Barnes Wallis at Reculver, 33 years on

RH10 Wallis Reculver 07.07.76 loresPic: © Ray Hepner Collection

Barnes Wallis had never been back to Reculver in Kent, the place where the final test drops of his “bouncing bomb” took place in May 1943, until he was taken there by Ray Hepner in 1976. Above, in this previously unpublished photograph taken by Ray and kindly given to me by him, he surveys the scene. Below is a still from the film sequcnce shot of the tests, now in the Imperial War Museum. Wallis is the bareheaded figure on the far left of the group. In the film, he is seen to be waving his arms as if to urge the bomb onwards.

Update: Mark Welch kindly pointed out the error in the title of my original post, “Barnes Wallis at Reculver, 43 years on”. My maths was badly wrong!

Wallis Reculver IWMPic: IWM FLM2343

See Baywatch Barnes on 19 May


It now looks as though there will be a number of events in May to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Dams Raid. I am collating a list at the moment, but in the meantime I will be happy to advertise things as and when they are notified to me.

Here is some news from Herne Bay in Kent, the nearest town to Reculver, which was the site of several test drops of the “bouncing bomb” by the RAF in 1943. These took place under the active supervision of Barnes Wallis, and he is now remembered by a statue on the seafront, shown above. There will be a “full town” commemoration on Sunday 19 May. The organisers are hoping that the BBMF Lancaster will be able to participate, as it did in a similar event ten years ago, but this is not yet confirmed.

Public meetings to mark Barnes Wallis 125th anniversary

The Annual Public Meeting of the Barnes Wallis Memorial Trust takes place this week.

This year sees the 125th Anniversary of Barnes Wallis’ birth and this year’s meeting will include three talks relating to his life:

Barnes Wallis at Home –   his daughter, Mary Stopes-Roe
Barnes Wallis, the citizen – Richard Morris,  biographer of Guy Gibson and Leonard Cheshire
Barnes Wallis and Warriors – Robert Owen, Official Historian, No. 617 Sqn Aircrew Association

The talks will all be held on 28 June 2012 at Howden School of Technology, Derwent Road, Howden, E. Yorks DN14 7AL, starting at 7 pm.

Admission is free, but a retiring collection will be held in aid of the Barnes Wallis Memorial Trust and Howden School.

Mine’s a pint

I’m rather late picking up this pub review from the Daily Telegraph, but if you are ever in the Howden area, this sounds like a good place to get your Barnes Wallis quota up to date. Plus they do portions huge enough to defeat even the hungriest of Telegraph reviewer’s companions. According to its own (idiosyncratically designed) website the Barnes Wallis Inn has extensive Barnes Wallis and Dambuster memorabilia on its walls. It would be interesting to find out what this comprises, so if any locals read this, please let me know.

Tony Iveson on Desert Island Discs

The first Desert Island Discs castaway of 2011 was an old friend of this blog, Sqn Ldr Tony Iveson. Now aged 90, he has recently been involved in the campaign for a permanent memorial for the 55,000 Bomber Command aircrew who died on active service during the war. In fact his first wartime operations were in Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. He later retrained as a bomber pilot and joined 617 Squadron a few months after the Dams Raid. He took part in three attacks on the Tirpitz, including the final one in November 1944, where the battleship was sunk after three direct hits from the Barnes Wallis-designed Tallboy bombs, dropped by crews from both 617 and 9 Squadron.
Just over a year ago, Tony Iveson flew again in a Lancaster, courtesy of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, and took the controls for a while. (I blogged about it at the time, reproducing the fine article which appeared in the Daily Telegraph.)
He discussed this experience on the radio, and told many other anecdotes about his fascinating and full life. You have until Sunday 9 January to listen again on the BBC Desert Island Discs web page, so take a look.

