Tag Archives: Strategic Bombing

2 November 1944

Second Lieutenant Robert Edward Femoyer, Air Corps, United States Army. (U.S. Air Force)

2 November 1944: The 8th Air Force sent 638 B-17 Flying Fortress four-engine heavy bombers, escorted by 642 P-51 Mustang and P-38 Lightning fighters from their bases in England, over 500 miles to attack the I.G. Farben Leunawerke synthetic oil refinery at Leuna, a 3-square-mile facility a few miles from Merseberg, Germany.

The Leuna refinery used a hydrogeneration process to produce aviation gasoline from coal. This was the most heavily defended target in all of Germany, surrounded by more than 1,700 88 mm and 105 mm antiaircraft guns (“flak”) in 36-gun batteries. According the the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, “Aircrews viewed a mission to Leuna as the most dangerous and difficult assignment of the air war.

One B-17 pilot described it: “When I describe the flak over Leuna as a cloud, I don’t mean just a wall of smoke; it was a box, the length, width, and depth of our route to the ‘bombs away’ point.”

On the 2 November attack, the bombers were under “intense” anti-aircraft fire for 18 minutes, and heavy fire for 30 minutes. They were also attacked by a record 700 Luftwaffe fighters including the new Me 262 twin-engine jets. The 8th Air Force lost 38 B-17 Flying Fortress bombers and 28 fighters. An astonishing 481 bombers were damaged.

Second Lieutenant Robert E. Femoyer was the navigator on one of those B-17s, commanded by Second Lieutenant Jerome Rosenblum. B-17G-25-DL Flying Fortress 42-38052, Hotshot Green, of the 711th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy) based at RAF Rattlesden, was badly damaged by anti-aircraft fire and fell out of formation.

Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor

The President of the United States
in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the
Medal of Honor
to

FEMOYER, ROBERT E.

(Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, 711th Bombing Squadron, 447th Bomber Group, U.S. Army Air Corps.

Place and date: Over Merseberg, Germany, 2 November 1944.

Entered service at: Jacksonville, Fla. Born: 31 October 1921, Huntington, W. Va.

G.O. No.: 35, 9 May 1945

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty near Merseburg, Germany, on 2 November 1944. While on a mission, the bomber, of which 2d Lt. Femoyer was the navigator, was struck by 3 enemy antiaircraft shells. The plane suffered serious damage and 2d Lt. Femoyer was severely wounded in the side and back by shell fragments which penetrated his body. In spite of extreme pain and great loss of blood he refused an offered injection of morphine. He was determined to keep his mental faculties clear in order that he might direct his plane out of danger and so save his comrades. Not being able to arise from the floor, he asked to be propped up in order to enable him to see his charts and instruments. He successfully directed the navigation of his lone bomber for 2-½ hours so well it avoided enemy flak and returned to the field without further damage. Only when the plane had arrived in the safe area over the English Channel did he feel that he had accomplished his objective; then, and only then, he permitted an injection of a sedative. He died shortly after being removed from the plane. The heroism and self-sacrifice of 2d Lt. Femoyer are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.

B-17 Flying Fortress bombers under anti-aircraft artillery fire over Merseberg, Germany. (U.S. Air Force)
B-17 Flying Fortress bombers under anti-aircraft artillery fire over Merseberg, Germany. (U.S. Air Force)

Robert Edward Femoyer was born 30 October 1921 at Huntington, West Virginia. He was the first of two children of Edward Peter Femoyer and Mary Elizabeth Kramer Femoyer. After graduating from St. Joseph’s Central Catholic High School in Huntington, Femoyer attended Marshall College for one year before transferring to the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute (better known as Virginia Tech), at Blacksburg, Virginia, as a member of the Class of 1944.

In February 1942, when he registered with the draft board, Femoyer was an employee of the Hercules Powder Company, a manufacturer of explosives. He was described as having brown hair and eyes, was 6 feet tall and weighed 150 pounds. Femoyer joined the Enlisted Reserve Corps at Roanoke, Virginia, 11 November 1942. He enlisted as a private in the Air Corps 4 February 1943 at Miami Beach, Florida, where he received basic military training.

