⚜ | The Dambuster Raid – Tragedy or Triumph?


hello everybody and welcome back to
Military Aviation History. I’m of course your host Bismarck and I’m today joined
by a Victoria Taylor, she is a British historian currently pursuing a doctoral
degree looking at the relationship between National Socialism and
the Luftwaffe – she obtained her Master of Research at the University of Hull
looking at the Dambuster raid and currently she’s also the assistant
editor on the military journal: Balloons to Drones. She also recently actually
received the RAF research prize for her work on the Dambusters and I’ve added
her today on to the channel to talk a little bit about that fateful mission
sort of crack it open go a little bit beyond popular memory talk about the
aspects that aren’t really discussed nowadays that actually are quite
important when it comes to that event and hopefully we’ll learn a couple of
new things so Victoria welcome – Thank you very much. And the first thing really
that I would ask just you know to get everybody on the same page what was the
Dambuster raid? Well The Dambuster raid was really seen as an opportunity to strike
at the heart of German industry during the Second World War and it took place
between the 16th and 17th of May 1943 when nineteen Lancaster’s from 617
squadron based in Scampton in Lincolnshire took off equipped with the
Barnes Wallis’ famous bouncing bomb better known as UPKEEP and they took off
and they targeted several dams in the Ruhr region of Germany, right in its
heartland because it was known as the Waffenschmiede des Reiches
so the armory of the right and they managed to succeed in busting open and Mohne and Eder damns. and also damanging the Sorpe dam. and this mission of course has quite
well it’s an important event let’s say and it’s also often referred to in sort
of British popular memory in culture and so on but also sort of some of the main
sort of main facets where you see that reflected in in British culture more or
less I tend to refer to it as the Dambuster motif
because it it just crops up so often in British culture it comes up in places
such as the well quite recently the London 2012 Olympics the theme actually
played during the sequence with James Bond and the Queen – The movie theme? Yes from the Dambusters film
– it also props up into a satirical cartoons it comes up in well
as you say film and music and it’s just it’s one of those motifs that keeps
going around. came around walk during the brexit campaign for better or worse but
it’s one of those things that really it’s so recognizable and there’s so many
different sort of mixtures of both the film and the raid that almost it’s hard
to distinguish between the two of them. yeah if it comes down to it and you look
sort of look at the aerial aspect of what was true for Britain it’s probably
bad of Britain and then the Dambusters and then … Dunkirk. There we go those are the thre, the holy trinity of British war memory. What is not often mentioned
and that kind of surprised me when I and I read your paper on the Dambusters is
that early on when this sort of mission was proposed and Wallis also sort of
proposed the UPKEEP bomb of course that actually there was some opposition to it
not everybody was on board and it wasn’t a done deal
mm-hmm well I mean I’m always quite surprised at people sort of thinking
that it was absolutely bizarre to sort of have any sort of objection to upkeep
because I think so many people are looking at the raid retrospectively
they’re looking at the fact it was to all intents and purposes very successful
and I think it’s as a result and because of how fondly the the upkeep is
remembered I think it’s very easy for people to sort of thing like well how
dare they try and interfere yeah but of course you know you’ve got to bear in
mind that you know 1943 the war was far from over and to be diverting vital
Lancaster’s to a secretive squadron that might not actually you know successfully
breach these seemingly impenetrable targets you know I don’t think it’s
quite such a mad it’s such a a mad thing to it for it to have not been you know
for there to have been objection but of course you know it tends to be the case
that they do overplay in British mythology the sort of obstacles that
Wallace was against I mean of course there was some resistance particular
from Harris who you know sort of said when they came in to see all the all the
film trials and everything they started saying you know what the hell do you
dumb inventor dumb inventors want you know and just being utterly confused and
calling it tripe beyond the wildest description and but really there were a
lot of people in exactly the right places to put you know whilst his
proposals forward and to give it the backing that it needed in order to be
able to secure the secret squadron and to deliver his weapon. And then when it
of course happened and sort of the RAF realized that it had been
successful squadrons came back not all of them of course we’ll go into that as
well but one of the things that that sort of happened as well is the British
media of course picks it up it’s it’s a big propaganda sort of event understand
and there is I wouldn’t say there’s a disagreement between the RAF and the
British media but the RAF wasn’t fully convinced with some of the coverage …. the
British media went off on some some tangent – They went a bit crazy, basically yes they did I mean they
started going towards with no basis no real actual factual knowledge and some
of the newspapers started reporting that about 10,000 people had been killed and
they started to say that you know in Kassel they’re only wishes that the war
shall end and that there was rioting in Duisburg and all of these sort of
alarmist rumors that you know obviously the areas were were devastated but they
weren’t at that level of broken German morale that they thought they were and
