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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Dambusters Declassified Documentary - full 1 hour version - Martin Shaw

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'The RAF's last air-worthy Lancaster Bomber.

'A relic of a war that will soon be beyond living memory.'

As a pilot, I've always been fascinated by the wartime exploits of Bomber Command.

I've known some of the veterans.

And I own and fly one of the aeroplanes that they trained in.

'The classic movie about an impossible mission

'which succeeds against all the odds,

'The Dam Busters is one of my favourite films.'

It's gone! Look! My God!

This has to be one of the most iconic scenes in the history of war cinema.

'But I want to know whether the movie has distorted our view of the true history of the raid.'

What I'm hoping to find out is the truth behind

one of the most famous war stories of them all.

I'm going to retrace the route taken by 617 squadron

during its famous raid

and rediscover some of the forgotten secrets of the Dam Busters.

'I'll be hearing from the RAF's last survivor from the raid.

'His crew's efforts didn't feature in the film.

'And taking to the skies with a former RAF Harrier pilot

'and navigating for him.'

By my reckoning, we should be turning now, and I can't see the river.

- I'm going to override you this time. - Please, please!

'Or at least try.'

You're taught resourcefulness, courage...

'He was the dashing wing commander who led the raid.

'But who was the real Guy Gibson?'

- He was arrogant. - Gorgeous. An absolutely charming young man.

'In London, the bright lights of Leicester Square receive...'

'The film created an upsurge in national pride in an era of post-war austerity,

like the raid itself,

'boosting beleaguered Britain's morale.'

'Cheers and admiration greet the princess who wears...'

'And perhaps this is where the film and the legend of the Dam Busters started to become one and the same.

'55 years after its release, The Dam Busters retains its power

'as a piece of wartime storytelling.

'The stars Richard Todd as Wing Commander Guy Gibson

'and Michael Redgrave as Barnes Wallis, the inventor.'

In the movie, their double act personified the bravery

and ingenuity that summed up

perhaps the most spectacular and daring raid

in the history of aviation warfare.

'Over the years, the movie has been accepted by many

'as the definitive version of the story.

'But a lot of it was pure fiction.'

Guy Gibson's trip to the theatre did not throw up the ingenious

twin-lamp method for accurately measuring the height of the aircraft above the water.

'No, far less dramatically,

'it was a scientist at the Ministry of Aircraft Production

'who came up with the idea which was crucial to the success of the operation.'

The written sources for the film were two books,

Guy Gibson's Enemy Coast Ahead

and Paul Brickhill's The Dam Busters.

Now, according to those who know,

both are riddled with inaccuracies.

And then much of the information that director Michael Anderson required

for strict historical accuracy was still classified as secret.

Just take me through these timings again

and I'll write them down.

'If I'm to follow the route of 617 squadron,

'I'll need to do my homework.

'Especially as they expect me to navigate the route.

'Former RAF fighter pilot Chris Norton

'led One Squadron into battle during the conflicts in the Gulf and Kosovo.

'He's my pilot. I'm beginning to understand what I'm letting myself in for.'

Wow. That's daunting.

So they'll probably have had fairly significant blind areas...

'We'll be joined along the way by former RAF Red Arrows pilot Dave Slow in a second aircraft.'

The whole thing is mindboggling. That they could navigate at night,

being shot at, and not being able to see out, either.

It's probably an advantage, I suppose. You just rely on your stopwatch

and your compass and let the captain worry about the rest.

Lights out, pressure's rising.

RPMs good. Warning lights out.

'It's time to get airborne.

'And later, I'll be following the training routine of 617 Squadron.

'This is RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, home of the Dam Busters.

'It's a very different place today.

'There are no longer combat aircraft based here.

'But you can almost feel the ghosts of the past.'

'Spring 1943.'

'Airmen specially selected from across Bomber Command were brought together here to form 617 Squadron

'under the tightest possible secrecy.'

We had no idea what the targets were going to be.

And security was at an absolute premium.

All letters were censored and even the public telephone outside the station was monitored.

'They trained for mission impossible not knowing their weapon or their target.

'Time and again they honed their low-flying skills over British dams.

'For Johnny and the other young airmen,

'the unknown danger of their mission to come was on hold

'as their intensive training began.'

Flying at 100 feet, which was the prescribed height for our training, was great.

Lying in front, I'd see the ground just whizzing past.

Low level cross-countries all done by map-reading,

because it wasn't feasible

to use the navigation aids at that height.

Decelerating, 140. Letting down.

'So what's it like to fly so low? We're about to find out.

'We're heading down to the height that 617 Squadron would've trained at,

'100 feet from the ground.'

- I'm just going to weave round these houses. - Good idea.

