‘Return of the Dambusters’ to air on C4 in May

Channel 4 has now announced that its documentary about the recreation of the Dams Raid will be aired on Monday 2 May at 8pm. in May. No exact date has yet been given, but my guess that sometime around the raid’s anniversary on 16/17 May will be a good bet.
The story has been carried in this week’s Broadcast magazine. The content is behind a paywall, but I have reproduced extracts here:

Channel 4 has recreated the WWII mission to destroy two German dams that was immortalised in classic film The Dam Busters.
The Return Of The Dambusters (working title) is a 1 x 120-minute special from Windfall Films in which a team of experts attempt to use replicas of the famous ‘bouncing bombs’ to destroy a purpose-built, 130ft by 30ft concrete dam.
The film uses a modified Douglas DC4 aircraft built in WWII, which is a similar size and reaches the same top speed as the Lancaster bombers that gained notoriety [sic!] for obliterating the dams in Germany’s industrial heartland.
Cambridge engineer Dr Hugh Hunt, who has appeared as an expert on a stunt special of Channel 5’s Fifth Gear, led the mission, co-ordinating engineers, explosives experts, mechanics and aircrew.
The team behind the recreation of the 1943 mission also had fewer resources and less time than the WWII team.
Ian Duncan, director of Windfall Films, said: “By attempting to recreate a near-impossible WWII mission, this encompasses everything from ingenious resourcefulness to high-octane suspense.
The Return Of The Dambusters will give viewers a vivid insight into a momentous part of our history, with a fascinating approach into reconstructing the bouncing bomb and building a model of the Möhne Dam.”

Readers of this blog will recall that we ran several stories about the making of the documentary last October, while the TV crew was in Canada. (See here, here and here.)

Below you can see a picture of the bomb attached to the Dakota DC4 (thanks dg!) before it was dropped:

Those involved went to ground for a while but recently the project’s chief engineer, Dr Hugh Hunt, from the University of Cambridge, surfaced and gave a lecture on the engineering principles behind the bomb. (Hat tip, Stephen Cooke)
I’d welcome a report from anyone in the Cambridge area who attended the lecture.

Dambusters Declassified discussed

The Dambusters Declassified documentary shown on BBC a couple of weeks ago wasn’t widely reviewed in the national press, but has been the subject of debate on a number of internet forums. One of these discussions, on a forum widely frequented by modern day pilots, had a surprising intervention from the film’s producer, Ian Cundall. Posting under the pretty cool name of ‘TVflyer’ he explained that they only had a short time to fix up the camera shots, so couldn’t get an exterior view of what it felt like to fly only 100 feet above the ground.
He countered the grumbles from some quarters that there was ‘nothing new’ in the programme:

Some of the stories told in the film are well known to aviation historians but – I’d suggest – not to most general viewers who base their knowledge of the raid on the movie.

That’s my view now, some time after transmission. When the programme finished my immediate conclusion was exactly that – there was nothing in it that I hadn’t read or heard about already. But some of the material which was used has only been previously published in pretty obscure books. One example is the story of how shot-down bomb aimer John Fraser was interrogated by the Germans, which to the best of my knowledge has only been discussed in detail in Helmuth Euler’s The Dams Raid through the Lens. It took a certain degree of bravery for his daughter Shere – a doughty defender of her father’s memory – to stand in front of a camera and say that he did reveal some details of how the weapon worked.
The only bit of the documentary which got picked up in the national press was the interview with Margaret Masters, the woman Guy Gibson was seeing in the run up to the Dams Raid. Again, this is well known to aficionados, as she was interviewed at length by Richard Morris for his 1994 biography of Gibson. But she has never spoken on camera before, which led the Mail on Sunday to cobble together a predictably  sensationalist story based entirely on quotes from the programme.
What I think didn’t work was the use of Martin Shaw as a front man for the film. He’s a good enough actor, and has a private pilot’s licence, but I don’t think this necessarily qualifies him to ‘investigate’ on our behalf. There are real experts who could have fronted the programme – one, John Sweetman, appeared as an interviewee – but, of course, they are not as good box office as a hunky middle aged actor in serious spectacles, which he was able to take off several times with a theatrical flourish.
Shaw was also absent for some parts of the film – a woman’s voice could be heard during one of the interviews – and this betrays the fact that some parts were cobbled together from other BBC projects. Long term readers of this blog will know that as far back as June 2009 a BBC South West researcher had contacted me looking for information about the youngest Dambuster, rear gunner Jack Liddell. The last 15 minutes or so of Dambusters Declassified appeared to be made up of this material, tacked onto the end of Martin Shaw’s description of the difficulties of low flying.
Ultimately, it was a serious programme, with some interesting material, and well worth catching again if you can find it on iPlayer or other sources.

