|Trip page||This page contains excerpts from several sources. It is gathered as background information for a write-up of trips over the Ruhr Reservoirs.|
Effects British attacks on German dams in World War 2Preface As a private pilot, I had flown already several times over the Ruhr district before I knew that, at one time during World War 2, dams in the area had been subject to air attacks by the British. As aviation interests me, I did a search about it on the internet, and the queries returned thousands of mostly British websites with stories, articles, books, movies, TV-shows, etc. about the "Dambusters". A raid against German dams had taken place, and it is a famous story in Britain. As one British author writes, "if there were one single event during the whole of the Second World War in which the British would take most pride, even up to this day, then it has to be the audacious attack on German dams". With these sentiments, the impact of the raid is fiercely debated by some people in Britain. On one end of the spectrum people say that the raid was merely a propaganda victory, with just civilian casualties, mostly women and children, and the majority not even German. On the other end of the spectrum people insist that the dams raid was a glorious British success that made Britain win the war. Further reading was required. There are already many websites describing the raid itself, amongst them the website of the British air force RAF with a depiction of operational details. This page reflects on the impact against the described goals and predicted results of the air strikes that were drawn-up during the preparation of the operation.
Aerial pictures we made of the Möhne, Eder, Sorpe, Lister, Ennepe and Diemel-dam
Ruhr District; roughly the area between the Rhine, Lippe, Ruhr and Dortmund
Eschbach dam under construction
Ennepe dam under construction
Möhne dam under construction
Sorpe dam under construction
Eder dam under construction
Diemel dam under construction
Bergisches Land and Ruhr reservoirs up to World War 2
Battle of the Ruhr (March 5 - July 14, 1943)On 15 March 1943, during the Battle of the Ruhr campaign, Wing Commander Guy Gibson transferred from 106 Squadron to the headquarters of Bomber Command's 5 Group in order to lead a new squadron formed especially to attack the Ruhr dams. On 24 March 1943 617 Squadron officially came into being at RAF Scampton. One of the main requirements for the use of Upkeep, the code name of the bomb, was that the weapon could not be released higher than 60ft or it would be damaged when it hit the water. With this in mind 617 Squadron had to do a lot of dangerous low-level flying training, sometimes with special equipment to simulate night time flying.
American author Alan Levine writes about the Battle of the Ruhr in his book about the strategic bombing of Germany. Excerpts;The British had long been fascinated by the great Ruhr industrial region. It was a classic centre of coal, steel, and heavy machinery production. The Ruhr was heavily defended by flak and hidden by perpetual smog. The British were almost obsessed by the great Krupps works, which covered 1,088 acres in Essen, a fabulous centre of the German armaments industry. In fact, the British somewhat exaggerated the importance of the Krupp plants, and of the Ruhr. Except for the synthetic oil plants located on the outskirts of some of its cities, the Ruhr did not produce much that was immediately vital to military operations. It furnished only about a quarter of Germany's war material; it produced only a tenth of Germany's tanks and had only one aircraft engine plant. Nor was the type of machinery in the Ruhr plants susceptible to bomb damage. The Battle of the Ruhr was the first of the major campaigns Bomber Command fought in 1943-1944. The campaign, which included heavy attacks on nearby Rhineland cities such as Düsseldorf, Aachen, and Cologne as well as on the Ruhr itself, began on March 5, 1943 with an attack on Essen. Unusually, for this period of the war, the aiming point was an industrial plant, the Krupp works in the city of Essen. The Krupps works and the city, hit by 1,000 tons of bombs, were heavily damaged. The Ruhr and Rhineland cities suffered greatly; on March 12 Essen was blasted even more heavily than a week earlier. However, weather, mistakes, and bad luck sometimes nullified even the best efforts. Duisburg, the target of more sorties than any other city during the battle, survived four big attacks well but was terribly damaged by a fifth and final blow. The loss of life in the Ruhr and Rhineland, was far greater than from any earlier air attacks of the European war. Two attacks on Wuppertal in late May and June killed 5,200 people. By the end of the Battle of the Ruhr, on July 14, Bomber Command had badly damaged the Ruhr and some other areas and had caused indirect disruption. The Ruhr-Rhineland area as a whole probably lost the equivalent of about one-and-one half months production in this period. The British wishfully supposed that they had permanently crippled these areas, reduced overall German war production, and delivered a terrific blow to German morale. The lesser blow they had in fact dealt had been costly. They had launched 43 major attacks, comprising 18,506 sorties, with 872 bombers destroyed and 2,126 damaged, some of which had to be scrapped. On several attacks the British had sent over 700 bombers. The overall loss rate had been 4.7%; near the maximum Bomber Command could sustain for a long time.
