Operation Chastise took place during the night of 16-17 May 1943 and was meant to destroy dams in the industrial Rühr region. Bouncing bombs designed by Barnes Wallis were dropped by specially-modified Lancasters led by Guy Gibson, and succeeded in breaching two of the three dams. Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the raid.
The Raid: First Wave
Final briefing for the crews began at 6pm. Gibson introduced Barnes Wallis and gave the crews details of the targets and full details of the plans. The first wave of nine aircraft were destined for the Möhne, Sorpe and Eder dams and they would leave the grounds in three groups of three at 10 minute intervals. The second wave comprising five Lancasters would fly straight to the Sorpe whilst the third wave of five aircraft would take off 2½ hours later to act as a backup.
The briefing took two hours and all crew came away with full details of their tasks for the night.
View the operational order in PDF format by following this link: Operations Record Book
Details of the crews take off times and other information as it was recorded in the squadron operational record book after the raid are available in the operational record book
At 21:28 hours the first aircraft of the second wave (AJ-E) started its take off run. As the second wave was taking a northerly route to the targets they had a longer flight path and consequently left the ground before the first wave. Operation Chastise had begun.
All of the aircraft took off normally. Flight Lieutenant Joe McCarthy in AJ-Q was not able however to take off. His pre-flight checks revealed a coolant leak in the number 4 engine and consequently the whole crew changed to one of the reserve aircraft AJ-T and suffered a 20 minute delay in doing so. At 21:39 Gibsons Lancaster took off. The first wave passed through the Balkan area they encountered heavy flak and intense searchlight activity. This caused Gibson to break radio silence and issue a flak warning which Five Group rebroadcast to all the aircraft shortly afterwards with a detailed position report. There was also heavy flak to the north of Hamme on the approach to the railway marshalling yards.
Gibson arrived over the Möhne reservoir at 00:15 hours. The aircraft assembled in an anti-clockwise holding pattern 10 km south of Völlinghaussen whilst Gibson called AJ-B on the radio. Astell and his crew were already dead, but he did not know this. Gibson took a few moments to assess the target and its defences. It appeared to be as he had been briefed with three light flak batteries on the dam wall and three more in the valley. Gibson confirmed the attack would be carried out as planned by radio. Using the VHF radio Gibson assigned five of the remaining eight Lancasters to the attack. Gibson prepared for his run in, the weapon already having been spun up to speed by his W/Op. He first made a dummy run towards the dam to get the lie of the land. He flew through the flak fire before reporting on the VHF that “he liked the look of it”.
The attack run had been planned to allow the aircraft time to organise their direction, height and speed before crossing a spit of land that jutted out into the lake and becoming visible to the opposing flak guns. His Lancaster turned out of the holding pattern and directly towards the dam face over the landmark spit of land that guided the run in. His bomb was dropped at 00.28hrs and was watched by the rear gunner yo bounce three times before exploding against the dam face and throwing a vast column of water into the air. The bomb had struck approximately 150ft off the centre of the face of the dam and the dam had not collapsed.
Maudslay then came in again and he released his Upkeep during his second approach. He dropped his weapon slightly too late and it hit the crest of the dam and exploded with a brilliant flash lighting up the countryside for miles around. The explosion occurred right behind Maudslays Lancaster which had just crossed the crest of the dam, and Gibson tried to raise him on the VHF. Other crew members reported hearing a weak unnatural, almost dismembered voice in reply and at the time it was believed that Maudslay had crashed, his aircraft having been damaged by the blast. In practice, however he had struggled away with a damaged aircraft and started on the return journey, but he was shot down by light flak at 02:36 at Emmerich-Klein-Netterdn. Maudslay and all of his crew died.
AJ-N, piloted by Les Knight was then ordered to make its approach. The bomb bounced three times and struck the dam to the south of the centre and exploded with Gibson flying alongside to suppress the flak. The blast visibly shook the whole dam and then the central wall collapsed, allowing thousands of cubic yards of water to roar through the breach.
Lancaster Mk III type 464 provisioning, S/L Maudslay, No 617 Squadron RAF, Opera
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