Left: the powerful and robust Lancaster gave Bomber Command a chance to strike Germany effectively for the first time. © RAF Museum, Hendon.
The RAF Museum at Hendon is gearing itself up for a busy weekend to mark the 60th anniversary of the famous Dambusters Raid.
It was on the night of May 16/17 in 1943 that Wing Commander Guy Gibson led 617 Squadron in a raid on the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe Dams in the Ruhr Valley, Germany's industrial heartland. Descending to within a few feet of the water the Lancaster bombers unleashed a bouncing bomb that breached the dam walls.
It was the first strategic precision bombing raid. For the British public the daring exploits of 617 Squadron have become the stuff of legend, helped along by a classic film, countless books and a documentary or two.
Right: the RAF Museum at Hendon already boasts a Lancaster bomber in its collection. © RAF Museum, Hendon.
"The Dambusters raid will always be an important part of the story we are telling here and there has been a lot of interest building up around the anniversary," said the Museum's marketing officer, Ajay Srivastava, "over the last few weeks we've had hundreds of enquiries."
Visitors can already view an example of a Lancaster bomber in the museum's extensive hangars, but this weekend they will also be treated to films, interactives and even a re-enactment that tells the story of the raid and the work of Barnes Wallis, the bomb's inventor.
"We will have re-enactors wearing the uniforms of the day and in person they will take groups of visitors up to a briefing room where they will re-enact the pre-mission briefing," explained Ajay.
Left: the genius behind the bouncing bomb, Sir Barnes Wallis (pictured centre), convinced the Air Ministry he could get 9,000lbs of explosive to skip across the water and destroy a dam. © RAF Museum, Hendon.
It is hoped visitors will enter into the spirit of the occasion and interact during the briefing by asking questions.
For those of a more reserved nature the newly refurbished permanent Dambusters exhibition has also reopened in time for the anniversary and features a centrepiece mock up of Barnes Wallis' original office with rarely seen archive footage of the period.
Right: a bouncing bomb slung beneath a Lancaster of 617 Squadron. © RAF Museum, London.
Visitors can also make a close inspection of a full scale bouncing bomb with the original catapult that launched it and take in a specially made film about the raid.
The cylindrical bombs developed by Barnes Wallis had to be dropped from 60 feet to skip into the dam face before rolling down it to explode at a depth that triggered a pressure fuse. The pilots had to judge the critical release point by using dual spotlights whose beams converged vertically at 60 feet.
The destruction of the dams caused widespread flooding and interrupted industrial production at a critical point during the war, but it came at a high cost. 8 of the 19 Lancasters failed to return, 53 aircrew were killed and just 3 survived to be taken prisoner.
Left: Wing Commander Guy Gibson, pictured here with King George VI, received a Victoria Cross for leading the raid. © RAF Museum, Hendon.
For more details of the Dambusters Exhibition and this weekend's activities contact the RAF Museum at Hendon - details listed on the link at the bottom of the page.
Click on this link to visit a great new online Dambusters exhibition produced by those clever chaps at the National Archives.