Modified Lancaster testing Upkeep
Diagram showing method of attack
Ministry of Economic Warfare1. This memorandum assesses the probable economic and moral consequences of the destruction of the Möhne dam and the added effects which could be expected from the destruction of the Sorpe and Eder dams. 2. It has been prepared in consultation with the Scientific Advisers to the Minister of Production and with reference to the statements attributed to them in the introduction to the Combined Operations dossier on the Möhne dam. The latter document, on certain points of detail, over-states the expectations of the Scientific Advisers as to the probable economic effects and the following conclusions should be taken as representing their actual views.
April 2, 1943 ECONOMIC AND MORAL CONSEQUENCES OF THE DESTRUCTION OF GERMAN DAMS Introduction
April 2, 1943 ECONOMIC AND MORAL CONSEQUENCES OF THE DESTRUCTION OF GERMAN DAMS Introduction
Conclusions ECONOMIC EFFECTS3. Möhne Dam (a) Although the precise nature of the catastrophe which would overtake the Ruhr valley as the result of the release of the greater part of the contents of this dam in the space of a few hours cannot be estimated in advance, it is agreed that there is every prospect that both the physical and the moral effects of the flood which would be produced are likely to be sufficiently great to justify this operation in themselves, even if there were no other significant effects.
(b) The destruction of this dam would not necessarily have any large or immediate effect on the supply of industrial and household water in the Ruhr area.
This immediate source of the greater part of the Ruhr water supply is the underground water-bearing strata, supplemented by colliery water, water pumped back from the Rhine and water drawn from the Emscher river and canal systems. The purpose of the system of storage dams of which the Möhne dam is largest, is the conservation of rainfall, by means of which the level of the underground water can be maintained and protected from permanent depletion. In an emergency, a large and possibly adequate volume of water supplies might be obtainable for some months by drawing heavily on these underground supplies and depleting their level. Whether or not such depletion would proceed at a rate or reach the stage where economies in water consumption would have to be introduced would depend upon the amount of rainfall, the speed of repairs to damaged conservation works and the efficacy of emergency measures to obtain additional water (e.g. from the Rhine). If these factors were all unfavourable, a difficult situation might well develop by the end of the summer, but it is not possible to state that a critical shortage of water supplies in the Ruhr would be a certain and inevitable result of the destruction of the Möhne dam. 4. Sorpe Dam The Sorpe dam is essentially complementary to the Möhne dam and its simultaneous or subsequent destruction would in general reinforce the effects of the destruction of the Möhne dam. In particular, its destruction would very greatly enhance the prospects of the development of a water supply shortage by the process described under section 3(b). For this reason the destruction of both dams would be worth much more than twice the destruction of one and it is most strongly urged, if the operational possibilities hold out any reasonable prospect of success, that an attack on the Möhne dam be accompanied, or followed as soon as possible, by an attack on the Sorpe dam. 5. Eder Dam (a) The functions of the Eder dam are not related to those of the Möhne dam and Sorpe dam and its destruction would not therefore in any way supplement or reinforce the effects of the destruction of the Ruhr dams.
(b) The primary purpose of the Eder dam is flood prevention. The release of its waters would without doubt result in the inundation of large tracts of land in the Eder, Fulda and Weser valleys but the areas affected are likely to consist for the most part of agricultural land.
It is unlikely that any densely populated industrial areas would be affected, apart from the possible inundation of the low-lying districts of the city of Kassel.
