THE PLANES THAT WON THE WAR; CONTINUING TODAY, MARKING 100 YEARS OF THE RAF...PART TWO THE LANCASTER BOMBER; One Made It Back Home with 450 Bullet Holes

Daily Mail (London), January 16, 2018 | Go to article overview

THE PLANES THAT WON THE WAR; CONTINUING TODAY, MARKING 100 YEARS OF THE RAF...PART TWO THE LANCASTER BOMBER; One Made It Back Home with 450 Bullet Holes


Byline: Leo McKinstry

AGAINST the backdrop of a moonlit sky above western Germany, the mighty RAF Avro Lancaster of 617 Squadron swooped low over the water and released its deadly cargo. The spinning bomb bounced across the surface of the lake towards the wall of the Mohne dam.

For a moment there was silence, then the sound of crumbling masonry and a thunderous floodtide began to echo down the valley. Wing Commander Guy Gibson, the 617 squadron leader who was flying his own Lancaster nearby, recalled the scene of unfolding destruction: 'I could not believe my eyes. I heard someone shout: "I think she's gone! I think she's gone!" 'There was no doubt about it: there was a great breach 100 yards across, and the water, now looking like stirred porridge in the moonlight, was gushing out and rolling into the Ruhr Valley towards the industrial centres of Germany's Third Reich.' The Dambusters Raid on the night of May 17, 1943, carried out by 19 Lancasters from Gibson's squadron, has gone down in history as one of the most audacious exploits of World War II.

Not only was the colossal Mohne dam breached, but a second, the Eder, was also smashed, while a third, the Sorpe, was damaged, though not broken. Although the attack cost the lives of 53 RAF airmen, it caused devastation to the German economy and gave a tremendous boost to public morale. The tale of the assault on the vast structures almost seemed a national metaphor for Britain's increasingly confident fight against the once-impregnable Nazi empire.

Gibson won the Victoria Cross and 33 other airmen were awarded medals for gallantry in the raid. A CBE was also awarded to Roy Chadwick, Avro's chief designer who had conceived THE LANCASTER BOMBER.

The honour was fully deserved, since the Dambusters could never have succeeded without the Lancaster, whose unique qualities of robustness and responsiveness made it the ideal plane for such a precision task.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, the inventor of the bouncing bomb, Barnes Wallis, wrote in fulsome tones to Chadwick: 'May I offer you my deepest thanks for the existence of your wonderful Lancaster, the only aircraft in the world capable of doing the job.' But the impact of the Lancaster went far beyond the Dams raid. The plane dramatically enhanced the potency of Bomber Command, turning the raf... strategists' dreams of a hard-hitting aerial offensive against the Reich into a practical reality.

During the crucial years before the D-Day landings in 1944, the nightly Lancaster raids on Nazi Germany effectively formed a second front in Europe alongside the epic struggle by the Soviet Union in the east.

FLYING over 156,000 missions against Germany and its ally Italy, the plane dropped around 608,000 tons of bombs. So bullish at the start of its campaign of European conquest, the Reich was forced on to the defensive by the Lancaster. More than two million Germans were engaged in anti-aircraft duties by early 1944.

Yet, as the Dams raid proved, the Lancaster was not just a broadsword. Its finesse meant it could also make pin-point attacks. This is the bomber that sank the German battleship the Tirpitz in November 1944, that destroyed one-third of German submarines in their ports and wrecked the transport system in occupied France in the run-up to D-Day, paralysing the movement of German reinforcements.

Similarly, in August 1943, 324 Lancasters led a devastating raid on the Nazi experimental research station at Peenemunde in the Baltic where the V1 flying bombs and V2 rockets were being developed.

Given its role in turning the tide of World War II, it is no exaggeration to describe the Lancaster as by far the most important bomber in the history of the raf... In fact, Sir Arthur Harris, the tough-minded head of Bomber Command from 1942, once declared that the Lancaster was 'the greatest single factor in winning the war against Germany'. …

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