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Factory's link to the Dambusters.

Byline: Carl Chinn

Colleagues look on as workers at the factory carefully fill the bomb that helped make history.

ONE of the quintessential British war films is the Dambusters from 1955.

It tells how Barnes Wallis, a scientist, engineer and inventor, struggled to develop a means of destroying Germany's dams in the hope of crippling its heavy industry and shortening the Second World War. Eventually this brilliant man came up with the idea of a bomb which would literally bounce over the water in the reservoirs to avoid enemy protective torpedo nets. When the bomb reached the dam, it would sink before exploding - making its impact all the more destructive.

Wallis worked out that the only way that this remarkable feat could be achieved was if the aircraft carrying the bouncing bombs flew very low.

Despite setbacks he gained the support of Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris, head of Bomber Command.

He took the idea to the Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, who authorised the project.

To accomplish the daring raid, the 617 special squadron of Lancaster bombers was formed. It was commanded by Wing Commander Guy Gibson. Ultimately the drop altitude for the bombers was reduced to 60 feet, making the task even more dangerous.

The raid was successful, breaching the dams, but several Lancasters and their crews were lost.

Thanks to Margaret Anderson, an unpublicised aspect of the raid has now come to the fore - the bombs used in practice sessions by 617 Squadron were filled with an inert substance at a secret factory in Birmingham, and Margaret's father designed the material that simulated the weight and texture of the explosive. She showed me some of her late father's photographs.

During the Second World War, he was managing director of Standard Pavements Ltd of Welby Road, Hall Green.

She said: "The factory produced Terrazzo products - eg fireplaces, washbasins, flooring etc and concrete blocks for building airraid shelters.

"Sometime in the 1940s (the photos are dated August 1944) he was asked (by someone from the Government in London) to set up a secret factory in an urban area to fill bombs with an inert substance to enable an RAF squadron to practise using the bouncing bomb. Dad met Barnes Wallis to discuss the requirements. My father then designed the material which simulated the weight and texture of the explosive.

"The secret factory was in Olton Boulevard East, Acocks Green, where Tyre Safe Auto Centre is now based. Dad recruited the workforce locally and as a 12 year old I used to fill inert shells on a Saturday morning.

"I am sure you will know that the bouncing bombs were used very successfully to breach three German dams by Wing Commander Guy Gibson for which he got the VC.

"Dad was offered an MBE which he declined - he was a modest man who was proud to help in any way he could. His name was James Anderson and he lived at 61 Lode Lane, Solihull. He died in 2001 after experiencing many hardships about which he never complained. I am proud to be his daughter."

This article and photos are included in the March issue of Carl Chinn's Brummagem, available at pounds 1.75 from newsagents.


The workforce at Standard Pavements in Welby Road by Hall Green Station.; Terrazo basins in the foreground, bombs in the background.; A close-up of a worker preparing a bomb.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Feb 28, 2009
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