Aviation Cadet Robert Edward Femoyer, Air Corps, United States Army, 1943. (Imperial War Museum)

After aircrew training at the University of Pittsburgh, March through June, 1943, Aviation Cadet Femoyer was sent to the Mississippi Institute of Aeronautics, Jackson, Mississippi, for flight training. He did not qualify as a pilot but was recommended for training as a navigator. He trained at Selman Army Airfield, near Monroe, Louisiana, and attended aerial gunnery school at Fort Myers, Florida. On graduation, 10 June 1944, Robert Edward Femoyer was commissioned as a second lieutenant.

Following combat crew training at Lincoln, Nebraska, he was deployed to England in September 1944. Lieutenant Femoyer was assigned to the 711th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy) at RAF Rattlesden, southeast of Bury St. Edmunds Suffolk, England.

Second Lieutenant Robert Edward Femoyer’s body was returned to the United States in 1949, and buried at the Greenlawn Cemetery, Jacksonville, Florida. A residential building at Virginia Polytechnic Institute was built following the war and named Femoyer Hall.

Douglas B-17G-25-DL Flying Fortress 42-38052, 711th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy), RAF Rattlesden, Suffolk, England. At the time of this photograph, the airplane carried the name, Lucky Stehley Boy. (Mark Brown, U.S. Air Force)
Douglas B-17G-25-DL Flying Fortress 42-38052, 711th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy), RAF Rattlesden, Suffolk, England. At the time of this photograph, the airplane carried the name, Lucky Stehley Boy. (Mark Brown, U.S. Air Force)

B-17G-25-DL 42-38052 was one of 2,400 B-17 Flying Fortress four-engine heavy bombers built by the Douglas Aircraft Company at Long Beach, California from 1943 to 1945. 2,395 of these were the “G” variant, with its distinctive “chin” gun turret. -052 was delivered to the U.S. Army Air Forces on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1943. In January 1944, the new bomber was assigned to the 711th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy), based at U.S. Army Air Forces Station 126 (RAF Rattlesden), Suffolk, England. The new bomber flew its first combat mission 4 February 1944.

The B-17G was camouflaged with the standard U.S.A.A.F. olive drab sides and upper surfaces, with neutral gray underneath. The vertical fin and wing tips were painted yellow and two vertical green stripes circled the aft fuselage. The four engine cowlings were painted blue, and a blue chevron was painted on the top of the right wing, indicating that this B-17 belonged to the 711th Bomb Squadron. The 447th’s group identification, a white letter “K” surrounded by a black square, was painted on the upper portion of the fin. Below this was its abbreviated serial number, “238052.” A black capital “L”, identifying the individual airplane, was painted at the bottom of the fin.

42-38052 was a replacement aircraft and was flown by several crews. It carried the names El Mal Centavo (“The Bad Penny”) and Lucky Stehley Boy, (“. . . so named in honor of Dr. Stehley of Cumberland. . . .”—Grant County Press, Petersburg, West Virginia, Thursday, 31 August 1944, Page 1, Column 6.)

This Vega Aircraft Corporation-built B-17G-105-VE Flying Fortress, 44-85784, seen at Rotterdam, May 1985, is painted in the markings of the 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy). (Jan Arkesteijn)
This Vega Aircraft Corporation-built B-17G-105-VE Flying Fortress, 44-85784, seen at Rotterdam, May 1985, is painted in the markings of the 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy). (Jan Arkesteijn)

On 27 March 1945, -052 crash-landed at B-53, a forward airfield near Merville, France, when its left main landing gear failed to extend. It was repaired and survived the war.

