It was exactly three quarters of a century ago that 133 airmen of the RAF’s 617 Squadron took off in 19 Lancaster bombers on a secret mission to attack the heart of industrial Germany.
The losses that night were
catastrophic and only 77 men returned from the raid, but the legend of “The Dambusters” had been born.
George “Johnny” Johnson is one of only two surviving airmen and I have shared many glasses of his favoured red wine with him as he recounted his memories of the operation, and his thoughts as he looks back 75 years on.
During the dark days of the Second World War, when the British public had been forced to swallow an unremitting diet of blood, sweat, tears, toil and gloom, the RAF’s Bomber Command had offered almost the only glimmers of hope; carrying the war into the very heart of Germany.
A crucial target was the string of dams in the hills flanking the Ruhr which generated the power for heavy industries, fuelling the Nazi war machine with aircraft parts, tanks, guns and munitions.
Many attacks had been attempted, but all had failed, so a specialist RAF Squadron – 617 – was formed to utilise the now famous “Bouncing Bomb” in an effort to deliver a killer blow.
At 9.28pm on Sunday, May 16, 1943, a few minutes before sunset, the roar of Rolls Royce Merlin engines shattered the peace of the morning and the first of those 19 Lancaster bombers rumbled off the runway at RAF Scampton into the Lincolnshire skies – and into the history books.