(c) Although the Eder dam plays some part in the conservation of water for maintaining the navigability of the lower reaches of the Weser and for supplying water to the Mittelland canal, it is unlikely that its destruction would lead to a critical situation in either case.
(d) The force of the flood released by breaching the dam would very probably result in the destruction of the four power stations situated below it. While not of major economic importance, this would constitute a useful measure of interference with the operations of the Preussenelektra electricity supply system.
MORAL EFFECTS6. (a) The effects of the destruction of the Möhne and Sorpe dams would be witnessed by many thousands of persons who, whatever the true facts, would undoubtedly in view of the traditionally precarious nature of the Ruhr's water supplies become prey to every variety of alarmist rumour regarding the possibility of a shortage of drinking water, the risk of disease, and the inability of the fire services to deal with incendiary attacks. Exceptional opportunities would be presented for successful measures of political warfare.
(b) The destruction of the Eder dam would not be likely to affect directly any large centres of population (with the possible exception of the city of Kassel) and its effects would be experienced by many fewer people than in the case of the Ruhr dams. Since its functions are also less intimately connected with the daily life of large populated areas, the total moral effect, though by no means negligible, would inevitably be much smaller than in the case of the Ruhr dams.
The Möhne Reservoir into perspective; The total watershed area of the River Ruhr is 4,485 km2. The catchment area of the Möhne reservoir is 436 km2. Assuming a uniform distribution of precipitation, roughly 10% of the annual water-flow of the River Ruhr is regulated by the Möhne dam. The storage capacity of the Möhne reservoir is 134.5 M.m3 of water. The mean annual inflow is 192.4 M.m3 of water.The Dams Raid The Möhne dam was designated Target X. The Eder dam, within the catchment area of the River Weser, was designated Target Y. The Sorpe dam was Target Z, and designated next in importance after the Möhne. Three minor dams were added to the target list in case the Möhne, Eder or Sorpe were, for any reason, unable to be attacked. Target D was the Lister, the southernmost dam. Target E was the small Ennepe. The Diemel, between the Möhne and Eder and in the catchment area of the River Weser, was designated Target F. It had replaced the Henne, in the catchment area of the River Ruhr, due to the possibility of heavy flak near the town of Meschede.
Watershed River Ruhr and catchment area of the Möhne reservoirIn 1943, there were 12 reservoirs upstream in the catchment area of the River Ruhr, plus 5 more outside the catchment area of the River Ruhr serving the south-west Ruhr district (see table below). The Office of Scientific Advisors to the War Cabinet provided reservoir capacity data for the catchment area of the River Ruhr; Möhne, Sorpe, Lister, Ennepe and Henne, totalling 254 M.m3, and mentioned a "further seven small dams" with a total storage volume of approximately 12 M.m3, bringing the total capacity up to 266 M.m3. The scientists did not take the non-Ruhr reservoirs into account.
Watershed River Ruhr and catchment area of the Möhne reservoir
Name of dam
|Total 1) 2)||266||100%||261.0||100%|
Reservoirs serving the Ruhr district. The reservoirs are used to 'backfill' the aquifer during droughts and dry seasons, thus maintaining adequate quantities of water underground. 1) Reservoir capacity of Ruhr catchment area; volume data from the scientists' data; percentage distribution reservoir capacity. The scientists put that the Möhne reservoir held 50% of the total reservoir capacity, and that the Möhne and Sorpe together held over 75% of the total. 2) Reservoir capacity of Ruhr catchment area; volume data from Ruhrverband publications, completed with German Wikipedia data and excluding post-war expansions; percentage distribution reservoir capacity. 3) As 2), plus the five reservoirs outside the Ruhr catchment area serving the Ruhr district; percentage distribution over all reservoirs.
Operation Chastise targets
NO. 5 GROUP OPERATION ORDER NO. B.976
APPENDIX 'A' - ROUTES AND TIMINGS. APPENDIX 'B' - SIGNALS PROCEDURE FOR
TARGET DIVERSIONS, ETC. APPENDIX 'C' - LIGHT AND MOON TABLES.
