Bombs: Dams: Death: and the black dog.

Ronald Suchiu

One of the many films featured over the holiday period is the classic tale of the R.A.F. attack upon the three dams of the Ruhr, in Nazi Germany. The attack, by Lancaster bombers of 617 Squadron, was unique, in that the bombs, instead of dropping from a high altitude, were released from the bomber while flying at a height of sixty (60) feet. The bombs were cylindrical, and were literally revolving, turned by a motor fitted inside the Lancaster fuselage, so that the bomb’s spinning motion, moving in reverse as it hit the water, made it literally bounce across the lake surface: finally slowly sinking to the required depth below the surface. The explosive was then triggered by a pressure switch, and the full shock of the explosion was sent against the dam walls.

The trouble with the attack, which had to be carried out at an extremely low altitude and in a straight line, was that the bomber could be tracked and attacked by seriously-accurate German anti-aircraft fire during the predictable approach path. The Moehne, Eder & Sorpe dams were chosen as targets, and the Lancasters of 617 Squadron, modified to carry the three ton weight of the bombs which had to be held partly outside the bomb-bay as the spin had to be applied before the bomb was released, set off on their mission. The Moehne and Eder dams were successfully breached, albeit with heavy loss to the attacking squadron; with eight of the nineteen bombers failing to return, and fifty-three fliers in total died during the operation. Squadron Leader Guy Gibson received the Victoria Cross, there were also five D.S.O.’s, ten D.F.C.’s and four Bars, two Conspicuous Gallantry Medals and eleven Distinguished Flying Medals and one Bar. Squadron Leader Gibson’s name featured in the very successful film ‘The Dambusters’, and as it was a British production, was historically accurate, apart from the spinning of the bombs, which was still on the ‘classified’ listing: the theory presumably was that if British bombers were ever needed to breach another dam in enemy territory, we knew how to do it.

There have been many times when that film, which I watched when it was first released, has been shown on television screens across the world, but the bomber crews’ bravery; the ferocity of the German anti-aircraft fire; the fact that eight Lancasters were either shot down, crashed or failed to return; the fact that thirty-three medals, including Britain’s highest award for bravery, the Victoria Cross, were won by squadron members is never even mentioned in these po-faced days. There have been many plans to remake that film, but every time, the film plans have been derailed because of the deep ‘Offence’ which arises every time the raid is mentioned. These days, where every other second bastard is offended, or allegedly takes deep offence, because of the name given a pet dog, a name which, in those days where men flew against a ruthless enemy every night, was simply the colour of the dog’s black fur in the vernacular. The dog who died, as he was killed by a hit-and-run driver, whilst his master, Guy Gibson, risked his life for his Country. Yes; the horror: the scandal, the terrible, terrible truth, which still scars those brave men’s memories even some seventy-five years since those Rolls Royce-powered propellers took those bombers on their deadly, dangerous mission: the black Labrador dog’s name was Nigger!