also this sort of had issues with the having
problems with over exaggerating things and creating new stories fabricating new
inside scoops for each magazine and each newspaper that really did not didn’t
really allo properly didn’t really sort of line up with what the Aria that’s
also I mean if you’re a soldier especially you know on those missions
and you come back and then you see that the media is just fabricating something
and you know you’ve lost some of your mates you’ve you’ve went on a mission
that is… I mean it was hard to pull off and it’s in some ways it’s a miracle
that it was pulled off in the way that it happened and then suddenly that’s not
good enough and the media just goes on this tangent but that that’s how it is but that
kind of leads us into this this sort of other element that we don’t often talk
about this is the emotional toll and the human sort of suffering on the first now
we’ll look at the British side to go into the German side as well that that
isn’t really talked about so some of the pilots of course had you know you
pointed out sort of so in your paper I’m sort of emotional distress from the
mission yeah I mean I wouldn’t say distress simply because I mean this is
quite a controversial topic actually recently I was discussing this with a
fellow PhD colleague about sort of how far people but you know how far Bomber
Command pilots actually did reflect on what they did in terms of you know for
most it was the military case if this is our job let’s go in and do it you know
we’re going to lose comrades but we know that’s part of the deal that’s a part of
the package but there were elements of guilt that I think are not discussed
quite so much in the in the in the general British narrative. So for example
Les Munro said about the fact that he felt very guilty actually to be in
the mess after the raid because he had made the attack on the Sorpe Damn –
yeah – which I mean you know I think actually doesn’t get enough credit they
had sort of…. they had allocated a quarter of the forces to destroy it yeah
but they knew that there wasn’t so much of a chance to destroy it
that it just wasn’t susceptible to to UPKEEP us as the Mohne and Eder were. – Why was that? Mohne and Eder were what kind of damns? – Well they were gravity
dams, the way they were built with being sort of brick and incurved they were
more susceptible to the mine being underneath
whereas with the Sorpe damn because it’s an earth base damn you have the issue of
they had to drop it on top of the parapet rather than [?] so you kind of
had the issue there that you know as if it wasn’t already difficult enough with
the moon in the erred and you already had been triangulation bomb sight so it’s
easier to spot the tip up the two towers on the Mohne and the one on the Eder
and then release the bomb but course he didn’t have that in his office and it’s
just made it’s very difficult but sorry to go back to Monroe he felt because
they didn’t actually know that they did manage to damage it enough for it to be
drained but it wasn’t the you know the the visual spectacle that came with
Mohne in the Eder and there really was quite a lot of guilt from Monroe because
he didn’t feel like he could really join him with the celebrations I thought well
we haven’t really achieved anything you know and there’s also aspects as well I
mean with Gibson he was very much well his father claimed he was very upset by
the loss of animals his great animal lover and also I know yes I mean that’s
all other thing to go to like human lives animals you know but and there’s
obviously been sort of a retrospective reflection as well… Music just started, timing!
…so you know there’s been a reflection over time as well and so
with George Tony probably the most obvious example the last of the
Danvers is documentary where he was very much you know absolutely there is no
doubt that the spray that’s military worth Y or anyone that questions any
possibilities he’s not worth bothering with yeah but
he did find after he went and he spoke to a survivor and he saw the community
over sort of surrounding his offer he did feel quite guilty about the fact
that if they had succeeded that all of those people would have been drowned as
well so I do think there are some aspects of operational guilt that are
indeed a master story but they’re not considered to quite so much well as with
everything it’s it’s a complicated subject and we humans are complicated
being 70 you have different feelings about the same event sometimes with essentially the day before the raid they
saw everybody and then only about 50 and that just had on the squadron and also
the supporting structure of the squadron dentists had an immense sort of impact
because that that percentage of losses was I wouldn’t say catastrophic but if
you compare to the other bombing raids of course where they were conducted on a
completely different editions versus enormous but then talking maybe starting
to go in sort of in the casualties that were sort of caused by the attack there
was a prisoner of war camp in the area and there were labor camps at the
Germans you know had of course the production the yen part of this mission
was questioned about production and the infrastructure and the casualties were
not just German civilians or soldiers but yeah it’s sort of again it’s another
aspects that it is it’s almost twisted a little bit in terms of it being so as
well they wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for the Germans you know it sort
of twist a little bit but it’s not really our fault even though you know
it’s it’s the it’s six or seven squadron that we’re involved in the operation
that caused that and but you know we can’t lose sight of it being collateral
damage that they weren’t the you know the German civilians weren’t domain name
yeah I mean that’s not to say that they weren’t you know that they thought about
the fact that it’s not only dislocated transportation systems you know it
