The Dambuster Raids, or more correctly Operation Chastise is without doubt the most famous bombing mission of the Second World War (at least here in Britain). Over 75 years on everybody has heard about the ‘bouncing bomb’ and the hero pilot Guy Gibson. Most people, if they only know of one RAF Squadron, it will be the Dambuster 617 Squadron with their moto Apres Moi le Deluge (After me the flood).
The raid is well known with lots written about it, but in brief, it took place during the night of 16-17 May 1943. Nineteen specially modified Lancaster bombers took off from their Lincolnshire base at RAF Scampton in an attempt to breach the Möhne, Eder, Sorpe and three secondary target dams around Germany’s industrial Ruhr Valley.
The Möhne and Eder attacks were successful, the Sorpe Dam was a different type of dam requiring a different bombing technique and remained intact, and there was only a single unsuccessful attempt on one of the secondary target dams. Eight of the Lancasters were lost in the raid and 53 of the 133 crew members lost their lives. But the event, and a film made in 1955 has immortalised them forever. See my blog Testing and training for the Dambuster Raids – what’s left to see? (https://pleszak.blog/2018/06/13/testing-and-training-for-the-dambuster-raids-whats-left-to-see/).
The design, the bombing, the myth, the legend and the subsequent adulation is well documented, but the fate of the actual aeroplanes which made the raid such a success, less so.
Before receiving their purpose built Dambusting Lancasters 617 Squadron ‘borrowed’ 10 standard Lancasters from other 5 Bomber Group squadrons (as below) so they could immediately start their low-level training. All were returned to their original squadrons as 617 Squadron received their dedicated modified Lancasters.
Three 50 Sqn Lancasters (W4112, W4196, and W4823) which had been delivered to RAF Scampton probably in preparation for the formation of 617 Sqn were all destroyed on 15 March 1943 when a 57 Sqn Lancaster (W4834) exploded when it was having its bomb load removed.
The Avro Lancasters used were specially converted Lancaster B.III(S)’s delivered straight from the production line at Avro’s Woodford site. The ‘S’ signified that they were B.III Specials but they were also known as Lancaster Type 464 Provisioning to denote that they had been provisioned for the specific task of carrying the Vickers Type 464 ‘Upkeep’ Mine (better known as Barnes Wallis’s bouncing bomb). It is thought that they would (potentially) be returned to standard Lancaster B.III configuration – none were. For a bit more on Lancaster versions see my blog From Manchester to Lincoln via Lancaster – An aviation aristocracy family tree (https://pleszak.blog/2019/05/07/from-manchester-to-lincoln-via-lancaster-an-aviation-aristocracy-family-tree/).
In total 23 Avro Lancaster Type 464 conversions were produced, initially their registrations were suffixed with a /G to denote that these were secret and would have had an armed Guard at all times when not flying.
As stated above, 19 flew on the Dams raid and 8 of them were sadly lost. Following the raid none were fully returned to standard Lancaster B.III configuration as it was too difficult or too costly to refit the bomb bay doors.
I’ve listed below each of the 23 converted with pertinent details from delivery to their final fate, but in summary 15 continued to be used by 617 Squadron or other units, without bomb bay doors, for trials or training, some on bombing operations or SOE (Special Operations Executive) drops.
A further 2 were lost on operations after the Dams Raid and 2 more destroyed in training crashes.
8 were used in August 1943 for trials with forward rotating Upkeep mines at the Ashley Walk bombing range in the New Forrest near to Fordingbridge. The idea was that a sea launched Upkeep mine could roll up the beach and penetrate coastal defences and also potentially be used to attack strategic canals. Though the trials were successful the idea was taken no further. During the trial one of the Lancasters was caught in the slipstream of others in close formation and crashed.
A single Lancaster was used to dispose of a single Upkeep in April 1945 and 3 of the Lancasters were used on Operation Guzzle in August to December 1946 for disposing of the remaining 37 live upkeep mines in the Atlantic Ocean about 280 miles west of Glasgow.
All the remaining 11 were all unceremoniously scrapped post war.
- Minor corrections provided by Dr Robert Owen: 617 Archivist
- Details of 10 initial standard Avro Lancasters added and additional images
- Minor updates
Ashley Walk Bombing Range
From Manchester to Lincoln via Lancaster – An aviation aristocracy family tree
Testing and training for the Dambuster Raids – what’s left to see?
Lancaster ED915 / AZ-Q Nose Art