'The legal minimum flying height for civilian aircraft is 500 feet.

'We have special permission from the Civil Aviation Authority.'

In 1943,

this was the best way to stay alive if you were over enemy territory.

Too low for night fighters and radar.

But, of course, it's very challenging flying this low.

But this is in broad daylight.

Imagine doing this at night.


Are you comfy at 100 feet yet?

- Me? - Yeah. - Oh, yeah. - It's funny how quickly it happens, isn't it?

This is exactly the sort of training they would've done.

And the beauty of it is that they knew

they couldn't get in trouble, no matter what they did,

they'd be over villages and whatever and learning to navigate.

But, of course, this is the day,

so you've got lots and lots of visual resolution.

Whereas at night, you don't have any of that.

And the way they simulated that is they put blue film over the windscreen

and they wore yellow goggles.

If you look at the amount of risk they carried in training, it's just amazing, really.

'As the navigator, flying at this height is difficult for me.

'Instead of the panoramic view you get at 1,000 feet,

'down here you see very little and you reach the horizon in seconds,

'so navigation is challenging.

'Luckily, Chris is alongside me.'

We've got this coming up on the nose.

- Then we're going to come back down there. - Right.

'This is where 617 Squadron prepared for the raid.

'The twin towers of the Derwent Dam in the Derbyshire Peak District.'

Fortunately for us, the weather's lovely.

So we're going to be in the hills of the Peak District

practising getting into the very difficult terrain

that they had to contend with when they were in the Ruhr hills.

What Gibson did is, he spent a long time poring over maps,

trying to find as many features as he could in the UK

that he could mimic with what would happen on the raid.

And then he got the guys flying round those features again and again until they could find them in their sleep.

They learned all the mistakes of navigation or the tricks of navigation they would use later.

'Chris knows this valley well.

'He once flew down it in a Harrier Jump Jet at night at 400 miles an hour.

'But he's never been down it this low.'

This was the Dam Busters' other secret weapon.

This is an exact replica

of the bomb sight that they used on the raid.

If you believe the film, that is.

'But this man knows the real story better than anyone else alive.

'Johnny Johnson occupied the bomb-aimer's position in the Lancaster

'piloted by the American Joe McCarthy.'

We had to make our own bomb sights.

And they consisted, basically, of a plywood triangle

with pins in the three points.

I didn't use one at all. I had no need to use one on the actual attack.

'That's because Johnny's crew was dispatched to attack the Sorpe Dam,

'a very different structure to the Eder and the Mohne.'

We wondered what it was all about, how we'd do it. We didn't know until we got there.

The Sorpe had no towers

and it was almost impossible to approach for a head-on attack because of the hills around it.

And so the practice was going to have to be

coming down over the hills on one side,

flying across the dam

and releasing the bomb as near as you could to the centre of the dam.

We weren't spinning it. It was going to be an inert drop.

So it was up to me as the bomb-aimer

to estimate when was the right time to drop it.

We weren't very happy about that, but there we are. We had to get on with it.

'On the tenth attempt, he released the weapon, hitting the target,

'one of only two crew to do so.

'But despite causing serious damage, the waters were held back.

'Although urgent repairs were needed.'

Well, could it really have worked?

We're about to find out.

'Back at the Derwent, it's time for our own experiment.

'Holding the sight steady is extremely hard.'

Almost impossible.

- Get your wings level as soon as poss. - Will do.

'The sight is a nightmare to hold steady.'

OK. Coming in, coming, coming, coming.

Coming, coming, coming.

Coming. Bomb's gone now!

I think we got it that time.

- It's very fast and furious at the end, isn't it? - Yeah.

'We're all full of admiration for the men who first did this.

- I still can't believe they managed to get a Lancaster in there. - I know.

This has got to be nimble compared to a fully-laden Lancaster.


'Because the wooden sight proved hard to use,

'the bomb-aimers improvised, with surprising results.

'Believe it or not, this was one device.

'A length of string.

'Again, the two forward points were used to measure the drop distance

'when lined up with the twin towers of the dam.'

OK, wing's a little...

Steady, steady. Steady. Come by, come by, come by.

Level, level.

Get it level. Get it level, get it level.

OK. All right.

Hold it, hold it. Level up. Level up.

- Bomb gone! - Good effort! It's miles away, isn't it?

That's phenomenal. I loved that. That was good.

I couldn't decide if we were on the left that time.

But you could see how absolutely crucial it was to get the wings level.

There's no point in letting the bomb go when you've got any bank on, otherwise it goes off to the side.

I prefer the string.

'I now feel I know a bit more about the problems of dropping a bouncing bomb.

'But what exactly was it?'

'A bouncing bomb that'll skip across the surface of the water and explode against the dam wall.'

'Codenamed Upkeep,

'this ingenious device was only ever used on this one raid.

'The secret to its operation

'was applying backspin through a belt mechanism before release.

It made the revolving depth charge

'skip across the surface of the water before hitting the dam wall

'and exploding at a set depth to cause maximum damage.

'In the movie, the bomb is the wrong shape and size,

'because its real dimensions were classified as secret until 1973.

'Dr Barnes Wallis, the inventor of the special dam-busting bomb,

'and Air Marshal Sir Robert Saundby and Lady Saundby.'

'But after the premiere,

'the retired air marshal complained of a fundamental misconception in the film.

'Wallis, he complained in a letter to the New Statesman,

'was not behind the idea to attack the dams.'

Plans were being hatched to attack the German dams

was as early as 1937.

And the idea of exploding a depth charge against the dams

was being discussed before the outbreak of the war.

I've got an idea for destroying the dams.

The effects on Germany would be enormous.

I know all that. I've read the report.

- Do you really think you can knock down a dam with that thing? - Yes.

It looks clever enough on paper,

but that goes for all these wheezy ideas.

- When you try to make them work, they fall down flat. - This one doesn't.

- How do you know? - We've tested it and proved it. I've got some films here.

Barnes Wallis is depicted as the genius inventor,

frustrated by bureaucracy and the scepticism of the War Office.

That's not strictly true.

'The real Barnes Wallis did feel a huge burden of responsibility

'for the airmen who had to deliver his invention.'

One was endangering those men's lives

simply to make an idea work.

But, mind you, the doing was done by Guy Gibson and 617 Squadron, not by me.

'What can't be disputed

'is the bravery of those young men who took to the skies.'

Their courage, audacity

and sacrifice

is rightly celebrated in this movie.

'Two months after 617 Squadron was formed, their task was finally revealed.

'They'd fly at night, 60 feet above the water,

'at more than 200 miles an hour.

'Possibly under heavy fire,

'they'd drop their single untried weapon in an attempt to break the dam walls

'and destroy German armament factories in the valleys below.'

Under the light of the full moon,

seven young men climbed into each Lancaster.

They'd all trained exhaustively,

honing their individual skills,

each of them depending on their fellow crew members for their survival.

It's hard to imagine how they were feeling

as they sat cramped in their cockpits waiting for takeoff.

'The 19 Lancasters left RAF Scampton in three waves.

'Flying low over the North Sea, they crossed the enemy coast

'and on deep into the Ruhr Valley.

'They pressed home their attack on three dams, breaching the Mohne and the Eder.

'But the air crews paid a terrible price for their bravery.

'Of 19 Lancasters, only 11 come home.'

My dad called it a suicide mission.

So courage,

absolute courage beyond any fear.

'John Fraser survived the wreckage of his crashed plane

'due to the heroism of his pilot, John Hopgood.'

They were badly hit and Dad released the bomb.

Hopgood tried to take the aircraft up approximately 300 feet

so that the crew could bail.

My dad managed to pull his chute out and it got caught in the slipstream

and the chute opened and he bailed at very, very low altitude, extremely low,

and he said the treetops looked awfully damn close.

This memorial commemorates the airmen of 617 Squadron

who lost their lives in World War II.

More than a quarter of them fell

on that first raid in May 1943.

'But on the German side, the consequences of that raid were catastrophic,

'in human terms as well as industrial.'

Are you there?

Nearly 70 years on,

these scenes of devastation could be seen as insensitive.

Even triumphalist from today's perspective.

So many innocent people were killed.

But this was wartime.

'The next stop off on our journey is where it all began,

'RAF Scampton, home of the Dam Busters.

'This was the officers' mess when 617 Squadron was based here.'

You know most of the chaps, I think. Carry on, please.

- Hello, sir. - Hello. - McCarthy, sir.

'In the movie, this is where Gibson meets the officers from his new Squadron for the first time.

'And this is where that scene was shot.'

Just extraordinary.

Even derelict, it's so atmospheric.

And this is the officers' mess at Scampton.

You can imagine it filled with rumbustious young men

not long out of school.

Probably even had mates killed last week, yesterday.

And there would've been a fantastic amount of horseplay in here.

I mean, they probably played cricket and rugby right here.

And got drunk right here.

And who could blame them?

'A short walk from the officers' mess at Scampton

'is another relic of the raid, steeped in the history of the squadron.'

I'm trying to put myself in Guy Gibson's shoes, as it were,

the night before the raid, sitting in this office with that awesome responsibility on his shoulders.

At the age of 24.

It just... It doesn't compute, you know?

