Following the Dambusters

Following the Dambusters

Postby DamienB on Mon 28 Sep 2009, 8:33 pm

From the first time I watched the movie I was captivated by the story of the Dambusters. The story does have it all - invention, fighting against officialdom, heroism, sacrifice... and of course success.

When I read the details of the real story my respect and admiration for the crews involved increased dramatically. I was particularly captivated by the heroism of Flt Lt John Vere Hopgood and his crew, of which more shortly.

This, then, is the first dam I'll cover in this thread. The Möhne (or Mohne to help the search engines...) is a mightily impressive piece of construction, nestling in a heavily wooded valley which is a real beauty spot and home to a small but prospering tourist industry - particularly during the summer, with much boating and other watersports on the lake created by the dam's presence.

First, a view from the lake side - the breach was made in the centre section, and it is very difficult to spot any signs of it these days.

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From the other side:

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Sadly the dam was closed for renovation so we couldn't walk right across it - however we did hop across the "verboten" boundary gate and walk part of the dam just to carry out a "mini dam-bust" before the fumes from the newly laid roadway base drove us back!

You can't see on these pics due to the small size but close examination in person or of the full size pics shows hints of where the damage was repaired - some of the original pre-war brickwork in the arches near the top of the dam is much neater and uses smaller blocks than the 1943/44 repair work. Comparison with photos of this side pre-war and after the raid shows the most dramatic difference, which is the total absence of the neat gardens at the base of the dam and the massive power plant building - which brings us back to Hopgood and his crew.

Shot up by flak whilst flying to their target, their wireless operator very badly wounded in the legs, their front gunner mortally wounded, Hopgood himself wounded in the face, one engine out of action, Hopgood and his crew still carried on regardless.

Attacking the dam in second place behind Guy Gibson, the gunners on the dam and surrounding hills were well prepared and knew exactly what to expect from this second attack. Hopgood's aircraft, Lancaster ED925 AJ-M, was raked by murderous fire from the guns and hit multiple times, being immediately set aflame with fire trailing from one wing right back to the rear of the aircraft and beyond and also along parts of the fuselage. In the chaos their bomb was dropped a little too late, skipping over the dam entirely and rolling into the power plant just the other side. The explosion demolished the power plant - and quite possibly further damaged the Lancaster, which was now down to two engines - from some accounts, possibly just one.

Hopgood struggled to get the Lancaster higher so his crew could bail out. He got almost as far as the village of Ostönnen around 4 miles north-west of the dam, and up to about 500ft, with three of his crew bailing out - though one, the badly wounded wireless operator, did not survive. The tail gunner heard Hopgood's last known words on the intercom before he left - "For Christ's sake get out!". ED925's fuel tanks exploded and the wreckage ploughed into a field... this field in fact:

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A motorway has been constructed in more recent years and runs more or less over the exact crash site, but nearby, down a small farm track, you can find a small memorial post:

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A drive of an hour or so to the west to the CWGC cemetery at Rheinberg finds Hopgood's final resting place...

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...among his crew:

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I've seen several CWGC cemeteries before. But never so many flyers - and it is a tiny part of Bomber Command's dead. Very sobering.
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DamienB

Re: Following the Dambusters

Postby DamienB on Mon 28 Sep 2009, 8:33 pm

Around 10 miles SSW of the Mohne is the Sorpe dam. The odd one out of the various dams targetted that night, this one is primarily earth, and was not attacked in the same manner as the others.

The idea here was to drop the bomb directly on top of the dam, blowing a hole large enough to allow water to flow over the breach, and eat away at the earth at the back of the dam until the weight of water on the lake side was heavy enough to topple the solid core over. The attack failed; two bombs hit the dam but neither caused enough damage. The flightpath was tricky - over the church in the nearby village, drop down to the dam, fly along its length and drop the bomb mid-way before pulling up to clear the hillside at the other end. It is a short dam and takes just minutes to walk its length - in a Lanc it would be gone in a flash so it is pretty amazing that either of the two bombs released hit it at all. Only one other aircraft got to the Sorpe, and could not bomb as mist and fog had hidden it from view by that time.

There is no evidence of the damage caused that night - this is now a neatly kept local attraction, and in the last year or two the footpath across has been renewed and new lighting installed. First of all, a view from the village/lake side:

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And now a view from halfway along the dam, looking down on the compensating basin below the dam. It was the grassy slope here that needed to have been eaten away by any flow from a breach on the crest were there to have been any chance of demolishing the dam.

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No crews were lost directly here, as the dam was considered invulnerable by the Germans and was therefore undefended. However, Burpee's and Ottley's aircraft were both shot down enroute to the Sorpe and Barlow's flew into power lines.
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Re: Following the Dambusters

Postby DamienB on Mon 28 Sep 2009, 8:33 pm

Around 50 miles ESE of the Sorpe and Mohne is the Eder Dam. A little under 2 miles north of that is the village of Waldeck and its castle sitting on the hilltop. This was the initial point on the attack runs carried out on the Eder, and this is the view from near the top of 'Schloss Waldeck', looking down into the valley and across to the dam:

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The pilots' job here was a tricky one - but weren't they all? Overfly the castle, descend to the spit of land on the right of the picture and then turn to the left to fly up the lake towards the dam, descending all the while to bombing height. Believe me the picture may not get it across but standing there and looking at it certainly does - there was no time at all to get lined up correctly - at 200mph you'd have 36 seconds to manage that.

This is the view from the dam, with the castle in the distance:

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Thankfully once again the Germans believed this dam was pretty much invulnerable to attack (there was an extensive network of anti-torpedo nets) so it was not defended by flak and each aircraft that attacked here had the luxury of making several attempts. The third bomb did the job here.

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The repaired breach shows up clearly in the photos as that brighter area, with red arches above and missing overflow channels below - though oddly enough, in bright sunshine, the breach area isn't quite so visible to the human eye!

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Another view from the 'dry side' of the dam, a most unhealthy place to have been stood on that night in 1943:

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On the dam itself there is a small plaque to the memory of the 2000 people used as forced labour to repair the dam, who lived and worked in desperately inhumane conditions, but oddly no real mention of the attack itself or those killed on both sides.

Thankfully that gap is filled by the local museum, a short drive away from the dam:

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Inside is a model of the dam and extensive displays that certainly show the true horror of the bombing war - not just the dams raids. Exhibits include all sorts of aerial bombs, and a splinter of one of the bombs that breached the Eder Dam along with a section of one of the torpedo nets.

Once again no crews were lost here directly, but many fell on their way here, and Maudslay's crew were lost on the way home, shot down close to the Dutch border.

Of the three major dams, this one is the one that stands out as being in a particularly beautiful location and most distinctly showing the evidence of the raid - we thoroughly recommend a visit (and the curry bratwurst available from the various eateries located near the dam).
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Re: Following the Dambusters

Postby DamienB on Mon 28 Sep 2009, 8:34 pm

Final stop for us on our pilgrimage was the Reichwald Forest War Cemetery. This is nearly twice the size of the Rheinberg one, and a mix of aircrew and soldiers killed in the advance on Germany, including a great deal of paras from Operation Market Garden onwards (there's another thread coming...).

Maudslay, Barlow and their crews are all buried next to each other:

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Further away Ottley and his crew can be found:

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...and not far from them lies Astell and his crew.

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I'm painfully aware I've mostly posted only pilots' headstones - I did take pictures of them all so if anybody wants to see any particular name from any particular crew, let me know.

These two cemeteries really bring home the huge sacrifices made by Bomber Command in WWII - when you see figures like '55,000' or '57,000' bandied about, it is hard to understand. When you see row upon row upon row of headstones, mostly of teenagers, you get more of an idea. RIP - and Thank You - all.
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Re: Following the Dambusters

Postby Spiny Norman on Mon 28 Sep 2009, 8:46 pm

What a great thread. Lovely photographs and a well written account too.
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Re: Following the Dambusters

Postby Granite on Mon 28 Sep 2009, 8:49 pm

Fantastic and yet sad post....... many thanks for posting it.
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Re: Following the Dambusters

Postby Russ on Mon 28 Sep 2009, 9:00 pm

Fascinating photos and story DB. :clap: :clap:
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Re: Following the Dambusters

Postby timuss on Mon 28 Sep 2009, 9:18 pm

What a great account, amazing stuff so much sacrafice amazing to see what they achieved. A really interesting post thanks for posting.
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Re: Following the Dambusters

Postby SuffolkBlue on Mon 28 Sep 2009, 9:59 pm

Thanks for posting this :clap: Would love to visit the dams one day.

To see the ages of 21 and 23 on the pilots headstones realy hits home for what these "kids" did for us. I couldn't imagine piloting a heavy bomber with flak and machine gun fire coming at me at that age.
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Re: Following the Dambusters

Postby 2shae on Tue 29 Sep 2009, 4:52 am

Another excellent post (to follow the ones posted by others on Normandy and Ypres). Thanks for the in-sight and history lesson.
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Re: Following the Dambusters

Postby nigelblake on Tue 29 Sep 2009, 6:23 am

SuffolkBlue wrote:Thanks for posting this :clap: Would love to visit the dams one day.

To see the ages of 21 and 23 on the pilots headstones realy hits home for what these "kids" did for us. I couldn't imagine piloting a heavy bomber with flak and machine gun fire coming at me at that age.


I was about to write much the same regarding the young ages of those involved!
Great and interesting thread.
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Re: Following the Dambusters

Postby Bjcc on Tue 29 Sep 2009, 7:30 am

My late father had some photos of the Mohne dam taken in the mid 50's. The repairs were very apparent then, and to an extent was still easy to see in the 70's when I visited it.
Grat photos and dialog. Very thought provoking.
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Re: Following the Dambusters

Postby NeilH68 on Tue 29 Sep 2009, 7:30 am

Fantastic pics and interesting write up DB...the Dam`s are one place that`s on my list (amongst others) to visit. I can only imagine what the cemetary must be like, and by heck, what a sacrifice these brave young pilots/crews/soldiers made in the war years.
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Re: Following the Dambusters

Postby Bjcc on Tue 29 Sep 2009, 7:30 am

My late father had some photos of the Mohne dam taken in the mid 50's. The repairs were very apparent then, and to an extent was still easy to see in the 70's when I visited it.
Grat photos and dialog. Very thought provoking.
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Re: Following the Dambusters

Postby MrAngry2 on Tue 29 Sep 2009, 8:42 am

Wow what a report, thanks for taking the time to write it all up Damien. Thought you had been a bit quiet recently :grin:
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Re: Following the Dambusters

Postby Dorset64 on Tue 29 Sep 2009, 8:47 am

What an excellent set of photos and description of the area and events of that night. I have always wanted to visit the Dams and your report has urged me to go.

Like many others on here, the age of the aircrews always get to me (shiver on back of neck). It makes you think the question, in todays world with the press going on about anti-social behaviour would todays youth be able to do the same thing ? I know they would.

Thanks for sharing your visit

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Re: Following the Dambusters

Postby hunterxf382 on Tue 29 Sep 2009, 8:59 am

:clap: I'll just echo what the others have already said Damien - a great report and quality photos, well done...
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Re: Following the Dambusters

Postby T_J on Tue 29 Sep 2009, 9:55 am

Excellent photo report, Damien. Thanks for posting.

:clap: :clap:

TJ
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Re: Following the Dambusters

Postby aceyone on Tue 29 Sep 2009, 1:51 pm

I can only echo all the views posted,thankyou .
Don't know about those jets ,they spoil a very nice place
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Re: Following the Dambusters

Postby Koen L on Tue 29 Sep 2009, 2:52 pm

Thoroughly enjoyable read Damien. I too have read a bit about the raid and have looked at the places on Google Earth but your angles give a nice idea of what the crews had to cope with, and that during the night. Oh, and it makes me almost feel ashamed I've not been, living only little over 2 hours away from the Sorpetalsperre. :oops:

Koen
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Re: Following the Dambusters

Postby Kokpit on Tue 29 Sep 2009, 6:37 pm

Another great pictorial Damien, you did well, thanks for sharing with us all.

Kev.
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Re: Following the Dambusters

Postby MikeH on Tue 29 Sep 2009, 6:51 pm

I can remember as a boy seeing the film and reading the Dambusters book by Paul Brickhill, also visiting the IWM at Lambeth and seeing the model of the Eder Dam that was used in the planning. I was captivated and like most imaginative kids was thoroughly absorbed by the story. Geographically it all seemed so distant, however. Nowadays it has become a relatively easy journey to view the subject matter of all that effort. Marvellous post and thanks for showing the current evidence and memorials of what is still one of the most amazing wartime exploits. :clap:
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Re: Following the Dambusters

Postby MarkL on Tue 29 Sep 2009, 7:57 pm

I was driven to visit the Normandy beaches from that UKAR thread and now i will do the same in Germany having read this... extremely interesting, significant, moving.

I think, like another poster here, our heros are amazingly young. As I get older it amazes me how young these guys seem. At a recent airshow I was talking to an F-15 driver..he seemed like a kid )) In my work I employ people this age and think of them as boys !! Anyway, God bless them all.

Great post DB

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Re: Following the Dambusters

Postby StephenEThomas on Wed 30 Sep 2009, 8:04 am

Thanks Damien.

As you say teens and early twenties, but also brings to mind those currently serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, and those brought home and laid to rest in recent years.

Could they youth of today do it now? They already are.

Steve
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Re: Following the Dambusters

Postby AlexC on Wed 30 Sep 2009, 10:12 am

Very interesting and moving post. I always find the inscriptions on the lower part of the CWGC headstones particularly moving. They are picked by the families of the deceased, and originally they had to pay for them to be applied to the headstone, but this was eventually applied free of charge, but I can't remember when this started. Some families could not afford to pay this charge, and this generally was the case when you see some headstones without inscriptions.
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