Dams raid: a German eyewitness account

This moving account of what it was like on the night in May 1943 when 19 Lancaster bombers brought the war to a valley in the Ruhr has been recently published in a New Zealand magazine. The people who still live in the village below the Möhne Dam hold an annual church service, and have published a brochure with personal stories of what happened to them when the dam was breached.

The dignified way in which many Germans continue to remember this particular event, and many others, contrasts with the puerile approach to the war’s key moments which are taken by many Brits. For instance, a recent episode of the BBC Top Gear programme spiced up a motoring competition with its German equivalents with countless references to the war. The series of races were held “in that traditional location for Anglo-German disagreements – Belgium”, the British presenters arrived in three Spitfires, named the teams in one of the races as the “Allies” and the “Axis” and generally behaved like a bunch of upper class football hooligans. 

I await the comments, which I’m sure will come, accusing me of having no sense of humour. Not true… there’ve been many things on TV about the war which I’ve found funny. The classic Carling lager ad is an obvious example, because it’s clever and has a lovely final twist when the flight engineer removes his oxygen mask and speaks. But it isn’t it time we called a halt to boorish remarks about who won the war, especially from people who are too young to have experienced it directly?

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3 thoughts on “Dams raid: a German eyewitness account

  1. Mike Ryan April 4, 2009 / 11:30 am

    Totally agree with your comments about Top Gear but unfortunately it isn’t just upper class twits: it’s also tabloid newspapers such as the Sun.

    I visited the Möhne Dam in 1999. It was a very moving experience being at the actual place where these events took place, having seen the film umpteen times, firstly in the 1950s.

    Please could you give the name of the village. I go to Germany regularly and might go back to the Möhnesee. Is it Himmelpforten (The Gates of Heaven), mentioned in Paul Brickhill’s book?

    At the Möhnesee there is very little to show that the dam was attacked during the war but at the Edersee there is a museum with lots of exhibits. There is a film about the raid with a commentary in German. Every so often a British person is interviewed and, of course, speaks in English but a voiceover quickly starts with a German translation! The film really lays on the destruction and death caused by the breaching of the Eder dam.

    During the 1960s my wife (before I met her) went on a school exchange to a town near the Edersee. All the pupils stayed with German families. Her friend stayed with a family who took her to the Edersee and made it quite clear that they felt very bitterly about the raid.

    On the other hand, when we visited the Möhnesee we stayed in a guesthouse in Neheim (badly damaged when the dam burst) and the owner was very affable towards us.

    I only came across this site today as I was looking for information about the Dortmund-Ems canal. I am reading a book called “With the Jocks” and have got to the point where they arrived at the Dortmund Ems canal to find it fairly empty.

    • Alan Ashburner January 8, 2013 / 11:19 pm

      Hopgood’s Lancaster did not crash at Himmelpforten.
      It crashed approx 6km N.W. of the Mohne Dam between Sieveringen and Ostonnen. There is now an Autobahn running East/West between these two places. The crash site is just south of this Autobahn in a small copse of trees. I have pretty accurate details on most Operation Chastise crash sites. I am going to the Mohne for the 70th Anniversary and will visit at least 3 of these crash sites. I am very happy to share info I have for these crash sites. Send me an email: allymash@yahoo.com

      Alan Ashburner

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