I get nervous sometimes

if I'm just going off in my plane on my own.

There's just that little tension, you know, about... being a pilot

and just knowing where you're going and the things that could go wrong.

Just imagining that with all of those lives, all of those crews.

The Nazis, they have their German youth movement,

where they're taught the foulest things in life,

and you're quite the opposite.

'This was Guy Gibson addressing the boy scouts.

'He was patriotism personified.

'Barnes Wallis described him as "all guts and go."

'But if you strip back the layers of Boy's Own legend from the movie,

'a far more complex figure emerges.

'So who was the real Wing Commander Gibson?

'This most English of heroes was born in 1918 in India

'during the British Raj, only moving back to Britain when he was six years old.'

Gibson was basically insecure in that he had a very dysfunctional family.

At the age of six, his parents split up.

His mother became an alcoholic by the time he was 12

and he didn't have a family life in any sense. That meant that he was,

throughout his life, an insecure person and somewhat lonely.

'There was nothing in his early life that gave clues to the wartime hero he would become.

At the school, he was sound but unspectacular.

He was lance corporal in the OTC

and he didn't shine in sports, so he was not therefore, in any sense, an outstanding personality.

His one love was flying

and from 1935, he got it into his mind that he actually wanted to fly,

and that gave him a sense of purpose.

He had, in his room, a collection of Biggles books,

and on the wall was a photograph of Albert Ball, the VC of the First World War,

and I think that may well be his inspiration for wanting to fly.

When he goes into the service in 1936,

he then has to acquire a military personality.

And that's where I think you have a difference between what he was as a person

and what he was as an officer in the RAF.

I was a sergeant then

and one of his, I suppose, shortcomings, if that's the right word,

was that he couldn't mix with the lower ranks too well.

He was a strict disciplinarian.

The other thing about him was that he was quite small, quite short.

And one got the impression that short men

were more for arrogance than they were for anything else.

And I remember, on one occasion,

on an evening meeting, Gibson really tore a young Canadian pilot to pieces

because he'd rung his girlfriend in Lincoln the night before

and said sorry, he couldn't make it, "we've got something on."

That was all he said, but as far as Gibson was concerned, that was a breach of security.

And so we knew exactly what the position was.

He was not a natural leader. He was a manufactured leader

in the sense that he adopted an attitude which he felt was the way of running something

in much the same way as a school was run.

Maybe years later, one of the rear gunners on 617 Squadron said he was, "a product of his environment"

and by that he meant that he'd come from a public school,

which was a hierarchical organisation,

where the prefects controlled the boys,

and he applied this to the RAF,

he made sure that the lower ranks saluted him,

because he felt that that was part of discipline.

Without saluting and without smart uniforms, you didn't have efficiency.

He is not only insecure and lonely, but he's rather gauche socially.

Gibson as the commander was much more of a martinet,

much more a disciplinarian than he appeared in the film.

You saved my life. I'll never forget it.

He appeared as sort of an almost jovial person.

What are you messing about for? I told you, I'm not going.

- This new squadron, are you going to fly with it? - Of course.

- You'll need a crew, won't you? - Of course, but I'll get one all right.

- Ooh, you want to get rid of us. - I didn't say that.

Gibson's crew from his old squadron eagerly signed up to join him.

But that's not the way it happened.

'In fact, only one member of his old crew joined him at 617 Squadron.

'Flight Lieutenant Hutchinson, his wireless operator.

'Whilst on leave, he met actress and showgirl Eve Moore,

'who was older than him, at a party in Coventry.

'They were married the next year, in 1940.'

In her words, he stalked her.

He used to go to all her plays

and the other cast said, "There's that RAF boy sitting in the front row."

My husband's efforts, and all the boys in the services with him,

can bring this war to an end so quickly.

So much the better. Then we can enjoy ourselves.

'But hundreds of miles away in Lincolnshire,

'her husband was shouldering the immense burden of leadership alone.

'He befriended a member of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, Margaret Masters.

When I first met Guy,

I'd gone out to help either operate on

or bring in a very badly injured officer.

After kneeling on the floor for some time

and holding what was left of a badly injured arm... knees rather hurt.

It was a very hard floor.

And I looked at a pair of legs behind me and said, "Can I borrow your legs to lean against?"

I didn't know at the time that they were Guy's legs.

That's how I first met him.

My first impressions were that he was a typical officer,

full of his own importance at times,

but there was something about him that I wanted to know... more and more.

And I did. He was charming.

I'd found that he was at a bad spot.

In fact, his marriage was broken.

And he was lonely,


but he loved his job.

Everything was flying.

'This is the first time Margaret has spoken publicly about their relationship.

'She recalls a fantasy world they escaped to.

