It was the night of May 16th, 1943. Nineteen specially adapted Lancaster bombers take off from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, each with a huge nine thousand pound cylindrical bomb strapped underneath them. Their mission: to destroy three dams deep within the German heartland, which provide the lifeblood to the industries supplying the Third Reich's war machine.
From the outset, it was an almost impossible task, a suicide mission: to fly low and at night in formation over many miles of enemy occupied territory at the very limit of the Lancasters' capacity, and drop a new weapon, which had never been tried operationally before, at a precise height of just 60 feet from the water at some of the most heavily defended targets in Germany. More than that, the entire operation had to be put together in less than 10 weeks.
When visionary aviation engineer Barnes Wallis' concept of the bouncing bomb was green lighted, he hadn't even drawn up his plans for the weapon that was to smash the dams. What followed was an incredible race against time, which, despite numerous set-backs and against huge odds, became one of the most successful and game-changing bombing raids of all time.
©2012 James Holland (P)2012 Random House AudioGo
I had the extreme pleasure of hearing James Holland's talk about this book at the Borders Book Festival earlier in 2012. If knowledge, passion and enthusiasm was a sport, James would be on the top step of the podium. A fascinating yet brief introduction into a truly heroic effort to smash the dams.
This audio book was the next obvious step and I'm delighted to say it carries the same passion as the brief hour at the Book Festival.
A fascinating story of magnificent triumph over overwhelming adversity that changed the face of WWII. I had an inkling that these men were made of something 'a bit special', but I had no idea just how much the odds were stacked against this mission.
James Holland brings the fascinating story to life in this book. So much so, on more than one occasion, I found myself sitting in the car park at work transfixed when I really should have been in the office getting on with some work!!
This book proved fascinating. I had read much around the subject before, but his detailed explanation of both background and characters involved really brought this to life, as no pure factual account could.
He also really got over his enthusiasm for the subject!
The title doesn't reveal that because of Government Departmental disagreements and Ministry delays a whole year passed between Barnes Wallis designing the bouncing bomb, and when it was used on this raid! I was humbled by the dedication of those young RAF crews who defended Britain and attacked the enemy during the war, with such a grim statistic of the likelyhood of surving those raids, being so poor. 56 crew in 8 Lancasters failed to return from that mission. Such a heavy loss. Such destruction of natural resources, for the short term gain of causing great inconvenience. Was it worth it? Without detracting from Guy Gibson's leadership, himself only 24 years of age at the time, so sad that nobody remembers the names of the 56 who died that night, or those that returned. They were such brave men. This book should be an official dedication to 617 Squadron. We have those men to thank for the Britian of my childhood in the 1950's. One cannot bear to imagine the world today had Hitler succeeded. James Holland your book is a must have, 'lest we forget'.
Really great story well-written, but I was driven mad by the author narrating it, as he has a tendency to say 'wiv' instead of with and many other 'th's end up as either v or ff. I listened, gripped even through my gritted teeth, as the story was so good. I'm sure he's a great historian, but Mr Holland is not my favourite reader.
One of the most interesting and dramatic stories of the war, this is a very thorough and interesting book. It's always a bonus to hear a book read by the author, well done Mr Holland. There is a narrator's error about an hour into the book which didn't bode well but I don't notice any others after that.
A comprehensive telling of the development of the bouncing bombs, the dam raid and its effects, and the consequent history of 617 squadron.
Some points of interest.
The speed by which something so complex as the Dams raid was pulled off in the midst of total war. Less than two months from green light to mission.
That Barnes Wallis was not alone in being a proponent of such a weapon. Indeed, the admiralty were champions of the weapons throughout most of the development.
The focus on the strategic impact of the raid on German war production. Yes the dams were rebuilt quickly, but that was tests,net to the importance of the dams to German war production. During the period the dams were out of action, the Battle of Kursk ended in. German defeat, partly because of lack of tank and gun production at a critical stage of preparation.
The subsequent wartime history of 617 squadron is mentioned, but almost in passing. This doesn't do justice to the complex use of this squadron in the Tallboy and Grand Slam missions against key targets.
Ultimately, it's the dams mission that continues to capture the imagination, even today, over 70 years after the raid.
Difficult question as I enjoy reading as much as I enjoy listening. On the whole this is an excellent book and I would have enjoyed it in either medium.
Without a doubt towards the end the revelation that the impact of the dams raid was far greater than has hitherto been expressed. I doubt very much if the effect of the raid had on the German economy was anticipated by the allies at the time of the raid. The biggest single effect was undoubtedly the fact that so many workers were transferred from building the Atlantic wall, and had not been returned to finish it by the time the invasion took place. Had the raid not taken place the result of the invasion against completed defences would probably have not succeeded nearly as well as it did.
Also the fact that the deluge destroyed so many coal mines that factories all over Germany were severely affected to the extent that production and supply of tanks to the German army was severely limited and this may well have affected the results at the Battle of Kirsk.
The single most important event to shorten the war
I would like to see a remake of the classic film The Dam Busters using the knowledge gleaned for the production of James Holland's excellent book
A quite remarkable and personal insight in to Operation Chastise. Holland brings the raid to life through excellent research and the thoughts and writings of the men and women, from both sides of the conflict, touched by the events that culminated on 16th May 1943. A must read/listen for anyone interested in the subject.
Ever since being a small child books have been my world. Now a lot older & slightly techy without enough time to read I've moved to audible.
I think this is possibly the best or at least most interesting version I have read. Somehow it manages to balance the excitement & also pathos of the whole series of events. A really highly recommended listen
As an avid aviation history buff I have always loved the Dam Busters film. This book went above and beyond what I was expecting and made me realise the film does now where near enough to credit all involve in the actual raid and designing of the bomb. I recommend this to anyone who has seen the film even if they thought the film was only ok as this will blow you away!!
"Great Story Poor Narration"
I have a wide interest in the history of the Second World War and was looking forward to listening to a modern and updated insight into the developments that lead to the development of the "bouncing bomb". The author has done a great job researching this history and the long road Barnes Wallis had to get his ideas excepted. Hoever I think he should have found someone else to do the narration maybe it's me but I found his narration incredibly irritating. It is all very well to be passionate but he reminded me of a true enthusiast who doesn't so much talk to you but lectures and hectors you with such passion that he turns you off the topic. I felt like I was listen a really forceful but fundamentally tiresome lecture. So obviously my taste, great subject but another narrator with some distance from the topic would have been much better.
"A different take on a well known story"
After seeing the movie a number of times I thought I knew the story of the dam busters. But James Holland's story brought to life both the story behind those that flew the missions (including people who were integral but not part of the movie) but also the story behind the making of the bombs and the people who made it possible.
The story is both very entertaining and educational.
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