Shorty’s key raises £1750

It’s a completely unique artifact, of course, but you do wonder what the lucky purchaser is going to do with it… It’s the key which was used to unlock the mechanism on the only ‘live’ practice flight with the bouncing bomb, which was undertaken by Sqn Ldr M V (‘Shorty’) Longbottom on 13 May 1943.
Longbottom was an experienced RAF pilot who at that time was attached to Vickers Armstrong for test flying. He was killed in a flying accident in January 1945, while testing a new aircraft for Vickers.
His medals, and a lot of other archive material, was recently sold by Dominic Winter Auctions.
This is how Longbottom’s successful test of the Upkeep weapon is described in John Sweetman’s The Dambusters Raid (Cassell, 2002, p.94.):

Abandoning Reculver for security reasons, [Longbottom] flew south-west to north-east and dropped a Torpex-filled and fully armed Upkeep from 75ft five miles off Broadstairs. Spinning at 500rpm, it bounced seven times over ‘almost 800 yards’ without deviation. For this trial the theodolite camera was positioned ashore on the North Foreland almost broadside to the aircraft’s track, and Handasyde [another test pilot] flew the other Lancaster at 1,000ft and 1,000 yards away from Longbottom, with two cameramen aboard to operate the normal-speed camera. Handasyde had Gibson as observer, and Wynter-Morgan flew in Longbottom’s rear turret to watch the behaviour of the mine after release as it slowed to 55mph behind the aircraft.
The film of this test showed that the water-spout when the mine exploded rose to about 500ft above Handasyde’s aircraft, and the estimated depth of detonation was about 33ft. For all concerned the day was eminently successful.

Barnes Wallis in Hendon

Photo by mickb6265

It’s a long time since I’ve had a proper look around the RAF Museum in Hendon, North London. On my last visit I was in a rush to get to the research library upstairs. So I’ve missed the fact that there is a re-creation of Barnes Wallis’s office in the exhibition hall, complete with his real drawing board and other paraphernalia. From this picture it looks as though the famous photograph of the Möhne lake after the dam was broken is hanging in the corner. Wallis brought this to the party in the Hungaria restaurant after the Buckingham Palace investiture ceremony, where it was signed by most of the surviving aircrew who took part in the raid.

Full set of mickb’s pictures are here on Flickr.

Barnes Wallis, Bouncing Bomb Man

Happy New Year to all readers! Those of us based in Britain and Ireland are presently enduring a cold snap which will soon equal that of 1963, a year which I am almost afraid to say I remember quite well. Snow that lasted from Boxing Day to March, walking to school on frozen paths, pouring kettles of boiling water down frozen waste pipes, huddling around the kitchen radiator (the only one in the house). As we lived in suburban Buckinghamshire, it wasn’t quite Monty Python’s four Yorkshiremen, but it was tough.
But here’s something to take your mind off the cold and enliven your Dambusters experience. Dr Iain Murray of the University of Dundee has long had an interest in Barnes Wallis and the science behind the Dams Raid, and has now published a book, Bouncing-Bomb Man, which I hope to read shortly. He’s also set up a very useful website, which you can find here.

Barnes Wallis exhibition in Goole

Should you find yourself in the East Riding town of Goole in the next few weeks (and why wouldn’t you want to go there?) then head on down to Goole Museum and take a look at the free exhibition about the work of Barnes Wallis, which opens today. As the press release explains, Wallis was responsible for many other invention, often overlooked, beside the so-called ‘bouncing bomb’:

Widely celebrated for his wartime work on the Wellington bomber and the so-called ‘bouncing bomb’ used on the ‘Dambusters’ raid on the Ruhr dams, his other successes have often been overlooked.  During the mid-1920s, Barnes Wallis was based at Howden, working on the successful R100 airship project there. The Yorkshire Howden connection is the starting point for this exhibition, which also covers not only his military work, but his subsequent investigations into supersonic flight, and projects as diverse as the Parkes Telescope in Australia, de-icing systems for Arctic trawlers, and lightweight calipers for polio victims.

The exhibition runs until the end of January – an ideal day trip for the holiday season!