'In it, they shared a life together in a place they called Honeysuckle Cottage.'

Each meeting was adding a little bit to the cottage.

I could tell you how many teaspoons we had.

We did it that much. It was just a form of escapism

from the life we were leading.

Which, on one hand, was very, very dangerous...

..and on my behalf, was very, very painful at times.

We used to drive out and sit and just chat, just generally.

We found out about each other's lives.

Do you think he was in love with you?

I hope he was.

Yes, I was.

I'd be a fool if I wasn't.

Wing Commander Gibson VC who led the great Lancaster raid on the Ruhr dams...

'Immediately after the dams raid, Guy Gibson inevitably became a national hero,

'receiving a Victoria Cross for his leadership.

'His bravery was extraordinary.

'After dropping the first bomb,

'he flew in a further three times with the attacking bombers

'to draw the fierce enemy fire away from them.

'Guy Gibson died in a plane crash over Holland the following year.

'The Petwood Hall Hotel in Woodhall Spa.

'It's where the 617 Squadron officers' mess was eventually based.

'Chris Norton and I are staying here tonight, before embarking on our flight to Germany.

'Inside there's a bar dedicated to the memory of the squadron

'and its defining moment.

'Chris knows the feeling of going into battle,

'and was himself awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross,

'one of Gibson's many wartime honours.'

You've been to war yourself

and had to, presumably,

lie awake a night, or at least know that tomorrow morning's the day you go into action.

What's that like?

- Erm, the first time you go into action, everybody's anxious. - I should imagine.

They're mostly anxious about not making a mistake.

I think they're less anxious, albeit there's still an anxiety there,

that they might not come back.

Now, it was probably more certain in 1943 than it is today

that you're not going to come back. The chances of not coming back were quite high.

In the case of the Iraq War, which is when I was commanding One Squadron,

then there were a lot of people who didn't believe in that war.

I guess, in the Second World War, the issues were much clearer.

- Exactly, it was a war of national survival. - Yes. Absolutely.

And the whole country was at war.

Whether you were a labourer or a driver

or a wife, a nurse, a pilot or a soldier,

everyone was at war.

'In about ten hours' time, we'll be setting off to follow Guy Gibson's route.

'I wonder how well he slept the night before the raid.'

- Morning, Martin. - Morning.

- How are you? - You all right? - Yes, thank you. - Good to go?

'The time has come to retrace the route taken by 617 Squadron.

'But first, an impromptu navigation briefing.'

Briefing on the wing, always the best way.

'I must admit to some last-minute nerves.

'I'm about to navigate the longest flight I've ever undertaken in a light aircraft

'across some of Europe's busiest skies.

'Oh, well, here goes.'


'We'll be in close formation with a second plane

'that will follow us as far as the coast.

'This is the start of a 400-mile flight that, in 1943,

'changed the course of the war.

'When the Dam Busters left Scampton, there was no tarmac.

'Their runway was made of grass. But some things haven't changed.

'As the crews headed for enemy airspace,

'each must have wondered whether they'd ever see a familiar landmark, like Lincoln Cathedral, again.'

It's extraordinary to think that that's pretty much what they saw.

To put yourself in their position.

Not much has changed, really.

You're looking out of the window of an aeroplane at the cathedral.

There were so many Bomber Command bases around Lincolnshire

and whilst they would've been in small villages,

Lincoln was that big landmark.

'So, onwards over the familiar towns and villages

'and across the vast expanse of the Lincolnshire Fens.'

So who were the men who set out for Germany on that day in May in 1943?

The movie suggests that they were veterans,

handpicked by Guy Gibson himself.

'But that wasn't the whole story.

'Some where there quite by chance.

'Jack Liddell was the youngest Dam Buster,

'but he'd already been thrown out of the RAF.

'He was just 15 at the outbreak of war.

'But that wasn't about to stop him joining up,

'even if he had to lie about his age.'

He joined underage, and when the authorities found out his real age,

they threw him out. So he went to the London Fire Service

and worked with them during the Blitz.

Working for the London Fire Service in the Blitz

was as dangerous as anything. I mean, a lot of firemen were killed.

So he did join eventually again

and got trained up as a gunner.

'Vic Townsend served with Jack Liddell on the same bomber crew.

'He now lives near Sydney, Australia.

'These postcards are mementos of their Lancaster bombing raids

'whilst serving together on 61 Squadron.

'This is the view young Jack would've had from his position as rear gunner.'

I met Jack Liddell in 1942

after we'd come back from Canada

and been pushed into a number of time-wasting activities

because there was a bottleneck in training.

And I never knew him as Jack Liddell.

He was always called Killer, cos he never fired his guns in anger.

