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Byline: Brian McIver

THE Dam Busters is one of the best loved war movies - and it's about to enter the 21st century with a high-definition upgrade.

The classic film, about the crack team of pilots and engineers who use revolutionary bouncing bombs to destroy a vital Nazi dam, is based on one of the most glorious - and tragic - events of World War II.

Fifty-three men died and three were captured in the raids on May 17, 1943, with eight aircraft out of 19 being brought down.

The mission was branded a success and immortalised in the 1955 movie, which starred Michael Redgrave as engineer Barnes Wallis, creator of the bouncing bomb, and D-Day veteran Richard Todd as Wing Commander Guy Gibson.

Scots actor Robert Shaw played one of the heroic flight crew in an early role, while the real life Dam Busters have strong Scots connections too.

Peterhead born George Chalmers was wireless operator on one of the planes, and survived the operation, while the bombers trained for the mission on Loch Striven in trained for the mission on Loch Argyll.

And the 617 squadron, who flew the mission, was relocated from its original base in Lincoln to RAF Lossiemouth in Moray in 1993.

The story began in the early war years when Churchill made Germany's industrial Ruhr valley - the heart of the Nazi economy and war machine - a key target.

And to cripple the Ruhr meant attacking the dams - the Mohne, Sorpe and Eder - which provided hydro electric power to the area.

Traditional bombing methods would not work on the welldefended dams, so a new approach was needed.

Wallis, of munitions firm Vickers, had been working on the aerodynamics of aircraft and, while developing a new bomber, he came up with the idea for a bomb which could be fired almost horizontally.

A traditional bomb would have been too big and heavy to be carried aboard the aircraft of the day, while a torpedo would be foiled by lines of nets used by the Nazis.

So Wallis came up with the idea of a bouncing bomb, which would be dropped from a normal aircraft at 60ft altitude but would skim the surface like a flat stone.

The barrel-shaped devices would stay above the surface of the water to avoid the nets, and propel right into the face of the dam.

After months of testing the bomb, Air Marshall Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris gave the go ahead in February 1943, and the 617 squadron set off on Operation Chastisse on May 17.

Led by Gibson, the bombers were deployed in three waves.

The first dam breached was the Mohne. The bombers were then diverted to the Eder, which was not as heavily defended but fog-laden, and was only breached by the final bomb run of the formation.

The Sorpe dam was hit but not breached.

It was estimated that 330million tons of water were unleashed on the Ruhr, with mines, factories, houses, railways and bridges being destroyed.

German industry itself was back working to capacity again within a few months, but the main objectives of the mission were accomplished.

The attack distracted Germany from their titanic struggle with the Soviets on the Eastern Front and proved a huge morale boost for Britain.

That's the spirit of the 1955 film, which went on to become one of the classic stories of the conflict, and featured the very hummable theme tune which is still associated today with the mission.

The film is re-released in a HD Blu-ray package this Monday, while Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson is in talks for a remake, to be scripted by Stephen Fry and co-produced by Sir David Frost.


THE 617 squadron was formed two months before the dambuster raids.

Based at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, it comprised of pilots from New Zealand and Canada as well as Britain.

After the mission, the squadron was tasked with a bombing raid to kill Benito Mussolini in Rome, but that mission was shelved when the Italian dictator was ousted.

Dambuster hero Wing Commander Guy Gibson later went on PR tours to boost morale across Britain.

In 1993, the unit moved to RAF Lossiemouth, where it is still based today.


FLY MOVE: Lancasters carried the bombs, which were devised by Barnes Wallis, far left EXPLOSIVE STUFF: Richard Todd in poster to publicise the 1955 movie The Dam Busters
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jun 12, 2010
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