Say the name “Lancaster” to most people in the street and chances are it will conjure up two distinct images. The historic Northern city with it’s Castle, rich heritage and internationally renowned University. And of course, the name of Britain’s most illustrious and celebrated Bomber Plane, made famous by it’s “Bouncing Bomb” missions during World War II.
May 2013 marks the 70th anniversary since 617 squadron took to the air in a “Lancaster” heading for the Ruhr Valley armed with a revolutionary bomb, (devised by the great inventor Sir Barnes E Wallace), with the primary aim to destroy the great Dams and industrial heart of Hitler’s Germany. “Operation Chastise” was an audacious plan to break down the infrastructure of the industrial factories in central Germany, with “The Bouncing Bomb” which had been devised and tested under great secrecy in Kent and Chesil Beach.
The Lancaster was the obvious bomber to carry out such a daring mission, which involved flying at high speed just 60ft above the water, releasing the barrel shaped bomb which weighed 9,250 pounds and then pulling up just 400 yards before reaching the dam, allowing the bomb to bounce over the torpedo nets and destroy it’s target. The Lancaster’s chosen for this mission though were stripped of their usual armour, mid-machine gun, and even the rear bay doors to ensure the plane could carry the huge explosive device. Guy Gibson who was part of the first wave of attacks famously said “At that height, you would only have to hiccough and you would be in the drink” Therefore this mission, was not only revolutionary, but also extremely dangerous.
Gibson’s Lancaster dropped the first bomb, but failed to reach it’s target. John Hopgood’s run shortly after did though hit the Mohne dam whilst Gibson repeatedly flew over the dam to draw away enemy fire. Later that night, the Mohne and Eder dams were both completely destroyed and Gibson radioed HQ with the news that the dam had been breached and he could see a gap of 150 metres long and “a torrent of water that looked like porridge”. Aerial photographs of the breached dams were circulated in the British Press, precipitating a rush of national pride.
Whilst the true destructive effectiveness of the missions is still debated, the propaganda was undoubtedly priceless. And everyone will always remember 617 squadron, and the Lancaster Bomber as some of the finest heroes of World War II
This month, Lancaster House, which proudly boasts a print signed by many of the pilots who flew the Lancaster as part of it’s large collection of World War II Aviation images, is celebrating the achievements of this historic Airplane and Bomber Squadron. We’ve dedicated an area of reception to display information about those daring missions, and of course, for a limited time only we will be selling Lancaster Bomber Beer, made by Lancashire Brewers Thwaites.
So, join us in toasting “The Lancaster” and the brave men of 617 squadron this month!
- Written by: +Kris Littlewood