Exactly 75 years since the Air Ministry gave its final approval to perhaps the most famous raid of the Second World War, a 23ft Lancaster bomber cockpit landed outside the Royal Albert Hall yesterday.
Operation Chastise, better known as the Dam Busters raid, by RAF 617 Squadron, blew open two dams and knocked out two hydro-electric power stations, causing catastrophic flooding of Germany’s Ruhr Valley.
Its anniversary will be marked by a screening at the Albert Hall of Michael Anderson’s 1955 film about the raid, newly restored in ultra high-definition and with Eric Coates’ stirring theme in digitally-enhanced stereo.
To promote the event, the TV historian Dan Snow and actors in wartime RAF uniform gathered outside the venue.
With them was Jonathan Stopes-Roe, grandson of Sir Barnes Wallis, whose “bouncing bomb” was dropped on to the dams by the original Lancaster crews.
He will be among the guests at the anniversary event on May 17, which will precede the film’s screening and will be transmitted live to cinemas across the country. It will include music from the Glenn Miller Orchestra and an onstage demonstration of how Wallis’ earthquake bombing theory worked.
In 1943, the RAF was not sure it would work at all. It had been tested, between the February 26 approval and the May 16-17 mission, with flights over the Derwent Valley, west of Sheffield, where the Howden Dam resembled those on the Ruhr.
For six weeks, Lancaster crews practiced low altitude bombing runs over the Derwent – and a decade later, Anderson used the same location to film his recreated bombing sequences
In 1988, to mark the 45th anniversary of the raid, the Derwent echoed once more beneath a flypast by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
Operation Chastise was a huge propaganda coup for Britain, which was still reeling from the effect of the Baedeker Blitz by the Luftwaffe over York and four other cities a year earlier.
It was also a setback to the German war machine, which took months to recover from the damage to the dams and nearby factories.
But the gains came at a cost. Eight Allied aircraft were shot down, 53 aircrew killed and three taken prisoner.
On the Axis side, the losses were much greater, with some 1,600 civilians killed – 1,000 of whom were prisoners and forced Labourers from eastern Europe.
However, the bouncing bomb raids were credited with diverting the German forces away from other theatres of war and for paving the way for the Berlin raids the following winter.