TARGET DIVERSIONS, ETC. APPENDIX 'C' - LIGHT AND MOON TABLES.
INFORMATIONGeneral. 1. The inhabitants and industry of the Ruhr rely to a very large extent on the enormously costly water barrage dams in the Ruhr District. Destruction of TARGET X alone would bring about a serious shortage of water for drinking purposes and industrial supplies. This shortage might not be immediately apparent but would certainly take effect in the course of a few months. The additional destruction of one or more of the five major dams in the Ruhr Area would greatly increase the effect and hasten the resulting shortage. TARGET Z is next in importance. 2. A substantial amount of damage would be done, and considerable local flooding would be caused immediately consequent on the breach of TARGET X. In fact it might well cause havoc in the Ruhr valley. There would be a large loss of electrical capacity in the Ruhr partly caused by destruction of hydro-electric plants, but also due to loss of cooling water for the large thermal plants. 3. In the Weser district the destruction of the TARGET Y would seriously hamper transport in the Mittelland Canal and in the Weser, and could probably lead to an almost complete cessation of the great value of traffic now using these waterways. ...
Priority Target X: Möhne dam
Target Y: Eder dam
Priority Target Z: Sorpe dam
Last resort Target D: Lister dam
Last resort Target E: Ennepe dam
Last resort Target F: Diemel dam
A depiction of the operational details is available on the RAF website (link at the bottom of this page).Result attack Möhne dam The attack on the Möhne dam was carried out during the period when the reservoir was full. The bomb breaching the dam exploded close to the face of the dam approximately 10m below the water surface, and breached the upper part of the dam. A gap 76m wide at the top and 22m deep developed in the centre of the dam.
Möhne dam breached, aerial view
Möhne dam breached, lake side view
Möhne dam breached, Günne side view
German historian Ralf Blank writes that the government of that time issued credible casualty figures with the intention to suppress rumours of many more casualties. According to government figures from two weeks after the attack, there were 1579 deaths, including no less than 1026 foreign workers, with 34 Germans and 155 foreign nationals still missing.
Area most impacted by Möhne breach
Himmelpforten before its destruction
Female forced workers barracks Neheim
Watching the flood from Wiedenberg Hill, Neheim
Recovering bodies foreign workers Neheim
A funeral of German victims in Neheim
Russian woman searches through the mud
Destroyed road bridge at Wickede
Derailed train at Wickede station
Bodies to be identified in Wickede
Road bridge from Fröndenberg to Menden
Train in Fröndenberg
Funeral of victims in Fröndenberg
Unidentified dead in Fröndenberg
Schwerte rescue operations
French POWs on the roof of their housing
Debris on the Ruhr at Herdecke
Damaged railway bridge at Herdecke
French author Jean-Dennis Lepage writes about Organisation Todt in his book about the Armed Forces Auxiliaries. Excerpts;The Organisation Todt (OT) was a German conglomerate of public construction companies developed by the rulers of the Reich. From the start, the OT was a connecting body, a kind of government agency between the authorities, who decided what public and military works were to be done, and civilian building companies and firms, whose task it was to realize them. The driving force behind the OT was architect and engineer Fritz Todt. The already existing concept of modern highways was continued by the new government in 1933, and Todt was appointed as inspector-general of the German Roads. Todt commissioned a large number of building companies to work on the motorways. In 1938, Fritz Todt's conglomerate of companies was commissioned to build bunkers to fortify the border with France, called the West Wall by the Germans. Fritz Todt was appointed national minister for weapons and munitions in March 1940 to centralize all war productions, and became inspector general for water and energy in July 1941. During the war the OT became a huge paramilitary body with 1.4 million labourers. Its tasks became various, and all were connected to the war effort: building, repair and establishment of roads, and support of army engineers. After the end of the war on the Western Front in 1940, OT personnel repaired railways, roads, bridges, ports, canals and airfields, but soon the tasks became even broader. In summer 1941, the OT was engaged in Russia and, following the conquering Wehrmacht, carried out repair work in occupied territories, and built railways, roads, bridges, and facilities. Todt died in a plane crash in February 1942, and was replaced by Albert Speer. As minister of production and armament, Speer entrusted the direction of the OT to Xaver Dorsch. Because of the experience gained from the West Wall, the OT was commissioned to build large-scale fortifications such as the Atlantic Wall and many other defensive lines, notably in northern Italy and Russia. The OT was also the key builder of the gigantic U-Boat bases on the Atlantic coast. In all occupied lands, the OT subcontracted local firms and employed individuals to help construct military installations and bunkers. Originally the OT's field of operations was confined to foreign occupied territories, but as the Allies intensified the air bombardments of German towns in 1943, several new OT operational groups (Einsatzgruppen; EG) were created to clear the damages and rebuild the destroyed installations at home: EG Tannenberg, EG Rhein-Ruhr, EG Kyffhauser, EG Oberrhein, EG Hansa, EG Alpen, and EG Deutschland. With the war enduring, much larger numbers of Prisoners of War and other forced labourers were employed, effectively treated as slaves, as more Germans were conscripted into the regular army. Also 1.5% were concentration camp prisoners.
Construction of bridge at Fröndenberg
Testing bridge at Wickede on June 7 ...
... followed by the first passenger train
Repairing Herdecke Railway Bridge
Möhne dam in scaffolding
Eder dam breached
Reservoir almost empty
Lake side view
Area most impacted by Eder breach
Near Lieschensruh with Affoldern in the background
Mehlen, morning of May 17
Mehlen, dead animals
Bergheim area, 17 May around 6pm
Hemfurth I (right) and II
The Power Stations Hemfurth I (13,000 kW) from 1915 and Hemfurth II (17,000 kW) from 1933 were situated at the foot of the dam.
After the attack
The second bomb caused a short circuit at Hemfurth I. The Hemfurth power stations were damaged but remained standing.
Waldeck power station
In Hemfurth was the pump storage power plant Waldeck, which with its four turbines had a peak output of 115,000 kW. The power plant was commissioned in 1932. The second phase, called Waldeck II, was opened in 1975 with two turbines.
RAF aerial, 17 May 1943
After 75 years, at the end of its technical life, the Waldeck I power plant was decommissioned in two steps in 2006 and 2008, along rehabilitation works to components of the old plant that would be needed for future operation.
Affoldern power station 1929
At Affoldern at the Eder re-regulation pool there was a small run-of-river power plant with a single turbine delivering 2,560 kW. It was commissioned in 1929.
The picture left shows the original Affoldern hydro-power plant from 1929 when it was still there in 1982. Since then, the plant was completely modernized in 1998-99.
Mittelland CanalAs the MEW report of April 2 predicted, the areas affected consisted for the most part of agricultural land. No densely populated industrial areas were affected, and the low-lying districts of the city of Kassel were inundated. The damage of the Eder dam did not lead to a critical situation for maintaining the navigability of the lower reaches of the Weser or the supply of water to the Mittelland canal. The force of the flood reportedly damaged three of the four power stations below the dam, however did not destroy them. Reconstruction Eder damage At Hemfurth, temporary rail, road and footbridges were built by army engineers and the Organisation Todt. A temporary railway bridge across the Eder valley between Grifte and Wolfershausen was built to reestablish the rail link between Kassel and Frankfurt. The bridge was completed by mid-June.
Mittelland canal aqueduct over the Weser, Minden
Mittelland canal aqueduct over the Weser, Minden
The Mittelland canal crosses the river Weser over an aqueduct at Minden (a second aqueduct was completed in 1998). The old canal bridge spans the Weser with two arcs. Six additional arcs avoid a water jam even in extreme floods. A pumping station feeds water from the Weser into the Mittelland Canal. The flood from the Eder dam attack reached Minden after three days. The flood did not damage the aqueduct or the pumping station, and did not affect the Mittelland canal. At the end of World War II, the aqueduct was destroyed by the retreating Wehrmacht. In 1949, the renovated bridge was opened again.
Temporary bridges at Hemfurth
Bridge between Grifte and Wolfershausen
Seting-up construction site Eder dam
Repairing Eder dam
Result attack on the Sorpe dam
Three dimensial sketch of the Sorpe dam
Stephen Flower writes about the second attack on the Sorpe dam in his book about Barnes Wallis' Bombs. Excerpts;As a result of the Ladbergen breach [in the Dortmund-Ems canal], rail communications between northern and central Germany and the Ruhr had now become even more important, not only for the supply of industrial materials but also to those armies facing the Allied forces in Holland. One of the three main lines serving the Ruhr from the east was the Neheim-Schwerte railway. It could be put out of action by the destruction of the Sorpe dam, just a few miles away. The next use of Tallboy would be due to the idea that Wallis had put forward the previous May regarding further attacks on the Sorpe. In a letter of 12 September Wallis had said of earth dams: 'if the balance of forces can be upset by relieving pressure on the air side of the dam, excess of pressure on the water side will produce a crack in the relatively thin concrete bulkhead and through this crack a stream of water will pour which will have the effect of eroding the rubble on the air side, thus accentuating the out of balance forces'. He felt this process might go on for days and would lead to the complete destruction of the dam. This had been hoped for after the Upkeep hits. On 15 October 1944, 18 Lancasters of 9 Squadron set out to attack the Sorpe dam. Hits were seen on the face of the earth dam but no breach was made.
Later attack on the Sorpe dam
Unexploded Tallboy in the Sorpe reservoir
British author Ian Garden examines the press coverage of the dams raid in his book "Battling with the Truth". Excerpts;The [initial] reports gave the clear impression that all three dams were ruptured. We now know that the Sorpe dam was almost untouched but, given the lack of solid information at that time, the press was forced to indulge in wild speculation. The Scotsman was swift to include facts provided by Reuters and neutral sources that told of fifty-four towns having been flooded, 4,000 Germans killed and 120,000 people having been driven from their homes. The Times assessed at great length how the loss of water in the dams would not only reduce hydroelectric power production but would disrupt coal mining and lead to a shortage of fuel to drive German armament production. It was also claimed that the destruction of so many roads and bridges would reduce the flow of supplies to the Eastern Front. Much of the mis-reporting on the British side was through ignorance and wishful thinking. Everyone wanted to believe that all three dams had been breached and that all the damage caused by the flooding would constitute a decisive turning point in the war. We now know that this was not the case. The greatest value of the raid lay undoubtly in its propaganda impact. For Churchill, it was a much-needed shot in the arm. His American and Russian allies had started to fear that he was only good at spouting inspiring rhetoric. This operation seemed to show that Britain was, at last, doing something positive to win the war.
Clearing up in Niederense
Cleaning in Fröndenberg
American author Doug Dildy provides an analysis of the dams raid in his book about the Dambusters. Excerpts;The stated aims of Operation Chastise were to interrupt steel and armaments production in the Ruhr District, by flooding factories, damaging transportation infrastructures, disrupting water supply and halting generation of hydro-electric power. Further to spread panic among the population and to lower the enemy's morale, while boosting morale on the home front. The Möhne flood destroyed 11 small factories, and severely damaged another 41 factories. However, these factories did not constitute major steel or armaments concerns. One iron foundry and an aluminium factory were destroyed, but other factories making artillery shells, small-arms ammunition, aircraft and U-boat parts, and bunker reinforcement materials were little harmed. The transportation network was affected with the destruction or severely damaging of 9 railway bridges and 25 road bridges. This aim was accomplished, at least temporarily. Water supplies fell for a short time due to the clogging of pumping stations with silt and debris from the deluge, but returned to 80% within three days. Sufficient rainfall caused that the level of underground quantities of water did not become a concern in 1943 and 1944. Two hydro-electric powerplants were destroyed and seven others were damaged. Especially important was the Herdecke plant (132,000 kW), where electricity generation was halted for two weeks. However, this represented only 15% of the region's electrical generation capacity and Germany's efficient grid system enabled alternative supplies of electricity. Armaments production returned to full capacity within two weeks. Estimates of Chastise's impact on armaments industries in terms of reductions in productivity vary from 5% to 35%. In truth, the real extent of disruption to production due to this single operation are lost amidst the overall effects of the ongoing Battle of the Ruhr; they cannot be determined seperately. The lack of success against the second main target, the Sorpe dam, should not be seen as any kind of failure on the part of the crews. The basic fact was that the earth dam was not vulnerable to Upkeep. Including the Sorpe on the target list using this weapon was an erroneous operational decision. A second operational error was not including the Sorpe in the mission briefing for the reserve-force aircrews. They were briefed to attack targets 'X' and 'Y', if these still stood, or individually assigned 'targets of last resort'. The fact that the Operational Orders excluded target 'Z' from the reserve force's target list, then changed assignments 'on the fly' to include that dam, clearly demonstrates the fault. To expect the crews to successfully attack a target for which they were not briefed is clearly inappropriate. The destruction of the Eder had a smaller effect, with much less strategic impact. The four power stations were put out of action. Fourteen bridges were destroyed. The workplaces that were affected were not related with the war effort. The objective to spread panic among the population and to lower the enemy's morale proved difficult to achieve, especially against a nationalistic police state. There is no measurable evidence that this aim had been met. On the other hand, the operation was a tremendous uplift for the British. The Public Relations blitz began immediately, with the first Air Ministry communiqué being enthusiastically broadcast by the BBC. The story was front-page news in the British papers that evening. Next morning the first RAF photo-reconnaissance pictures were released, adding fuel to the spreading media wildfire. The media extravaganza climaxed on 22 and 29 May with two-page spreads in the Illustrated London News, one of them headlines 'A titanic blow at Germany: RAF smash Europe's mightiest dams'. From all this, the legend was born. Many of the myths it generated persists today.
German historians Horst Boog, Gerhard Krebs and Detlef Vogel wrote about the overall effects of the Battle of the Ruhr campaign in Volume VII of "Germany and the Second World War". Excerpts;Only four to six weeks of industrial output were lost, as the dispersal of industrial concerns such as Rheinmetall-Borsig of Düsseldorf had already begun. The cost to Bomber Command of 43 major raids was, however, considerable: about 18,500 bomber sorties were made, with a total loss of 872 (4.7%) of the aircraft, with their crew-members numbering some 6,000, and a further 2,126 aircraft sustained sometimes irreparable damage. With average total losses of 5%, the offensive would have been unsustainable in the long term, and already 16% of all aircraft used were falling into the two loss categories.
In the evening Speer calls me and gives me a report on the reservoirs catastrophe. He flew there immediately and has inspected the damage inflicted. Thank God it is not as severe as Speer had initially assumed.The raid appears to have been at best a minor inconvenience to the rulers of the Reich. Albert Speer wrote the following conclusion in his book Inside the Third Reich:
The British had not succeeded, however, in destroying the three other reservoirs. Had they done so, the Ruhr Valley would have been almost completely deprived of water in the coming summer months. That night, employing just a few bombers, the British came close to a success which would have been greater than anything they had achieved hitherto with a commitment of thousands of bombers. But they made a single mistake which puzzles me to this day: They divided their forces and that same night destroyed the Eder Valley dam, although it had nothing whatsoever to do with the supply of water to the Ruhr. A few days after the attack, 7000 men, whom I had ordered shifted from the Atlatic Wall to the Möhne and Eder areas, were hard at work repairing the dams. On September 23, 1943, in the nick of time before the beginning of the rains, the breach in the Möhne dam was closed. We were thus able to collect the precipitation of the late autumn and winter of 1943 for the needs of the following summer. While we were engaged in rebuilding, the British air force missed its second chance. A few bombs would have produced cave-ins at the exposed building sites, and a few fire bombs could have set the wooden scaffolding blazing.The greatest effect was on British morale. News of the Dambusters raid filled the front pages, detailing the events of the night, showing its success complete with aerial photographs of the flooding Möhne dam and offering an analysis of the likely short term and long term effects on Germany's industrial production in the Ruhr. Wing Commander Guy Gibson became a celebrity.
I have seen nothing in the present circumstances or in the Ministry of Economic Warfare reports to show that the effort was worthwhile.In a letter to Charles Portal, the Chief of the Air Staff, written in January 1945, Harris wrote:
It achieved nothing compared with the effort and the loss. The material damage was negligible compared with one small area attack.The British official historians of the Strategic Air Offensive against Germany, Charles Webster and Noble Frankland, wrote about the dams raid:
Its effects were not, in themselves, of fundamental importance nor even seriously damaging.Noble Frankland wrote about the bomb and the impact of the raid in his book The Dams Raid:
In truth, neither the special bomb nor the resulting floods were of any great importance. What mattered in terms of historical significance about the dams raid was simply the extreme bomb-aiming accuracy achieved.Levine writes about the Dambusters raid in his book The Strategic Bombing of Germany that errors in planning the attack, the ill luck of the planes assigned to the Sorpe, and the failure to follow up the success against the Möhne prevented the operation from dealing the truly crippling blow that it might have. British historian Richard Overy says that although there were feelings at the time the Dambusters raid might actually seriously damage the German war economy, the raid could never have really been a knockout blow. The idea that the raid could somehow cripple industry for good was sheer fantasy. Dildy writes in his book about the Dambusters raid that the major aim was the positive influence the raid would have on Britain's allies; the USA and the Soviet Union. This was the primary reason for the considerable amount of propaganda accompanying the operations, related to the highest levels of British government. The Soviets were clamouring for the Western allies to open a 'second front' against Germany. The Americans lacked confidence in British military leadership, technology, tactics and techniques, given Britain's disappointing record of misadventure in the first three years of the war. A dramatically successful high-profile aerial operation would do much to solidify the support of Britain's two main allies in pursuing the war to a victorious conclusion. German author Helmuth Euler writes in his book about the Dambusters raid that the expected strategic advantages for the Allied forces failed to materialise. Historian Amanda Mason of the Imperial War Museum concludes in her article about the Dambusters raid that although the impact on industrial production was limited, the raid gave a significant morale boost to the people of Britain. The official assessment of the bombing campaign (the British Bombing Survey Unit, The Strategic Air War Against Germany, 1939 - 1945) neglects to mention the raid entirely. Definitely, for the unfortunate inhabitants of the towns and camps who witnessed the drowning of people, and lost their family, neighbours and friends, it was catastrophic.
Memorials Möhne flood (above) and the Eder flood (left)
- Ruhr dams trip report 27 March 2013
- Dambusters Documentary; part 1; part 2; part 3; part 4
- RAF website about Operation Chastise, with operational facts and an online Dambusters exhibition.
However, the RAF website somewhat disguises that the dams raid did not reach the effect hoped for against hope. Until 2013, the RAF website downplayed (source) the priority of the Sorpe dam in the dams raid operation, while since then, other results from the Battle of the Ruhr campaign, and beyond, are attributed to the dams raid.
- Münster trip report 15/17 November 2014, with a visit to the Dortmund-Ems Canal aqueducts near Ladbergen.
- Water management on the Ruhr - the historical collection; Ruhrverband publication
- The Strategic Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945; author Alan J. Levine
- The Dams Raid through the lens; author Helmuth Euler
- Destruction and Protection of Dams and Levees; author Otto Kirschnner
- H's Armed Forces Auxiliaries; author Jean-Denis G.G. Lepage
- The Dam Busters: An Operational History of Barnes Wallis' Bombs; author Stephen Flower
- 1943: The Second World War in the Air in Photographs; author Louis Archard
- Inside the Third Reich; author Albert Speer
- Dambusters - Operation Chastise 1943; author Douglas C. Dildy
- Die Zerstörung der Möhne-Talsperre; author Ralf Blank (German)
- Battling with the Truth; author Ian Garden
- Germany and the Second World War - Volume VII: The Strategic Air War in Europe and the War in the West and East Asia 1943–1944/5; authors Horst Boog, Gerhard Krebs and Detlef Vogel
- The Incredible Story Of The Dambusters Raid; author Amanda Mason