THE DAMS RAID - Through The Lens
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THE DAMS RAID - Through The Lens
The story of the attack on the Möhne and Eder dams in the Ruhr has been recounted many times before but not until now has it been told from the German side. Helmuth Euler has spent over a third of a century studying the raid and its consequencies, collecting an unrivalled archive of documents and photographs, and producing documentary films on the attack. His book Wasserkrieg (literally 'Water-war'), published in Germany in 1992, has now been translated and adapted for this After the Battle edition in the 'Through the Lens' series.
The waters of the Ruhr were essential for the manufacture of steel and hence for the German armament industry as a whole. This, coupled with the hydro-electric power which they generated, made the dams controlling these waters a tempting target, and British military planners at the Air Ministry in London were considering their destruction as far back as 1937. Six dams on the Möhne, Sorpe, Ennepe, Lister, Diemel and Eder rivers figured on Bomber Command's target list - the first five due to their importance to the steel industry and the latter because of its role in controlling water levels along the River Weser and the Mittelland Canal, both of which were linked to the inland waterways supplying war materials throughout the Reich and to the Eastern Front. If the reservoirs could be emptied of water, together with the elimination of the power plants, the German war machine would be delivered a body-blow . . . or at least that was the theory.
Barnes Wallis was not the first to consider the problem but his was the brilliant idea that led to the breaching the dams. The plan gave rise to the formation of No. 617 Squadron, an elite unit under Wing Commander Guy Gibson, for precision bombing and special operations involving a high degree of flying risk. The night of May 16/17, 1943, saw the opening of 'the Water Front' as bouncing bombs ripped open the giant Möhne and Eder dams during spectacular low-level attacks. During the course of Germany's longest night, some 1,400 people lost their lives — the largest number of victims in the air war to date. Eight of the 19 Lancasters that took off on Operation 'Chastise' failed to return with the loss of 56 crewmen.
Dozens of road and railway bridges were swept away, hundreds of buildings destroyed, waterworks and power stations put out of action, and almost 200 square kilometres of land flooded and laid waste. However, weapon production in the Ruhr continued unhindered and the strategic advantage sought by the Allies failed to materialise. The German authorities imposed a strict censorship on the drama which had taken place and the names of the dams were omitted from the daily reports of the Wehrmacht High Command.
The author's sources include official records recently released from international archives and the statements of witnesses who played leading roles in the planning and execution of the raid. From the German side, there are accounts from those who experienced the misery in the river valleys. The attack on the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe dams made world history: now over 400 rare photographs, documents and compelling eyewitness accounts show the background and consequences of one of the greatest catastrophes to strike Germany in the 20th century.
- Dam-building in the Ruhrgebiet
- Air Attacks on Reservoirs and Dams
- Barnes Wallis Goes to War
- The Targets
- A Brilliant Idea
- Squadron X
- Aerial Reconnaissance
- First Wave against the Möhne and Eder dams
- Primary Target X: The Möhne dam
- Hidden Target Y: The Eder dam
- Second Wave against the Sorpe
- The Airborne reserve the Lister, Ennepe and Diemel dams
- Confusion: Ennepe or Bever dam?
- Congratulations in Britain
- Death Valley
- Reaction in Germany
- The Awards
- Repercussions in Germany
- 50th Anniversary