B-17G-25-DL 42-38052, with one main gear extended, just before crash landing at B-53, 1340 hours, 27 March 1945. (U.S. Air Force)
B-17G-25-DL 42-38052, with one main gear extended, just before crash landing at B-53, 1340 hours, 27 March 1945. (U.S. Air Force)

The veteran bomber was flown back to the United States and on 15 August 1945, arrived at the reclamation center at Kingman, Arizona. It was scrapped 8 November 1945, after less than two years of service.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 October 1943: “Bloody Thursday”

B-17 Flying Fortresses attack Schweinfurt, Germany, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

14 October 1943: A large force of 8th Air Force heavy bombers and escorting fighters attack the ball bearing factories at Schweinfurt, Germany, for the second time. Five bombardment groups sent 291 B-17 Flying Fortress four-engine heavy bombers on the raid.

A B-17F Flying Fortress going down over Europe. The left outboard engine is on fire and the right wing has been shot off. There are ten men in this airplane. (U.S. Air Force)

60 B-17s were shot down by German fighters or anti-aircraft artillery (“flak”). Another 17 were so heavily damaged that they crashed on landing back at their bases, or were so severely damaged that they were beyond repair. 121 B-17s received lesser damage. 594 crewmen were listed as Missing In Action (presumably Killed In Action). 65 men were captured and held as Prisoners of War. Of the bombers that returned to England 5 crewmen were killed and 43 were wounded. B-17 gunners shot down 35 to 38 Messerschmitt Bf 109s and Focke-Wulk Fw 190s. Another 20 fighters were damaged.

A B-17G Flying Fortress with its bomb bay doors open. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 August 1942

A flight of Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress bombers forms up over England, 1942. “Yankee Doodle,” 41-9023, is just to the left of center. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker (Margaret Bourke-White/LIFE)

17 August 1942: Mission No. 1. The United States VIII Bomber Command made its first heavy bomber attack on Nazi-occupied Europe when eighteen Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress four-engine bombers of the 97th Bombardment Group (Heavy), based at RAF Polebrook, Northamptonshire, England, headed for the railroad marshaling yards at Rouen-Sotteville, France. This was the largest and most active railroad yard in northern France.

The group began takeoffs at 1530 hours. It was escorted by several squadrons of Royal Air Force Supermarine Spitfire fighters.

While six B-17s flew along the French coast as a diversion, twelve bombers flew to Rouen and were over the target from 1739 to 1746. From an altitude of 23,000 feet (7,010 meters), they dropped 39,000 pounds (17,690 kilograms) of general purpose bombs.

Accuracy was good. One of the aim points, the locomotive shops, was destroyed by a direct hit. The overall results were moderate.

Rouen-Sotteville target assesment photograph. (U.S. Air Force)
Rouen-Sotteville target assessment photograph. (U.S. Air Force)

All of the bombers returned to their base, with the first landing at 1900. Two B-17s had been damaged. American gunners claimed damage to one Luftwaffe airplane.

brigadier General Ira C. Eaker commanded the raid from this Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress, 41-9023, Yankee Doodle, here being serviced between missions. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker commanded Mission No. 1 from this Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress, 41-9023, Yankee Doodle, shown here being serviced between missions. This bomber survived the War. (U.S. Air Force)

The raid was commanded by Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker aboard Yankee Doodle, B-17E 41-9023, leading the second flight of six B-17s. The 97th Bombardment Group Commander, Colonel Frank A. Armstrong, Jr., flew as the co-pilot of the lead ship, Butcher Shop, B-17E 41-2578, with pilot Major Paul W. Tibbets, Jr. Tibbets was in command of the 97th’s 340th Bombardment Squadron. (He would later command the 509th Composite Group and fly the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay.)

Colonel Frank A. Armstrong in the pilot's position of a Boeing B-17 (Imperial War Museum, Roger Freeman Collection, Object Number FRE 890)
Colonel Frank Alton Armstrong, Jr., Air Corps, United States Army, commanding the 97th Bombardment Group (Heavy), in the pilot’s position of a Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress. (Imperial War Museum)

The Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress was a major redesign. A new aft fuselage was used, incorporating larger vertical and horizontal stabilizers. A tail turret was added. A power-operated gun turret was added at dorsal and ventral positions.

The Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber operated by a flight crew of ten. It was 73 feet, 10 inches (22.504 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9-3/8 inches (31.633 meters) and an overall height of 19 feet, 2 inch (5.842 meters). Its empty weight was 32,350 pounds (14,674 kilograms), 40,260 pounds (18,262 kilograms) gross weight, and the maximum takeoff weight was 53,000 pounds (24,040 kilograms).

Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2587, 97th Bombardment Group, photographed 17 August 1942. (Imperial War Museum, Roger Freeman Collection, Object Number FRE 4053)
Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2578, 97th Bombardment Group, photographed 17 August 1942. (Imperial War Museum)

The B-17E was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liters) Wright Cyclone G666A (R-1820-65) nine-cylinder radial engines with turbochargers, producing 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. for takeoff and 1,000 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at Sea Level. The Cyclones turned three-bladed constant-speed Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 7 inches (3.835 meters) though a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-1820-65 was 47.59 inches (1.209 meters) long and 55.12 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter. It weighed 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms). 8,422 of these engines were produced by Wright Aeronautical Division and its licensees between February 1940 and August 1942.

The B-17E had a cruise speed of 195 miles per hour (314 kilometers per hour). Its maximum speed was 318 miles per hour (512 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 36,600 feet (11,156 meters).

With a normal fuel load of 2,490 gallons (9,426 liters) the B-17E had a maximum range of 3,300 miles (5,311 kilometers). Carrying a 4,000 pound (1,814 kilogram) bomb load, the range was 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers).

Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2578, lead ship on the 17 August 1942 air raid on Rouen-Sotteville, France. By the end of the war, this airplane was the oldest, longest-serving B-17E in the USAAF.
Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2578, the lead ship on the 17 August 1942 air raid on Rouen-Sotteville, France, flown by Major Paul W. Tibbets, photographed at RAF Bovingdon, 1943. By the end of the war, this airplane was the oldest, longest-serving B-17E in the USAAF. (Imperial War Museum)

The B-17E Flying Fortress was armed with one .30-caliber Browning M2 Aircraft Machine Gun and eight Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns. The .30 was mounted in the nose.  Power turrets mounting two .50-caliber guns, each, were located at the dorsal and ventral positions. (The first 112 B-17Es were built with a remotely-operated turret in the belly position, sighted by a periscope. A manned ball turret replaced this.) Two machine guns were in a tail turret, and one on each side at the waist.

The maximum bomb load of the B-17E was 20,800 pounds (9,435 kilograms) over very short distances. Normally, 4,000–6,000 pounds (1,815–2,722 kilograms) were carried. The internal bomb bay could be loaded with a maximum of eight 1,000 pound (454 kilogram) or four 2,000 pound (907 kilogram) bombs.

The B-17 Flying Fortress first flew in 1935, and was in production from 1937 to 1945. 12,731 B-17s were built by Boeing. 512 of the total were B-17Es. The last one was completed 28 May 1942. Production shifted to the further-improved B-17F.

Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2509, flying over the Florida Keys, circa 1942. (United States Air Force via Getty Images)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 August 1943

Consolidated B-24D-55-CO Liberator 42-40402, "The Sandman," takes off for Ploesti, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Consolidated B-24D-55-CO Liberator 42-40402, “The Sandman,” ready for take off at its base in Libya, destination Ploesti, Romania, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

1 August 1943: Operation TIDALWAVE. 178 B-24 Liberator very long range heavy bombers bombers of the 8th and 9th Air Forces, with 1,751 crewmen, made an extreme low-level attack on the Axis oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania.

The mission was a disaster: 53 B-24s were lost, 310 crewmen killed in action, 108 captured, and 78 interred in neutral countries. The damaged refineries were repaired within weeks and their output was higher than before the attack.

Five Medals of Honor were awarded, three posthumously, the most for any single air action in history.

The following is from an official U.S. Air Force publication:

U.S. Air Force Fact Sheet

OPERATION TIDALWAVE, THE LOW-LEVEL BOMBING OF THE PLOESTI OIL REFINERIES, 1 AUGUST 1943

Prior to World War II, the U.S. Army Air Corps (Army Air Forces as of June 20, 1941) developed a doctrine of high-altitude, precision, daylight, massed bombing of selected enemy military and industrial targets. Combined with the Royal Air Force’s concentration on mass air attacks on industrial areas at night by 1943, this doctrine evolved into the Combined Bomber Offense featuring “around-the-clock” bombing of German targets.

