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The legacy

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Within hours of the raids, reconnaissance Spitfires had brought back dramatic pictures of the broken dams and the destruction brought about by the flooding. The King, Prime Minister, and Air Staff united in congratulating 617 Squadron on their magnificent achievement and an outpouring of national pride followed in the newspapers and radio in the following days. Leaflets were dropped over the occupied countries in Europe showing before and after photographs of the Möhne and Eder dams with an explanation of Operation Chastise.

617 Squadron, however, paid dearly for their success. Of the 133 men who took part in the raid, 53 lost their lives and 3 were captured having bailed out. Five of the Lancasters crashed or were shot down en route to their targets. Two were destroyed whilst executing their attacks and another was shot down on the way home. Two more were so badly damaged that they had to abandon their missions.

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Though the Germans repaired the dams quickly, the impact of the raid on German industry in the Ruhr valley and indeed on the civil population was significant. In the Möhne and Ruhr valleys 11 factories were totally destroyed, 114 seriously damaged, 25 road and rail bridges were destroyed and throughout the region power, water and gas supplies were seriously disrupted. The breaching of the Eder dam caused severe disruption to road and canal communications and destroyed over 50 hectares of valuable agricultural land. In the flooding below the Möhne there were 1,294 casualties including 593 foreign workers. The flooding below the Eder resulted in a further 47 deaths. For the remainder of the War the Germans had to divert an additional 10,000 troops to guard the Dams.

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For his outstanding leadership and bravery Guy Gibson was awarded Britain's highest award for valour, the Victoria Cross. 32 other members of the squadron were also decorated for their part in the raids.

However, although the raid proved that attacking the dams was possible with Wallis' invention, there was perhaps a more significant and long lasting legacy. A Protocol additional to the Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949 relating to civilian populations, specifically Part IV, Article 15, forbade the attacking of amongst other installations, dams, where such an "attack may cause the release of dangerous forces and consequent severe losses amongst the civilian population."

Sixty years on, the Dambuster Raid is still one of the most famous operations of the Second World War. The breaching of the dams at Germany's industrial heartland became a hugely evocative symbol. While the impact and significance of the raids has been hotly debated over the years, the ingenuity of Barnes Wallis and the sheer courage, skill, determination and self sacrifice of Gibson and his Dambusters has never been called into question.

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Gallery

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Buoys supporting the underwater stockade.
Catalogue reference: AIR 37/1441

 

Aerial photograph of flooding in the Mohne Valley.
Catalogue reference: AIR 34/609

 

German view of the Mohne dam raid.
Catalogue reference: AVIA 53/627

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Extract from Gibson's Pilot Flying Log Book showing details of the raid and the date he was awarded his Victoria Cross.
Catalogue reference: AVIA 4/37

 

Photograph of Gibson taken after the raids.
Catalogue reference: INF 2/42 1002

 

Gibson's signature.
Catalogue reference: AIR 27/2128

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Repaired Möhne dam.
Catalogue reference: AIR 37/1441

 

WWII picture showing Lancaster and crew.
Catalogue reference: INF 2/42 190

 

Coutesy of Trustees of the RAF Museum, Hendon; Wing Commander Guy Gibson's medals.

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