wasn’t a thing they weren’t blind to that they knew but yeah a lot less
laborers because the British or the RAF know about the labor camps and it is
hard to differentiate and you know it now in in retrospect you can say oh you
know it should be easy that’s the labor capital is not working
it’s a factory but in reality you have aerial photography yes and you don’t
really have well sometimes you have people on the downtime of some things
but really differentiating between these different cameras especially because
they often look so similar or they’re tied into each other yeah it’s really hard to say shifting now
over to the German side did Germany ever have an idea about attacking dams in
Britain they did yes which is what sort of made it as sort of
long foreseen consequence of the dams raid potentially barrier dangerous which
again is not really discussed because they did they looked into blowing up
some of the dams near the British so yes the Germans had considered it not in the
same depth not in the same detail as the British had I mean we’re trying to
properly believe people seem to think that the dams raid originated just with
Barnes Wallis alone that he was the one that thought oh you know what came to
attack then in the ages but I mean but in Germany they did think of it and they
did it trials it’s interesting that they were kind of thinking about the same
thing at the same time and then just the British went first and here we are but
one of the things is of course that which plane was an e4 easy that crashed
during damp after rate and the Germans actually retrieve a more or less intact
aapki bomb they interviewed they interrogated one of the prisoners of war
that they got out no he was from John Hoppy Hopgoods plane which I
can’t think of the designation right now he was the pilot that died said because
he was the pilot that was holding the Lancaster long enough virtue and so
Fraser got picked up by the Germans interrogated and he gave actually we
both saw this file in the archives the RAF of course after the war
retrieved the interrogation file and you see sort of what information was given
by Fraser and relatively through the point information to the point where the
Germans learned how many revolutions how many was it again
five hundred revolutions per minute the bomb had to spin in order to actually
have that bouncing effect the one thing that Fraser didn’t tell them which was
crucial was that the bomb had to be spun the Germans were of course well
reporting on see the bomb that way yeah so we’re spinning it that way I mean
they even knew they’d even been told by phrasing that height to fight so they
knew to fly at 60 feet yeah and they knew that it had to be that the op1 had
to start spinning so you know quite a few minutes before I’m going in for
attack and how many revolutions per minute he left that bit out well done
Fraser yeah engineered once again but yeah having already talked a little bit
of a British propaganda what was the German reaction the official reaction
and sort of going forward and trying to deal with this on a public relations
at that point um it was very much it was a reflection of how much it it scares
the Nazi leadership in that they felt that they had to be honest with the
numbers they reported in the newspapers but also that they had to be entirely
uniform there was a very set way that the reports were given which was
literally just a few sort of tiny paragraphs that appeared in the local
newspapers but they did appear because of Goebbels is fear in the local areas
that sort of you know that such alarmist rumors might spread so it was kept
undercover quite well and you know it just sort of still fit the narrative
that a lot of Germany story let’s call it a diamond cutter story but it did
really strike at you know fear into me the leadership start so Hitler called it
that disaster in the West and Albert Speer said about how you know it made a
deep impression on the few of her so of course they did have to be very careful
in what they reported it’s it’s a bit interesting because I get sort of the
impression that the leadership was very concerned and shocked whereas the local
people yes they were scared as well but since you know if you live in Hamburg or
in any big city you had your own problems to worry about now since
obviously the daylight and nighttime bombing campaign was starting to
escalate so that’s kind of an interesting contrast and also it also
mentioned that have messages before Victoria actually learned German and she
went also to the archives and looked at the original German source material so
she knows what she’s talking about -Trust me – talking then about sort of the
casualties I know there is a sort of debate on the numbers and it’s obviously
very hard to give an accurate run it but it’s sort of this accepted interval of
you know how many people actually sort of suffered by this attack from anybody
from a prisoner of war to a labor worker to somebody who was living in the area
but that also sort of I guess goes to show that how difficult it was to assess
what the actual damage was of this this attack we do have a thing an estimate of
sort of the the fact how many factors were knocked out heavily damaged I think
there’s also German report on this that we saw in the archives how was sort of
the damage on the British side how was how was it assess themselves like did
they look at it they defy every complaints over today have any kind of
post attack yes well I mean obviously you
know they had a lot of reconnaissance images that were circulating the
newspapers victory soon as they could get them out because it’s such a visual
representation of smashing at the heart of German industry you know and they
could easily replicate such images because they were so stark and so clear
that you were to see this you know the Delhi is completely running through sort
