The National Archives in Kew, London have just created an online exhibition to commemorate the 70th anniversary of ‘Operation Chastise,’ better know as the Dambusters raids. The exhibition uses records from their collection to tell the story of this daring Second World War raid that took place on the night of the 16/17th May 1943.
The dams were surprisingly quickly repaired and to all intents and purposes the Ruhr Valley industry was back to full strength within nine months. This was not the expected result of the mission. What the National Archives do not tell you is that there was a second bombing raid using the bouncing bomb a year later in 1944. My father took part in that operation. However, the damage and loss inflicted on the civilian population was great on both occasions, and this as with most things of such proportions affecting humankind, would not recover until years after the war. It was not just the Dambusters mission that instigated the creation of a Protocol additional to the Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949 relating to civilian populations – specifically Part IV, Article 15 – that forbade the attacking of amongst other installations, dams, where such an “attack may cause the release of dangerous forces and consequent severe losses amongst the civilian population.” It was the resulting damage from the second raid in 1944 that ensured such a Protocol was written.
The other results of these two successful bombing missions sadly ensured that there was no Bomber Command medal struck to commemorate the young men’s contribution to WWII or acknowledge death of nearly half of them killed in action. There are many paradoxes of moral issues in war. Finally however, on 28th June 2012 a memorial to Bomber Command was unveiled by the Queen. It is a colonnade of Portland stone erected at the corner of Green Park and facing Piccadilly, its centre a sculpture by Philip Jackson in bronze: seven men, a typical bomber crew, young but weary after tense hours over enemy territory, parachute packs in hand. Five scan the sky for friends who may or may not return; two look to the ground, old before their time, reflecting on another night survived. http://www.rafbf.org/2052/visit-the-memorial.html
The number of such operations on a typical Bomber Command ‘tour’: 30. The chance of being shot down each time: 1 in 20. My paternal grandfather had stipulated that he did not want ‘a war widow on his hands’ so my father volunteered and survived a second tour (60 operations) by the time of his 23rd birthday on 1st September 1944. Two days later he married my mother.