Petroleum production and distribution systems were among the highest priority targets, and perhaps the most inviting of these was the concentration of oil refineries at Ploesti, Rumania, which according to Allied intelligence estimates, produced as much as one third of Germany’s liquid fuel requirements. One of the most heavily defended targets in Europe, Ploesti lay outside the range of Allied bombers from England but could be reached by Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers from the Middle East or North Africa.

Colonel Jacob E. Smart, left, with Lieutenant General Henry H. ("Hap") Arnold, in China, February 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Jacob E. Smart, left, with Lieutenant General Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold, in China, February 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Allied leaders determined to bomb Ploesti during the Casablanca Conference in January 1943 and Gen. Henry H.” Hap’ Arnold delegated the problem to Col. Jacob Smart of his Advisory Council. Smart, the principle architect and planner for Operation TIDALWAVE, proposed, in complete antithesis of USAAF bombing policy, a low-level massed raid on the nine most important Ploesti refineries by five B-24 bomb groups, two from North Africa and three borrowed from Eighth Air Force in England .

By July 1943, the five groups—the 44th, 93rd, and 389th Bombardment Groups from England had joined the 98th and 376th Bombardment Groups at Benghazi, Libya, where they made final preparations and conducted additional low-level training under the direction of Ninth Air Force.

Operation TIDALWAVE. (U.S. Air Force)
Operation TIDALWAVE. (U.S. Air Force)
Consolidated B-24D-155-CO Liberator 42-72772 and flight cross the Mediterranean Sea at very low level, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Consolidated B-24D-155-CO Liberator 42-72772 and flight cross the Mediterranean Sea at very low level, 1 August 1943. A gunner stands in the waist position. The bomber’s belly turret is retracted. (U.S. Air Force)

Commanded by Brig. Gen. Uzal G. Ent, the force of 178 B-24s took off on the morning of 1 August, followed a route across the Mediterranean, passed the island of Corfu, crossed the Pindus Mountains into Rumania, and approached Ploesti from the east. While over the Mediterranean the formation divided into two parts: the first led by Col. Keith K. (K.K.) Compton commander of the 376th, consisted of the 376th and 93rd Bomb Groups; the second led by Col. John R. (Killer) Kane, commander of the 98th, included the 98th, 44th, and 389th Bomb Groups. Mandated radio silence prevented the leaders from reassembling the formation. The goal of a single, mass attack disappeared.

Consolidated B-24D Liberator very long range heavy bombers attack the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Consolidated B-24D Liberator very long range heavy bombers attack the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Compton’s formation reached Rumania well ahead of Kane’s. It descended to low level and, in error, made its planned turn to the south at Targoviste, miles short of the correct Identification Point (IP). Compton led two bomb groups toward Bucharest. Col. Addison L. Baker, commanding the 93rd Bomb Group following Compton, saw Ploesti to his left, turned his group and led it into the target first. Meantime, Compton found that he was heading to Bucharest and turned, almost reversing course, and bombed Ploesti from the south.

As the two groups emerged from Ploesti and escaped to the south, the 98th and 44th Bomb Groups led by Kane plunged into Ploesti where they found many of their targets in flames. They sought alternate targets of opportunity. Far to the north, the 389th Bomb Group successfully bombed its target, a separate refinery at Campina, as planned.

In one of the most famous photographs of World War II, Consolidated B-24D-55-CO Liberator 42-40402, The Sandman, i sover Targer White IV, the Astra Romana refinery, Ploesti, Romania, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
In one of the most famous photographs of World War II, Consolidated B-24D-55-CO Liberator 42-40402, “The Sandman,” is over Target White IV, the Astra Română Refinery, Ploesti, Romania, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Survivors of the attack fled south alone or in small groups trailed by Axis fighters which took a toll of the weakened force. Bombers crashed in fields or disappeared into the water; some diverted to Allied bases in the region; others sought sanctuary in neutral Turkey. Some 88 B-24s, most badly damaged, managed to return to Benghazi. Personnel losses included 310 airmen killed, 108 captured, and 78 interned in Turkey. Five officers: Kane, Baker, Col. Leon W. Johnson, Maj. John L. Jerstad, and 2nd Lt. Lloyd H. Hughes, earned the Medal of Honor; Baker, Jerstad, and Hughes posthumously.

