The Dambusters Raid – 80th Anniversary Commemorations

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's Lancaster B.I PA474 is participating in a series of events to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Dambusters Raid. (image via Ministry of Defence)
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With the 80th anniversary of the legendary ‘Dambusters Raid‘ fast approaching, the Royal Air Force’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight has begun taking part in commemorative activities both in Britain and overseas. On May 4th, the Flight’s Avro Lancaster B.I (PA474) made a journey over the Netherlands and Belgium to commemorate Operation Manna, but symbolically also retracing parts of the route which Lancasters from RAF No.617 Squadron took on their way in and out of Germany to attack hydroelectric dams in the Rhur River Valley on the night of May 16th/17th, 1943.

A 617 Squadron Lancaster (belonging to Wing Commander Guy Gibson) loaded with one of the special bouncing bombs, codenamed Upkeep, during training for the Dams Raid. (image via Imperial War Museum)

The highly-modified Lancasters which took part in that raid employed a radical new weapon designed to skip over the water and then sink and explode at a given depth right beside the dam wall, using the water’s mass to focus the explosive force against the structure and thus fracture it. The daring, low-level raid succeeded in breaching two of the four dams attacked, and caused considerable damage to a third. While the deluge of water from the burst dams across the Eder and Möhne rivers caused significant turmoil and interrupted Germany’s manufacturing capacity for some time, there is still some debate about the level of this disruption, not to mention the human price involved on both sides. Even so, the brazen daring and ingenuity of the attack caught the world’s attention; perhaps most importantly, its success had a massive positive effect on morale back in Britain while also strengthening respect for the RAF’s capabilities amongst the nation’s allies.

A graphic depiction for how the bouncing bomb worked during the attacks on the Mohne & Eder dams. (image via IWM)

The 1955 film, The Dam Busters, based upon Paul Brickhill’s book of the same name, immortalized the raid on the silver screen, and its regular airing on television in subsequent decades has etched the events of May 16th/17th, 1943 on the public’s consciousness in Britain ever since. This is partly why the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Avro Lancaster holds a cherished place in the minds of so many. When the Lancaster is serviceable, it usually performs at public events around the anniversary of Operation Chastise (the raid’s official codename) and 2023 will be no exception, albeit with a slightly different focus.

A Lancaster bomber aircraft from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) soars over the Derwent Valley Dam in Derbyshire. The famous ‘Dambusters’ of the RAF’s 617 Squadron trained in this valley during the Second World War for their mission. This image was captured on the 65th anniversary of the Dams Raid during 2008. Sadly, this scene will not be repeated during the 80th anniversary commemorations of the raid this year. (image by Sgt Graham Spark RAF via Wikimedia)

In previous years, the aircraft has flown low over the Derwent Dam in Derbyshire, since the structure featured prominently in 617 Squadron’s training for the attack back in 1943. However, perhaps oddly, such a flypast has been ruled out for this year according to BBMF social media postings, because local authorities have not organized an event to handle the anticipated heavy traffic load which such a flight would inevitably provoke. That being said, on the evening of May 16th, the Lancaster is scheduled to perform flypasts over each of the relevant WWII RAF Bomber Command airfields in Lincolnshire, as well as the former RAF Hendon, in London. The image below shows the RAF Stations (both current and former) which should see the Lancaster fly overhead on May 16th.

The Lancaster is also scheduled to attend numerous events during the 2023 air show season, with the Dam’s Raid likely to feature heavily in announcer commentary.


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