If you enjoyed the ‘bouncing bomb’ documentary on Channel 4 earlier this month then you will be pleased to know that the engineers involved, Hugh Hunt and Hilary Costello, will be speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival on Sunday 12 June. Details here. Apparently it will cover extra material that didn’t appear in the documentary itself, so it could be well worth the six quid it will cost you to attend!
If this is your first visit to the only Dambusters blog on the interwebnet, you are very welcome. You may well have arrived here after watching the Channel 4 documentary on Monday 2 May, in which modern engineers rebuilt a working ‘bouncing bomb’. This was previewed in various articles, one of which you can see here from the Daily Telegraph.
This blog tries to keep people up to date with Dambusters news from around the world. And because WordPress tells me the search questions which people have asked to arrive at the blog I know that there are two subjects which are likely to be uppermost in your mind.
1. What is happening to the remake of The Dam Busters?
Back in 2006 the producer Peter Jackson announced that he was to remake the classic 1955 film, The Dam Busters. A director, Christian Rivers, was assigned to the project, and a script was commissioned from British national treasure Stephen Fry. Jackson and several other sources have said several times that the project is still ongoing. The script is finished, at least one full size model Lancaster has been built, and test filming has been undertaken. But the Jackson team, based in his native New Zealand, are currently preoccupied with several other projects, notably The Hobbit, and it is now quite obvious that The Dam Busters is lower down the schedule than they have let on.
2. How many of the original Dam Busters are still alive?
I am happy to report that four of the aircrew who took part in the raid in May 1943 are alive and well. One, Grant MacDonald, who lives in Vancouver, Canada, visited the Windfall Films/Channel 4 team while they were making the documentary last October. He was the rear gunner in Ken Brown’s crew in AJ-F. Also living in Canada is Fred Sutherland, front gunner in the crew which dropped the bomb which broke the Eder Dam, Les Knight’s AJ-N. The only pilot still with us is Les Munro, who captained AJ-W on the raid. He lives in his native New Zealand, and has been reported as being involved in the Jackson remake project as a technical advisor. And finally, of course, there is George (“Johnny”) Johnson, bomb aimer in Joe McCarthy’s AJ-T, who lives in Devon and who was interviewed for the C4 documentary..
My own involvement in the Dambusters story is that my uncle, David Maltby, was the pilot of AJ-J on the raid, and dropped the fifth ‘bouncing bomb’ which made the final breach in the Möhne Dam. He and his entire crew were killed four months later, returning from an aborted attack on the Dortmund Ems Canal. David is buried in St Andrew’s Church in Wickhambreaux, Kent. You can read more about David and his crew on my other website, or in my book, Breaking the Dams, which was published in May 2008.
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.
Here’s a bigger and better version of one of the pictures snapped recently in Mackenzie, British Columbia. It shows the bouncing bomb underneath a vintage DC4 (not DC3, sorry!) of Buffalo Air. See below for the full story.
No word yet when the production company involved, Windfall Films, expect to release the documentary. All they would tell us is that it will be ‘sometime next year’.
Great excitement in Mackenzie, British Columbia, Canada which is nearly 600 miles from Vancouver and an even longer distance from anywhere else. This small township lies on the southern end of Williston Lake, a huge man-made lake, the seventh largest reservoir in the world.
The lake is more than 150 miles in length – plenty of space in which an aircraft can practice flying low over water. And that is what one Canadian pilot working has been doing over the last few weeks.
That’s because a film crew has been in town. They have been working for the British company Windfall Films, which is making a new documentary about the Dams Raid. (A while back, the same company made an earlier film about the raid.) You might think that not a lot more can be said about this (a recent BBC documentary promising new information produced little) but it seems that no one has ever tried making a cylindrical bomb, rotating it backwards and dropping it from an aircraft flying at 240mph from a height of 60 feet. Until now.
There are now only two airworthy Lancasters left in the world. However, there are quite a few more of their 1940s contemporary, the Douglas DC3, which has proved so durable that they are still actively used by a number of small airlines. One of these is Buffalo Air, an outfit which flies out of Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territories, a thousand miles north east of Mackenzie. This company’s staff are well used to the demands of filming as they star in a reality TV show, Ice Pilots. So Windfall chose them for the attempt to recreate the dambusting bomb, and had a dummy bomb and release mechanism built.
A number of test flights were undertaken, with the pilot reporting that he had no problem getting the plane down to 6o feet above the lake, although he wouldn’t have wanted to try it at night.
The bomb was spun up before take off, reaching a speed of about 2000 rpm. By the time the aircraft had taken off and reached the lake it was still spinning. Everything then went swimmingly – the bomb was dropped, it bounced three or four times, ran up to the parapet wall which it struck just above the waterline and then rolled down the wall. No word yet when Windfall expect to show the film. We will keep you informed!
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!
There are several of the prototype bouncing bombs used in the training for the Dams Raid displayed around the country, but the good news is that there is now one more, at thr Newark Air Museum. (Strictly, this is actually the one previously on display in York, so it doesn’t count as a ‘new’ one.)
It joins a growing list of Dambuster/Barnes Wallis related artifacts on display in Newark:
– A Lancaster fuselage section from a 9 Squadron aircraft W4964, which dropped a Barnes Wallis designed Tallboy bomb on the Tirpitz battleship;
– A memorial plaque loaned to the museum by Jan van den Driesschen, who tends Guy Gibson and Jim Warwick’s graves in Holland [Gibson was leader of the Dambusters Raid and Warwick was an Instructor from 1661 HCU at RAF Winthorpe and he was also Gibson’s navigator on the flight when they were killed]
– A propeller blade from Lancaster AJ-S flown by Pilot Officer Louis Burpee, which was shot down in Holland in wave 3 of the Dambusters Raid
If you are in the area it may be worth a visit!