They said to all of us,

"You can do a period of instruction or you can join this new squadron

which we are just forming, but we cannot tell you anything about it."

Nobody volunteered. Nobody wanted to volunteer blind.

But Jack Liddell said,

"I can't instruct nobody. I can fire a gun. I'll go to the new squadron."

So that's how he got to the Dam Buster squadron.

So he went on the Dam Busters raid and didn't come back.

'That's because the Lancaster that Jack Liddell was aboard, piloted by Robert Barlow,

'crashed over Germany, killing all of its crew. But more of that story in a moment.

'Leaving the English coast, we drop as low as the Lancasters

'of 617 Squadron would've done to avoid enemy detection.'

4570 for Amsterdam, Golf Yankee Mike.

'For the last 45 minutes, we've been flying east over the North Sea.

'Back then, it was a dangerous place, bristling with enemy ships.

'A fact that the crew of 617 Squadron were well aware of.'

- It wasn't operation certain death, but it was operation quite likely to die. - Yeah.

We're going to come back onto the track here,

which is this point here. So I'll hit that point there for you.

- OK. - Then you've got it, so you'll know where you stand.

- 100 feet. There you go. - Cracking.

'The Dutch aviation authorities

'have given us special permission to cross the coast at a height of 100 feet.'

They would've gone as low as they dared. Some of the pilots were extremely low.

- 40 feet they were reputed to be able to fly at. - This looks a lot less than 100 feet to me.

You're the expert, but I reckon that's a lot less than 100 feet.

I've got 100 feet on the altimeter.

'So, even in daylight with no enemy menace to threaten us, low flying is difficult.'

That's the Dutch coast ahead and, in 1943, we'd be flying into

a lethal hole of antiaircraft fire,

so your best chance was to stay low.

But that had its dangers, too.

'As Pilot Officer Jeff Rice, flying in the second wave of Lancasters, found to his cost.'

You were so low that you had to hop over the sand dunes.

You couldn't judge the distance above the water because of the moon.

And the last thing you'll see will be a shadow coming up to meet you.

- And it's yours. - And it's yours.

There was an enormous bang followed by a second bang.

His engineer said to him, "You've lost the bomb"

and he then had to pull the aircraft up

but, of course, the water was so violent

that it not only went down through the fuselage,

but it hit the top of the fuselage in the cockpit where he was.

'Incredibly, Jeff Rice managed to pull the bomb out of the water

'in what surely must be one of the greatest escapes of the war.

'And he headed for home, his mission over.

'With the tail wheel disabled by the impact,

'the landing back at Scampton was dangerous

'and left the rear gunner, Sergeant Burns, trapped in his turret.'

So poor old Burns has to be cut out of the rear turret by the ground crew.

'The day after the raid, the surviving pilots were photographed together.'

Gibson quizzed Rice as to why he'd lost the bomb.

He told him and he looked at him and he said, "Bad luck. I almost did the same thing."

You're right of track at the moment.

- Very good. 143, is that right? - Yes.

So, that's exactly what they did. If I'd got you out of track by not flying properly,

you'd have said, "come left ten" for about a minute

- and then turn me back onto my heading. - OK, that's what you want to do. - OK.

'We're crossing the Zuiderzee, Holland's inland sea.

'And following the Dam Busters' wake seems simple. Flying in broad daylight, that is.'

The only thing you wouldn't want to do in here is fly past a flak ship.

We are absolutely beautifully on track.

We've got perfect visibility

and nobody's shooting at us.

'Drifting off the route plan cost more than one Lancaster the lives of its crew.

'For them, flying at 100 feet or less at night, it was understandable.

'But even in the day, navigation isn't simple.

'As I'm finding out.'

I think I'm slightly right of track.

- I've got you bang on. - OK.

By my reckoning, we should be turning now.

And I can't see the river.

I think we missed it. I think it was back there.

I don't think so. I think the river is coming up on our right-hand side.

- OK. - So I'm going to override you this time. - Please!

If you just think about the emotion that's going on as you're thinking,

"I haven't seen my point. I'm starting to get worried."

My point's late.

'He's right, of course.

'But in the industrial sprawl of southern Holland, it's easy to make a mistake.

'In 1943, it could've been a fatal error.'

- It's the confusion, isn't it? - Yeah. - You see something go past and you think, "Right, that's me"

- and then you're getting more and more doubt in your own mind. - Yeah.

Crossing the border.


We've just crossed the German border

and in 1943, these were very dangerous skies,

as Flight Lieutenant Robert Barlow and the crew of E-Easy were just about to find out.

'It's thought a combination of enemy fire and pylons

'conspired to bring down the Lancaster, with the loss of all seven crew,

'near to Haldern in northern Germany.

