The bombing run, targeting the German industrial heartland of the Ruhr valley, wrecked three dams, disrupting water and electricity supplies vital for the manufacture of the Third Reich’s war munitions.
The mission, known as Operation Chastise, involved a fleet of Lancaster bombers flown by 617 Squadron. The planes were specially modified and the crews trained at the Derwent Reservoir in Derbyshire to fly at less than 100ft (30.48m) above the water. The low altitude was to allow the successful dropping of the bombs, invented specifically for the task by the Ripley-born aircraft engineer Dr Barnes Wallis, the designer of the Wellington bomber. Barrel-shaped, the bombs reached their target like a skimming stone, bouncing across the water to avoid the dams’ defences.
In military terms the mission’s results were disappointing with German military operations getting back to normal six weeks later. However, the daring nature of the raid was a significant boost to British morale and has become an iconic moment in British military history.
The Chastise mission became popularly known as the Dambusters raid, and was immortalised in a 1954 war film starring Michael Redgrave as Barnes Wallis and Richard Todd as Wing Commander Guy Gibson, CO of 617 Squadron.
617 Squadron was disbanded two years ago but has reformed to receive the F-35B Lightning II stealth fighter, with British military pilots receiving intensive training with the US Marine Corps in South Carolina.