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It has been 80 years since the Royal Air Force launched an airstrike against three dams in the German Ruhr. Flown at low level, it was one of the most daring, and successful, air raids of World War II
“Breaking the German Dams: A Minute-By-Minute Account of Operation Chastise, May 1943,” by Robert Owen, is the latest effort to document the raid. It may be the most successful.
Owen uses the perspective of time to produce what is probably the most comprehensive account of the Dambusters raid ever written. This book covers all aspects of the raid, from its conception through its execution. It follows what happened to the participants – on both sides – after the raid was over.
Owen examines how the raid was conceived, how it was planned, and how the 617 Squadron, which executed the raid was assembled and trained. He presents the obstacles faced by those advocating for it, right up until the first Lancaster on the mission left for Germany. Skeptics included Air Marshall Arthur Harris, who led Bomber Command.
The heart of the book is a minute-by-minute account of the raid. Owen follows every aircraft from the time it left the ground until the moment it returned to Earth. He traces both aircraft that crashed and those which returned safely. He recounts the fate of every participant.
He provides the German perspective of the raid, including those involved in the air defense of Germany: crews manning the antiaircraft guns and those participating in civil defense along the route the bombers took. He recounts what happened to the civilians downstream of the two dams successfully breached by the raid.
He delivers a dispassionate assessment of the raid’s results. He shows that from a cost-benefit perspective the raid delivered results far in excess to the costs incurred in mounting it, both in material and lives. He also shows it played a significant part in Harris’s Battle of the Ruhr, delivering a better return than some of the 1000-plane raids mounted. At the same time, he shows how the results could have been improved significantly with a few minor changes.
“Breaking the German Dams” is worth reading for anyone with an interest in World War II’s air war. It is a gripping account of the raid. It also shows how time adds perspective. Information unavailable immediately after the War but now accessible added significantly to Owen’s account.
“Breaking the German Dams: A Minute-By-Minute Account of Operation Chastise, May 1943,” by Robert Owen, Naval Institute Press, 2023, 224 pages, $45.46 (Hardcover), $29.99 (ebook)
This review was written by Mark Lardas, who writes at Ricochet as Seawriter. Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City, TX. His website is marklardas.com.Published in