IT was 75 years ago today that 617 Squadron of Bomber Command of the RAF returned to their base at Scampton in Lincolnshire having carried out the most famous air raid in history, and from that day on they were known as the Dambusters.

Officially known as Operation Chastise, the raid on the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams in the industrial Ruhr region in the early hours of May 17, 1943, involved remarkable feats of flying not to mention the extraordinary genius of the scientist Barnes Wallis, who designed the bouncing bomb that destroyed two of the dams.

The courage of the Dambusters was also extraordinary because they took off knowing their chances of not surviving were very high.

Of the 19 aircraft which took off, only 11 managed to press home their attacks, and eight failed to return. Some 53 of the 133 men on the raid were killed, and three were shot down to be made prisoners of war.


A DOZEN native Scots took part in the raid. Here with their ranks at the time are the Scottish contingent: Sgt (flight engineer) Bob Henderson from Ayr, who survived the war and died in 1961; Plt Off George Deering, born in Kirkintilloch and raised in Canada, who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross but was killed in a later raid; Sgt (flight engineer) John Kinnear, Newport-on-Tay, killed on raid; Plt Off George Gregory from Govan in Glasgow, killed on raid; Flt Off Grant Rumbles from Kirtlebridge, Dumfriesshire, who survived the war; Sgt (flight engineer) Alistair Taylor from Alves, Morayshire, killed on raid; Flt Sgt James McDowell from Glasgow, killed on raid; Flt Sgt Charles Jarvie from Glasgow, killed on raid; Flt Off (navigator) Richard McFarlane, Glasgow, killed on a later raid; Flt Sgt Thomas Johnston from Bellshill, killed on raid; Sgt (flight engineer) Robert Paterson from Edinburgh, killed in a later raid; Flt Sgt George Chalmers from Peterhead was awarded a bar to his existing Distinguished Flying Medal and survived the war.


WALLIS was played by Michael Redgrave in The Dam Busters movie, and the actor bore a remarkable physical resemblance to the mild-mannered but determined scientist who had been designing bombers and bombs long before the war. The bouncing bomb idea really did come from his experiments with marbles shot across his garden pond, and he really did work out the height and speed that the Lancaster bombers had to fly at. Wallis later went on to design the Tallboy and Grand Slam bombs that wreaked havoc on German infrastructure.


SOME 80 Dambusters survived the raid. Guy Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross but along with 31 other survivors he was killed later in the war. Only 48 men who took part in the raid survived the war.

Some of the Scots in the squadron who could not make the dams raid for sickness reasons took part in Operation Garlic, the unsuccessful raid on the Dortmund-Ems Canal on September 14-16, 1943, and were killed when five of the eight 617 aircraft were shot down.

Only two of the men who took part in the raid are still alive – George Jonny Johnson, aged 96, and Fred Sutherland, 94. The latter was one of the Canadians who took part in the raid.


THERE were huge casualties in the Mohne region. Officially 1294 people died, including 749 “foreigners” of whom 493 were Ukranian women labourers, ordered back to their camp for safety when the air raid warnings were sounded.

Some 47 people died in the Eder valley and many more may have died in both locations but were not recorded. Factories and bridges were destroyed and industrial output, not the least of which was coal production, was damaged for months at a key time of the war. Hitler ordered a total rebuild and the dams were back in action within six months, but that diverted precious resources.

Psychologically it was a tremendous blow to Germany because the extent of the damage could not be denied, while it boosted Allied morale tremendously.


VERY much so. Director Michael Anderson, who died last month at the age of 98, said he wanted to make a documentary-style film in 1955 and surviving Dambusters who saw it were delighted with its realism. The theme tune, Eric Coates’s The Dambusters March, is now part of band music everywhere.