Classic war film for Film Club screening

September 26, 2014

One of the most famous of all war films, which revives memories for many of us who grew up in the early post World War Two years, is the NWTC Film Club selection for September, and screens at the Roxy this Sunday at 4pm.

“The Dam Busters” gives a stirring account of the RAAF bombing raid on the huge Ruhr Valley water storage dams in 1943, at a crucial stage of the war.

The film was adapted from Paul Brickhill’s book of the same name written in 1951, and “Enemy Coast Ahead”, written in 1944 by the commander of the mission, Wing Commander Guy Gibson, later Group Captain Guy Gibson VC.

Gibson at the time of taking command of the special squadron formed to carry out the raid on Germany’s industrial heartland was already a veteran of over 170 bombing and night-fighter missions.

“The Dam Busters” is, however, much more than the story of an aerial bombing mission. It recounts the struggle over many months by aeronautical engineer Barnes Wallis to persuade the War Ministry to allow him to design a particular type of bomb which could breach the almost impenetrable defences of the three great Ruhr Valley dams in Germany.

Wallis eventually won permission, but was then faced with the enormous challenge of designing a bomb which would bounce along the water, contact the wall of the dam, sink to the bottom and then detonate against the wall.

Achieving this almost impossible feat would require the “best of the best” aircrew, with the result that a special squadron of Lancaster bombers – the famous 617 Squadron – was formed.

Under the command of Gibson, the squadron included RAF crews, but also airmen from the Royal Canadian Airforce, Royal New Zealand Airforce and our own Australian RAAF.

Among Australians involved was the pilot of one of the Lancasters in Gibsons formation, Flight Lt. H.B. “Micky” Martin.

Nineteen aircraft were faced with an almost impossible task – to fly across the surface of the dams at an altitude of only 18 metres above the water at a speed of 390 K’s an hour, and to eject the bombs at an exact distance from the walls of the dams, faced by formidable defences. That the mission succeeded to a large degree is the stuff of legend.
But the cost in human lives was immense – 53 of the 133 aircrew involved were killed, including 13 Canadians and two Australians.

Of the survivors, 34 were decorated at Buckingham Palace, with one VC (Gibson), 5 DSO’s, 10 DFC’s, 2 Conspicuous Gallantry Medals, 11 Distinguished Flying Medals and several bars to existing medals.

The film stars Richard Todd and Michael Redgrave, and was the most popular film at the British box office in 1955, its year of release.

The main theme music – the stirring “Dam Busters March” – endures today as one of the Britain’s most popular military marches, and is even played at England international football matches.

“The Dam Busters” is filmed in black and white, runs for 124 minutes, and is rated G for the whole family. Don’t miss it.