Consolidated B-24D-55-CO Liberator 42-40402, The Sandman, clears the triple stacks at Astra Romana, Ploesti, Romania, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Consolidated B-24D-55-CO Liberator 42-40402, “The Sandman,” clears the triple stacks at the Astra Română Refinery, Ploesti, Romania, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Despite the extreme heroism of the airmen and their determination to press the mission home, the results of Operation TIDAL WAVE were less than expected. TIDALWAVE targeted nine major refineries that produced some 8,595,000 tons of oil annually, about 90 percent of all Rumanian oil production, and the attack temporarily eliminated about 3,925,000 tons, roughly 46 percent of total annual production at Ploesti. Three refineries lost 100 percent of production. Unfortunately, these losses figures were temporary and reflected much less than the planners had hoped for. The Germans proved capable of repairing damage and restoring production quickly, and they had been operating the refineries at less than full capacity, anyway. Ploesti thus had the ability to recover rapidly. The largest and most important target, Astro Romana, was back to full production within a few months while Concordia Vega was operating at 100 percent by mid-September.

The U.S. Army Air Forces never again attempted a low level mission against German air defenses.

Dr. Roger Miller, Historian, AFHSO.

Air Force Historical Studies Office Joint Base Anacostia Bolling, DC.

U.S. Army Air Forces B-24 bombers clearing a target at Ploesti, Romania, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
U.S. Army Air Forces B-24 bombers clearing a target at Ploesti, Romania, 1 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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16–17 May 1943

Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, VC, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar. (Imperial War Museum)
Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, VC, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar. © IWM (CH 11047)

16–17 May 1943: Nineteen modified Avro Lancaster B.III Special long-range heavy bombers of No. 617 Squadron, Royal Air Force, carried out Operation Chastise, a low-level night attack against four hydroelectric dams in the Ruhr Valley.

The purpose of the attack was to disrupt German steel production. It was estimated that 8 tons of water were required to produce 1 ton of steel. Breaching the dams would reduce the available water and hydroelectric power, disrupt transportation of materials on the rivers, and flood iron ore and coal mines and power plants. If the dams were destroyed, it was believed that the effects would be the same as attacks against 26 categories of industrial targets further down the Ruhr Valley.

Led by 24-year-old Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, a veteran of 172 combat missions, the aircrews of No. 617 Squadron dropped a spinning cylindrical bomb, code-named “Upkeep”, from a height of just 60 feet (18.3 meters) over the reservoirs behind the dams, while flying at precisely 240 miles per hour (386.2 kilometers per hour).

The 9,250-pound (4,195.8 kilogram) Vickers Type 464 bomb was designed to skip along the surface and to strike the dam, and then sink to the bottom. There, a pressure detonator exploded the 6,600 pound (2,994 kilogram) Torpex charge directly against the wall with the water pressure directing the energy through the wall.

Guy Gibson's Avro Lancaster B.III Special, ED932/G, AJ-G, "bombed up" with an Upkeep bomb. © IWM (HU 69915)
Guy Gibson’s Avro Lancaster B.III Special, ED932/G, AJ-G, “bombed up” with a Vickers Type 464 bomb. © IWM (HU 69915)

Nineteen Lancasters took off from RAF Scampton beginning at 9:28 p.m. on the 16th, and flew across the North Sea at only 100 feet (30.5 meters) to avoid being detected by enemy radar. The bombers succeeded in destroying the Möhne and Eder dams and damaging the Sorpe. A fourth dam was attacked but not damaged. The last surviving bomber returned to base at 6:15 a.m. on the 17th.

