There were many important raids carried out by Allied crews against the Axis powers during World War II but few have captured the imagination of the public like Operation Chastise. Carried out by the specially formed No.617 Squadron flying the Avro Lancaster and led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar, the operation aimed to breach the Edersee, Möhne and Sorpe dams which would result in the catastrophic flooding of the strategically important Ruhr Valley.
In order to breach the dams, the Lancasters utilised the now famous “bouncing bomb” designed by the gifted engineer Barnes Wallis. As its name suggests, this weapon bounced on the surface of the water over the defensive torpedo nets the Germans had laid before hitting the dam wall. It then dropped down to the base of the dam where it exploded for maximum effectiveness. Deploying the weapon was extremely dangerous for the crews who had to fly at just 60ft above the water at the time of release or the weapon would fail. Afterwards, No.617 squadron would forever be remembered as “the dam busters”.
While historians continue to debate the success of the mission, few would deny the boost it gave to British and Allied morale in those dark days. May 16th 2018 marks the 75th anniversary of this incredible mission.
Filmed at the Royal Air Force Museum, Falklands War Veteran Simon Weston CBE talks with George ‘Johnny’ Johnson, the last remaining member of the dambusters about his experience during Operations Chastise.
In the fourth of the RAF Centre for Air Power Studies rarely-seen before historic ‘leadership’ themed videos, Air Vice-Marshal Don ‘Pathfinder’ Bennett CB CBE DSO is interviewed by Group Captain (later Air Vice-Marshal) Tony Mason CB CBE DL at the RAF Staff College, Bracknell, December 1980.
During the interview, Air Vice-Marshal Bennett discusses his experiences in the field of aerial navigation which eventually led to the formation of the legendary Pathfinder squadrons during WWII. Air Vice-Marshal Bennett transferred to the RAF from the Royal Australian Air Force in 1931 in order to broaden his flying experience. Although a gifted pilot in single-seat fighters, he had the ambition to fly large aircraft and subsequently transferred to Calshot to fly the Southampton, then the largest aircraft in the RAF.
During his time on the Flying Boats, he developed a passion for navigation, becoming an instructor before leaving the RAF to join Imperial Airways where he helped to develop many of the pioneering techniques that would later become commonplace. He re-joined the RAF in 1941, going on to command 77 Squadron, 10 Squadron and subsequently No. 8 (Pathfinder Force) Group. When he was promoted to Air Vice-Marshal in December 1943 he was the youngest person ever to hold the rank. He was considered by many to be ‘one of the most brilliant technical airmen of his generation: an outstanding pilot, a superb navigator who was also capable of stripping a wireless set or overhauling an engine’.
His book, The Complete Air Navigator: Covering the Syllabus for the Flight Navigator’s Licence, was considered by many to be the seminal text on the subject of aerial navigation when it was published in 1936. Viewers are asked to make allowance for the 1980s video quality as the subject matter is outstanding and adds significantly to the understanding of the history of the RAF.
In the second of the RAF Centre for Air Power Studies rarely-seen before historic ‘leadership’ themed videos, Battle of Britain legend Group Captain Sir Hugh ‘Cocky’ Dundas CBE DSO* DFC presents his thoughts on ‘Leadership in War’ followed by an informal question and answer session at an after-dinner speech given circa 1991 at the RAF Staff College, Bracknell.
Group Captain Sir Hugh Dundas joined the Royal Auxiliary Air Force as an acting-pilot officer in 1938 before being called up to active service upon the outbreak of the Second World War. Initially he served on 616 Squadron flying Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Is during the Battle of Britain fighting ‘hard and fiercely’ throughout. He went on to serve as a squadron commander and then subsequently as wing leader and had, by 1944, become one of the youngest Group Captains in the RAF at the age of just 24. In combat against the enemy he is credited with four aircraft destroyed while having shared in the destruction of another six as well as two probables.
He left the RAF in 1947 to pursue a successful career in the media. He has also published an autobiography, Flying Start: A Fighter Pilot’s War Years, describing his wartime experiences in great detail. In 1969 he was appointed Deputy Lieutenant for Surrey and in 1989 High Sheriff. Dundas married Enid Rosamond Lawrence in 1950 and together they had a son and two daughters.
In this interview, Wing Commander Roland Prosper “Bee” Beamont, CBE, DSO*, DFC* talks about his experiences during the Second World War with Group Captain (Retd) J P (Phil) Dacre MBE DL RAF at the RAF Staff College, Bracknell in April 1991.
Wing Commander Beamont served as a fighter pilot with Fighter Command from the start of the War until he was shot down and captured in October 1944 on his 492nd operational mission. After the War, Wing Commander Beamont went on to become a leading test pilot on aircraft such as the Meteor, Vampire, Canberra, Lightning and even the ill-fated TSR.2 as well as writing several books. He passed away just over ten years after this interview on November 19th 2001.
A fascinating look at the journey one pilot took from civilian street to being on the squadron flying an RAF Phantom in the early 1970s. Narrated by the distinctive Patrick Allen who is perhaps best known for narrating the notorious Protect and Survive films, the documentary contains some stunning glimpses at the RAF’s training aircraft of the time including;
De Havilland Chipmunks and Jet Provosts introducing the new pilot to flying.
Folland Gnats flying low through the Welsh valleys.
Hawker Hunters carrying out some impressively accurate shooting with SNEB rockets.
Finally, of course we get a look not just at the Phantom FG.1 but of life on the squadron for a newly qualified pilot.