On the night of 16/17 May 1943 nineteen specially modified Avro Lancaster bombers of 617 Squadron Royal Air Force departed Scampton in Lincolnshire bound for the Ruhr Valley deep in the heart of Germany. Targets for the night were the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe dams using the Barnes Wallis ‘bouncing bomb’ with the intention of striking a blow at the industrial production of the area. The attack – titled Operation Chastise – caught the imagination of the British public which had hitherto had little in the way of positive news through the early war years, and also proved the effectiveness of precision attacks against valuable targets. 617 Squadron was specially formed for the raid and would forever be known as The Dambusters, with their motto becoming ‘Après moi le déluge’ French for ‘After me, the flood’.
The seventieth anniversary of the raid would see a number of commemorative events involving the current RAF 617 Squadron and its Panavia Tornado GR4 jet bombers, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Avro Lancaster and a number of locations linked to the history of the event. Whilst the ‘bouncing bomb’ – more correctly a mine – was tested in locations such as Chesil Beach, Dorset and Reculver, near Margate, Kent, the bomber crews practiced their attack approach for the dams using most famously the twin-towered dams of the Derwent Valley in Derbyshire. For the anniversary events this would be the location for the most visually dynamic; a flypast at low level over the Ladybower Reservoir by the BBMF Lancaster and a pair of 617 Squadron’s Tornado jets, both of which had been specially painted with their tails depicting the breaching of the dams. Getting photographs of the aircraft involved climbing the valley walls to around 400m – but was well worth the effort!
On the 15 May the BBMF Lancaster flew over Woodhall Spa and the memorials positioned there: