Sunday, 17 May 2015

The Dambusters

On the night of 16 May 1943, as darkness descended, 19 Lancaster Bombers of 617 Squadron commanded by the 24 year old Guy Gibson took off from R.A.F Scrampton in Licolnshire armed with a new weapon - the Bouncing Bomb.

Their targets were the Mohne, Eder, and Scorpe Dams of the Ruhr Valley deep in the heart of industrial Germany, their intention to breach the dams, flood the surrounding area, and severely hamper German wartime production.
Flying barely 100 ft above sea level to avoid detection by enemy radar the planes instruments were not sophisticated enough to determine how far above the water they were and so a lamp was attached beneath each plane to light up the sea but even so one plane hit a wave and had to return to base.

Descending even further to just 60 ft to launch the attack, making it impossible to take evasive action, the planes became vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire from the heavily defended dams.
Having to fly at a precise speed and launch their bombs at an exact distance for them to be effective the Mohne and Eder Dams were breached with some 1,600 people, many of them forced labourers from Eastern Europe and Soviet prisoners-of-war being drowned as a result.

The Sorpe Dam remained intact, however.
One of the most daring raids of World War Two had achieved only partial success with the dams soon repaired and German war production barely effected, though the Nazi Minister of Munitions was later to say that it had come close to being a catastrophe for German industry.

But with its audacity, its inventiveness, the courage of the men involved, and the flying of the pilots the Dambusters Raid caught the imagination of the British people and was a great morale boost during the darker days of the war, but it had been bought at a high price - of the 18 bombers that participated in the actual attack 8 were lost and 53 men of the 133 of 617 Squadron were killed.

Guy Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross not for leading the hazardous raid but for remaining in the area after dropping his own bomb to draw enemy fire away from those planes still to do so.
He was killed in action 17 September, 1944.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

In Flanders Fields

On 3 May 1915, the Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae who had just presided over the funeral of his friend Alexis Helmer killed at the Second Battle of Ypres wrote arguably the most famous poem to emerge from the First World War - In Flanders Fields.

Disappointed at the attempt to express his emotions and sense of loss  he threw the poem away.
 It was retrieved by one of his soldiers.

Like his friend McCrae did not survive the war, dying of pneumonia in January, 1918.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.