Of the nineteen Lancasters launched, two were damaged and turned back before reaching the targets. Six were shot down and two more collided with power lines during the low-level night flight. Of 133 airmen participating in the attack, 53 were killed.

GIBSON, Guy, with PO Frederick M. Spafford, FL Robert E.G. Hutchinson, PO Andrew Deering and FO Torger H. Taerum
Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, VC, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, Commander No. 617 Squadron, with the crew of “G George”: Pilot Officer Frederick M. Spafford, DFC, bomb aimer; Flight Lieutenant Robert E.G. Hutchinson, DFC and Bar, wireless operator; Pilot Officer Andrew Deering, DFC, gunner; Flying Officer Torger H. Taerum, DFC, navigator.  © IWM (TR 1127) 

Guy Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross by King George VI. An additional 33 survivors were also decorated. 617 Squadron became known as “The Dambusters.” A book, The Dam Busters, was written about the raid by Paul Brickhill, who also wrote The Great Escape. A 1955 movie starred Richard Todd, OBE, as Wing Commander Gibson. There have been reports that a new movie is planned.

An Avro Lancaster B.III Special drops an "Upkeep" bomb during tests, April 1943. (Imperial War Museum)
An Avro Lancaster B.III Special drops an “Upkeep” bomb during tests at Reculver, April 1943. Imperial War Museum, still from film, IWM (FLM 2340)
Post-strike reconnaissance photograph shows the breach of the Mohne Dam in the Ruhr Valley, 16 May 1943. (Imperial War Museum)
Post-strike reconnaissance photograph shows the breach of the Möhne Dam in the Ruhr Valley, 17 May 1943. The gap is 250 feet (76 meters) wide and 292 feet (22 meters) deep. © IWM (CH 9687)

The Avro Lancaster B.III Special was a four-engine long range heavy bomber modified to carry the Type 464 bomb. It was operated by a crew of seven: Pilot, navigator, radio operator, bomb aimer, nose gunner and tail gunner. The “Lanc” was 69 feet, 6 inches (21.184 meters) long with a wingspan of 102 feet (31.090 meters) and overall height of 20 feet (6.096 meters). The modified bomber had an empty weight of 35,240 pounds (15,984.6 kilograms and a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 60,000 pounds (27,215.5 kilograms).

The Lancaster B.III Special was powered by the Packard Motor Car Company’s license-built version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 24, a Packard V-1650-1 Merlin 224. These were 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.02-liter) liquid-cooled, supercharged, single overhead cam 60° V-12 engines, which produced 1,680 horsepower at 3,000 rpm and 2,750 feet (838.2 meters) with 18 inches of boost (124 kPa). They drove three-bladed de Havilland Hydromatic quick-feathering, constant-speed propellers which had a diameter of 13 feet (3.962 meters). These engines gave the Lancaster a cruising speed of 200 miles per hour (321.9 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 272 miles per hour (437.7 kilometers per hour) The service ceiling was 24,700 feet (7,528.6 meters) and maximum range was 2,530 miles (4,071.6 kilometers).

Defensive armament for a standard Lancaster consisted of eight air-cooled Browning .303-caliber Mark II machine guns in three power turrets, nose, dorsal and tail. The Lancasters assigned to Operation Chastise had the dorsal turret deleted to reduce weight and aerodynamic drag. The gunner normally operating that turret was moved to the front turret, relieving the bomb aimer to deal with the operation of the specialized mission equipment.

7,377 Avro Lancasters were built. Only two remain in airworthy condition.

The first two modified Avro Lancaster B.III Specials assigned to No. 617 Squadron, RAF Scampton, April 1943. (Royal Air force)
The first two modified Avro Lancaster B.III Specials assigned to No. 617 Squadron, RAF Scampton, April 1943. In the foreground is ED825/G, AJ T. (Royal Air Force)
One o fthe only two flyable Lancasters remaining, the Batlle of Britain Memorial Flight Avro Lancaster B.I PA474, Phantom of the Ruhr.
One of the two flyable Lancasters remaining, Phantom of the Ruhr, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd.-built Lancaster B.I, PA474, ready to start its engines. (© airpowerworld.info 2006)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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