'But when the embers cooled from the crash site,

'the Germans were able to recover the top-secret weapon intact.'

They knew that the Germans had recovered one of the bombs

and they were afraid that they would be able to adapt it and use it.

'Weapons experts quickly went to work analysing the bomb.

'These technical diagrams show how full a picture they had of the weapon.

'And along with the bomb, they had one of the surviving members of the Lancaster that crashed in flames

on the other side of the Mohne Dam, Flight Sergeant John Fraser.

He was in solitary confinement for seven days

and he was interrogated.

He did describe some details, being forced to.

I would say that he probably wasn't treated very well.

'German transcripts of his interrogation

'show how Fraser gave away top-secret information,

'including details of his training and his own role as bomb-aimer.

'He also divulged technical details of how the weapon was deployed.

'And this seldom-seen top-secret German footage

'shows just how far advanced their plans were

'to deploy a similar weapon against British targets.

'Codenamed Kurt, it was a rocket-assisted bouncing bomb.

'So the same dams used by 617 Squadron to train for the raid

'were now themselves under threat of attack.

'These German plans showed the fears were justified.

'Enemy reconnaissance had pinpointed the reservoirs

'which presented the maximum opportunity to damage the British war effort.

'A month after the dams raid, Winston Churchill was so worried about a copycat raid by the Germans,

'he personally sought assurances from the War Cabinet

'about the readiness of British defences.'

For the five dams close to Sheffield, we deployed a total of 5,000 troops.

We put smoke-screened balloons, antiaircraft guns,

and in some of the dams, we actually put a metal structure on each side of the dam

with wires slung down between them

so that you couldn't have low-flying aircraft attacking.

'It's bank holiday in Germany and the crowds are out enjoying the sun.

'This is the Mohne Dam,

'now a place of leisure as well as an abiding memorial to a national disaster.

'It's hard to believe this mighty stone structure was ever breached.'

It's huge.

- It's big. - There's a lot of water in it.

'From up here, it makes me shudder to think of that dam coming down.

'But when it did, the devastation brought upon this beautiful place was total.

'Maria Nierhoff was 16 years old

'and living in the town of Neheim, about four miles from the dam.

Our house stood here.

Our neighbour, Herr Schaker, said to us, "Save yourselves, the Mohne has been breached."

'The water poured down the valley,

'destroying towns and villages for many miles.'

You heard this roaring sound

and as soon as we heard that roar of the water,

we were lucky we could run straight up the hill. We just ran and ran.

How times changes the perception of what's an enemy

and what's good and what's bad.

And really it was a political regime that was making this bad,

not the people or the country.

That being said, it's now against the Geneva Convention

- to bomb water. - Really? - Yeah. So it's an illegal target.

If we were ever sent again for such a thing,

then bombing a dam is completely illegal, ever since the Geneva Convention.

'Maria is retracing her footsteps.

'This journey of about two miles probably saved her life.

We just kept running.

When we arrived at the top of the hill, we stopped at the cross and sat underneath it.

There was one neighbour, they had four children.

They must have been asleep and not woken up. I don't know.

One man was home on leave and said to his wife,

"You go up the hill with the baby"

and he went back to help this family with the four children.

He died along with that family. They all died. It was just how it was.

There were several people at the cross. They had run up the hill.

It was a very clear night, so they could see everything.

They came in their planes and they shot at us.

Like I said, if I hadn't been there, I wouldn't have believed it.

There were no men there, just women and children.

It was just war. That's how it was.

So many people died.

We were lucky that we went up that hill, or we might have died, as well.

'Today we arrive in peace time

'in the land of our close European allies.'

For us, it's a thrill. For them, it's a different thing altogether.

It's hard, really, to say what my thoughts are,

because there's so many conflicting thoughts.

'All these years later, Maria's memories are still vivid.'

Then in the morning, we came down.

Everything was underwater. All the houses had gone.

Our house was simply no longer there. Not even the foundations.

There was nothing left of it. All the houses had gone. We just couldn't believe it.

'Of the estimated 1,600 people who died,

'it's reckoned that more than 900 were foreign forced labourers.

'By comparison, the Eder Dam breach caused a fraction of the casualties.'

Four bombs hit the dam before the breach was confirmed.

And then where I'm standing here, a tsunami was triggered this way

and 135 billion litres of water, an unimaginable amount,

came cascading down the valley.

Guy Gibson looked down and thought it was an absolutely wonderful sight.

And, of course, to them it was. The raid was successful,

they'd done their duty, they hadn't been killed on the way, they hadn't missed the dam altogether.

And yet, down here, it must have been awful.

And it's hard to equate the peacefulness and the calm

and a nice afternoon in the sun...

