Monday, 18 October 2010
BBC2 showed a programme about the Dambusters on Sunday night. This was the name given to the RAF bombing raid during World War 2 that aimed to destroy German dams (and therefore create massive flooding damage) using special bouncing bombs. The story is well known, particularly because of the 1955 film which celebrated 617 Squadron's achievements. The BBC programme was more reflective. It pointed out some of the factual errors in the film, most of which were designed to make the heroes more sympathetic. In the film Guy Gibson, the squadron leader, is quite easygoing whereas in reality he could be quite aloof and focused on the job. In the film Barnes Wallis, the inventor of the bouncing bomb, comes up with the idea of bombing the dams but faces opposition from the War Office. In reality, the idea had been discussed before war had even begun. The film also gave plenty of time to exploring the effects of the successful destruction of the dams, interviewing Germans who lost their families and houses in the flooding (over 1600 people were killed, many of them allied prisoners of war in labour camps). This tone suggests perhaps that our attitude to events in World War 2 is changing as it moves ever further back into the past and fewer people are alive to remember it (there is now only one remaining veteran Dam Buster). Britain's experience of the war has an important place in our national identity and culture, but a gap of 70 years perhaps allows greater opportunities of a more balanced assessment of its significance.
PS: There is plenty of information about the Dambusters around. Here are two examples. The National Archives has an online exhibition of significant documents here.
PPS: Here is a (genuinely exciting!) 10 minute YouTube clip from the Dambusters Film where they attack the first dam. It is said that George Lucas was inspired by this for the final scenes of Star Wars...