05 Aug 2010 12:18 pm

Posted by under Book Review

Dam Busters

Given the recent significant interest in the family regarding Lancaster bombers, when I saw an old copy of The Dam Busters lying on the kitchen island, I decided to give it a go…

The Dam Busters by Paul Brickhill (ISBN unknown*), 1951, Pan Books
This classic World War II book recounts the story of the famous raid on the German dams in May 1943. The story begins with Barnes Wallis contemplating how he might use his skills as an engineer and aircraft designer to shorten the war and describes the challenges that he faced in persuading a beleaguered military command structure to hear out his ideas. In hindsight, it is easy to see the genius in Wallis, but at the time his ideas surely would have seemed outlandish.

Eventually the military command is convinced that the scheme to destroy key German dams with Wallis’s “bouncing bombs” is feasible and the book describes the formation of the famous 617 Squadron of the RAF who were, at great cost, able to carry out the raid on the dams. At this point the focus shifts away from Barnes Wallis and onto the airmen of 617 Sqn, who despite an early reputation for being given suicidal missions, eventually become renowned for their precision bombing and their ability to destroy highly fortified enemy targets.

The Dam Busters literary style shows a heavy British influence in it’s elliptical and somewhat flowery prose – it is dated but seems to suit the era described. The sense of fatalism of Bomber Command aircrews is quite evident – not surprising given the very high casualty rate of bomber crews, with aircrew having only a 1 in 4 chance of surviving a tour. In all, a good book that has stood the test of time over the past 60 years.

*The ISBN standard did not exist until 1970. Although the edition of The Dam Busters that I read was a 1978 reprint, it appears that no ISBN was issued.

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