of local areas and cities so that they did soon assess it that way the the
civilians in terms of the deaths the 10,000 dead and that sort of thing
really that came from nowhere that was absolutely just you know completely
hyped up British wartime propaganda so it’s really quite difficult they they’ve
looked more at what was damaged and something like in the post-war period
with historians and a lot of people sort of point towards really sort of you know
more tangible ways of showing the destruction ignore sever the fact that
they had to drain the zorb or that who move over certain Organization Todt
laborers / away from the Atlantic Wall which of course that means the people
inside the dam buses shortened the war in that respect and that they took away
manpower from there I think is a little bit of a step but you know it’s still
it’s still a contribution to being you know measuring it in things that were to
gain that sort of information so sort of coming full circle now we’ve looked at
the German side we looked at British side now we’re now obviously the
post-war period luckily I was sort of we’re we have already also talked sort
of how it’s remembered here in the UK yeah but it might be interesting for you
know yours how is it remembered in Germany because obviously that country
experienced our shocks during the war that had to do with bombing campaigns
and obviously as a German I know that for most people that I know some some
haven’t even heard about the down Buster in it whereas maybe locally it’s more
commemorated mmm yeah no there’s definitely true I suppose in that way it
still is a bit of the Geheime Katastrophe in that the rest of Germany
still doesn’t really know about the Dambusters unless it’s all the Brits
flocking to the Mohne and Eder dams to come look at it you know but yeah it’s it’s
one of those things that it’s remembered more in the local areas because I think
it’s the sort of thing that they don’t because it’s so you know you have it’s
easy for these things to be eclipsed by the firestorms addresses can work but I
think some of it is because you know it’s in the local areas because you
still have quite a lot of eyewitnesses that were very young yeah and so a lot
of a match is still alive and as a result you know there have there has
been sort of like a trickle of testimonies coming out but they’re not
often widely shared like I’m when we find them in local newspapers it’s sort
of commemoration events rather than being wider and but there are a few
exceptions there’s an interesting exception so for example can’t filter he
wrote an article that decides which was from about 1993 or something like that
and he wrote about the impact of being in one of the local after losing it
absolutely thing and he wrote about the impact and it really went into
unprecedented detail really just how horrific it was so they had you know
sort of animal bodies in the water and there was people being completely and
utterly you know mangled and having to be straightened back out and to be
buried and just really truly horrific sort of moments that don’t really match
with the Dambusters legend which had not really looked at you know I mean it’s
the sort of thing we can’t lose sight the fact that it wasn’t intended side
effects you know it wasn’t the template says fault those doing their job but
it’s still a completely valid part of the narrative that needs to be examined
to show that you you can’t just glorify war because there’s cost events
and the interesting for aspect is that locally they actually crowdfunded the
memorial for the crashed bomber where they actually found you up keep them in
before easy which was yeah crowd funded locally in Germany for a British bomber
crew British bomber and sort of the attack Germany and UK is now I think
they are commemorating the attack together hopefully wishing that never
something like this never happens again but yeah sort of coming to conclusion
here I guess I’ll just cast up once again to Vicky sort of to have the last
words the final words before I do that however I do want to address the fact
that yes this is not a Lancaster yes it is a Halifax we are aware but I do want to thank the
the Yorkshire Air Museum here that we’re filming on their premises for allowing
us to do this and it is a great museum you definitely should check it out and
obviously we have perform an episode on the Halifax and eventually we will get a
Lancaster in the channel as well Vicki if you have anything final words to say
um I think well from my perspective I feel like the dam’s raid for me was
military worthwhile I think that it was entirely legitimate but I also think
that all aspects of the illegitimate that we should look at the suffering all
sides and all the different aspects of it because then we lose sight of
particularly in Britain you know all this great time of the war you know you
know you’ve got a bit mind but to do that to achieve that ready you know
children had to be drowned you know pilots had to be traumatized
it’s one of those things that I feel like we sometimes drift into away from
admiration to celebration and particularly with sort of you know
football grounds sort of singing and the dam Busters theme and things like that
and you know it’s a question of personal taste but I personally felt like the the
dams rate should be admired because it was a fantastic grade in terms of you
know the difficulties of flying at 60 feet and in enemy territory at night and
the glam casters that really didn’t have the airframes that could cope with that
you know the bravery of those men just insane but I do feel like we should
move more towards admiration and not celebration what well I hope you guys
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as well if you enjoyed it and as always I wish you guys a great day good hunting
and see you in the sky

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