It’s big, and it bounces

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’.

Bouncing bombs, 2010 style

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!

One for the diary

Coming to a TV screen near you sometime in the autumn is a new production from BBC North and BBC Lincolnshire. This features actor Martin Shaw, sometime screen heartthrob Raymond Doyle, as he pilots a light aircraft over the route to the dams and tries out the technology used 67 years ago. It focuses mainly on how well the wooden bombsight and other instruments used at the time stand up today. We are promised new evidence ‘which reveals secrets which have remained hidden for the last 67 years’. It will be interesting to find out what this is!
Full transmission details will be posted shortly.
Video trailer for the programme here.

Tonight at 8

Just a quick note to say that UK residents with access to Channel Five can see the documentary ‘Last of the Dambusters: Revealed’ again tonight at 8pm. It features one of the (now only four) surviving Dambusters, George ‘Johnny’ Johnson and his trip to France as a team of aircraft excavators dig up the Lancaster in which he flew on the Dams Raid. Later, he travels to the Sorpe Dam to see how the area has changed in the 65 years since the raid. He also meets people from the surrounding villages.
I’ve blogged about this programme before, when it was first shown in 2008 and when it was posted on Youtube.

Only original part from Dambuster Lancaster goes on display

TH1_2392009409093 K486Pic: Grantham Journal

I might be wrong, but I think this is the only original part of a Dambuster Lancaster on public display anywhere in the world. Eleven Lancasters got back from the original Operation Chastise but those that survived the rest of the war were all scrapped in the late 1940s. This bit of rusty twisted metal is the gunner’s mount and hatch from the rear of Lancaster ED825, which was flown by Joe McCarthy on the Dams Raid. Almost seven months later it was being piloted by Flt Lt George Weeden on an operation to send ammunition and supplies to the French resistance when it was shot down near Doulens in France.
The story of its excavation, by a team which included Dams Raid expert Alex Bateman, was told in the Channel Five documentary, misleadingly titled The Last of the Dambusters, shown on British screens last year. Sqn Ldr George (Johnny) Johnson, bomb-aimer in McCarthy’s crew, accompanied the team on their journey.
The hatch will join the other Dambuster exhibits – many of them from the collection of 617 Squadron adjutant Harry Humphries – on display at the Grantham Museum. Well worth a visit!

‘Last of the Dambusters’ on Youtube

I posted about this interesting (although misleadingly titled) documentary last year, when it was shown on British terrestrial TV. It shows the journey made by Sqn Ldr George (Johnny) Johnson, bomb aimer in Joe McCarthy’s AJ-T, to visit the site in Germany at which his Dambuster Lancaster crashed six months after the Dams Raid. Here it is on Youtube, in five parts.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5


The youngest Dambuster

Jack_LiddellThe youngest airman to take part in the Dams Raid was Sgt Jack Liddell, rear gunner in the crew of AJ-E, piloted by Flt Lt Norman Barlow. He was 18 when he took part in the raid, and lost his life along with the rest of the crew when their aircraft crashed on the outward flight near Haldern in Holland. His remains were reburied after the war in Reichswald War Cemetery
Not a lot is known about Liddell other than the material on the Bombercrew.com website (from which I have taken this photo, credited to Eric Rundle). His parents lived in the well-known holiday resort of Weston-super-Mare in Somerset. 
Jack Liddell is thought to have joined the RAF when he was only 16 (he must have lied about his age) and had undertaken a number of operations with Barlow in 61 Squadron. 
BBC South West are now looking to put together a short film about Jack Liddell, and hoping to find some connections with his pre-war life in Somerset. If you can help, please contact the researcher, Charlotte Lewis.