, prisoners of war and enslaved workers were thrown at the task.

Canals were dredged, factories rebuilt, river banks reinstated, bridges replaced. Britain’s bomber supremo, Sir Arthur Harris, who had opposed the raid as harebrained all along, with some justification, wrote later: “I have seen nothing… to show that the effort was worthwhile except as a spectacular operation.”

Senior Nazis downplayed the damage after the war. Albert Speer, the German armaments minister, expressed amazement that the repair operations were left untroubled by further bombing raids which would have delayed the vital reconstruction and turned a nuisance into a major crisis.

Time has thrown up a wealth of information about the impact of the raids, much of it unavailable to an earlier generation of historians.

In James Holland’s recent book, Dam Busters: The Race to Smash the Dams, he states that “it is time to put the record straight”. He insists that the damage was “absolutely enormous” and it was “an extraordinary achievement”.

He points out that every bridge for 30 miles below the breached Mohne dam was destroyed, and buildings were damaged 40 miles away. Twelve war production factories were destroyed, and around 100 more were damaged. Thousands of acres of farmland were ruined.

Germans instantly referred to it after the raid as the “Mohne catastrophe”. Even the cool Speer admitted that it was “a disaster for us for a number of months”. German sources attribute a 400,000-tonne drop in coal production in May 1943 to the damage caused.

Another German report into the effects of the raid talked about “considerable losses of production” caused by “the lack of water” and that “many shaft mines, coking plants, smelting works, power stations, fuel plants and armaments factories were shut down for several days”.

The fact that a titanic effort was made to repair this damage shows how high a priority the dams were, and it meant resources were shifted from elsewhere. Nowhere was this costlier to the Third Reich than on the beaches of Normandy.

Hitler had ordered the construction of a massive network of defences against an Allied invasion. Now thousands of workers who should have been toiling in France were redirected to the Ruhr to repair the dams. A year later allied troops would have faced far more significant defences had it not been for the Dambusters raid.

No raid mounted by so few aircraft had ever caused such extensive material damage. It did not bring German war production to a permanent halt, but nobody had expected it to.

Via The Dambusters raid: How effective was it?

See also The Dambusters: marking the 70th anniversary of one of the most daring wartime missions | Herald Scotland

And Dambusters: All the men who took part


May 16, 2013 - Posted by | World War II | , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Reblogged this on First Night Design and commented:
    Today is the 70th anniversary of the Dambusters Raid and I’m passionate about history and both World Wars, hence this reblog.


    Comment by First Night Design • Rogues & Vagabonds | May 16, 2013

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