There are people strolling backwards and forwards, sitting on benches, having picnics,

and this was the scene of such utter terrible devastation.

And, for me, it's poignant, as well,

cos I read about this raid when I was 15

and it's something, if you're interested in aeroplanes and war stories,

that is right in the centre of your imagination, and here I am where it happened.

And I can imagine and hear the Lancasters pulling up and getting out over there.

And yet, there's a sort of overtone of sadness, as well, the futility of it all.

In the end, it didn't really accomplish very much at all.

'That sentiment strikes a chord in modern-day Germany.'

So, on the German side, we see them as war victims.

We see this event as a day of commemoration

and also as a warning of the futility of war,

and we hope that such events are never repeated.

In England, it is remembered very differently.

In some reports, the German casualties are forgotten about

and the attack is seen in pure technical terms

as a military operation against a target.

'When this squadron photograph was taken after the raid,

53 members of 617 Squadron were already dead.

'Nearly 70 years on, and just a handful survive.'

'One of the last two Dam Buster veterans has died at the age of 91

'at his home in Lincolnshire.

'Flying officer Ray Grayston was a member of 617 Squadron.

'His funeral will be held at Boston Crematorium.'

'Ray Grayston was part of the crew that breached the Eder Dam.

'On a later raid, he was captured after escaping from his doomed Lancaster before it crashed

'and he spent the rest of the war as a German prisoner.'

Obviously very sad, the passing of Ray. He was a great guy.

Very modest. Wore the badge of hero reluctantly.

The ingenuity, the spirit of these young men,

who were just doing a job and did it really well

in such a short space of time, should be remembered.

What we're capable of being able to do when we're called upon.

And I think that's very much lacking today and we should remember that.

'And on the anniversary of the raid, they are still remembered.

'At this year's commemorative service, there was only one dams raid veteran attending.

'Johnny Johnson.'

My father was pilot of AJ-T on the dams raid.

I get to see Johnny Johnson, my dad's bomb-aimer.

He's the last living member in the UK that we know of.

There's only four of them in the world,

so it's just really great to come back and see somebody

that was in my dad's crew.

You look at what these people did, left their jobs and their schools

when they were 18, 19, 20 years old and went out to fight a war,

not knowing how long it was going to take or if you'd ever come back.

And then they came back and then, after the war, it's like they dropped it

and just went on with their lives

and it was a part that they all just sort of let lie.

And they don't brag or anything like that.

It's just wonderful to honour those people.

Not much was said when they returned from war. Not much at all.

And my dad didn't talk much to my mom about it.

And, as a little girl, I just remember my father loved flying

and I was a Dam Buster's daughter

and he busted dams and I didn't know what the heck that was as a child.

It was just funny. I thought it was funny.

And now when I look back years later, and I can reflect on what these men did,

to go out on the night of a raid like that

and to be talking about, "We might not come home"

and to fly and do that, I can't imagine the courage it took.

This has been an amazing journey for me.

I've learned so much about a story that I knew very well,

and there was a lot more to learn.

And now I'm about to realise a boyhood ambition.

You guys really do have the best job in the world.

There is a clear area up there through the clouds.

'Today's flight is all about marking perhaps the most important act of wartime defiance

'in this nation's history.'

This is the Battle of Britain memorial flight Lancaster,

one of only two left flying in the world.

This is the end of a memorable personal journey for me

and the fulfilment of a boyhood dream, really.

I can't believe I'm doing this.

'It's the 70th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Britain.'

Today, this grand old lady is on ceremonial duty.

We'll be giving a lot of pleasure to people on the ground

as well as memorialising some of the brave men who lost their lives flying in these wonderful things.

'What could evoke the British wartime spirit better

'than the white cliffs of Dover and a Spitfire flying in close formation?

'On the ground, thousands have gathered,

'including some of the veterans themselves.

'All have come to see us fly past in honour of those who died defending this country.'

Seeing the Battle of Britain memorial flight Spitfire join us

and then do an attacking run, that's a sight I never thought I would see in this life,

believe me, but it was very exciting.

'Just when it seems it really cannot get any better,

'it just has.

'Squadron leader Stuart Reed has asked me to join him on the flight deck.'

If you'd said to them the best part of 70 years ago,

"We'll still have one flying in honour of what you're doing" they would never have believed it.

'Ceremonial duties performed, it's time to head for home.

'So what have I learned along the way?

'Well, the Dam Busters story and the men who made it possible,

'it's not like the movie at all.

'Oh, no. In truth, it's far more unbelievable.

'A far more amazing story than that.'

The Description of Dambusters Declassified Documentary - full 1 hour version - Martin Shaw