Front Page

UK

World

Business

Sci/Tech

Sport

Despatches

World Summary


On Air

Cantonese

Talking Point

Feedback

Low Graphics

Help

Site Map

Monday, February 9, 1998 Published at 09:57 GMT



UK

Dam Buster labs broken up
image: [ Giant water tanks are now being demolished ]
Giant water tanks are now being demolished

A small piece of British military history, the inspiration for one of the most famous war films of all time, is being consigned to the scrapheap in a few weeks. As Tom Heap reports, the giant water tanks at Teddington, Middlesex, in which Britain's "bouncing bombs" were tested during World War II are being demolished.

The tanks, built before the First World War, were originally used to help design ships.


[ image: Barnes Wallis and his team spent two months firing two-inch balls across the water]
Barnes Wallis and his team spent two months firing two-inch balls across the water
In the summer of 1942, however, they were put to different use when Barnes Wallis and his team spent months firing two-inch diameter balls from a catapult across the water.

They were trying to work out the perfect speed and height from which to drop the bouncing bombs for maximum range and accuracy. One of the scientists on the project who has been back to the site, Herbert Jeffree, recalls that their first attempt was less than successful when the ball bounced off to the side rather than towards the target.

Eventually the experiments proved successful, convincing the RAF of their worth and on May 16, 1943, the newly-formed 617 Squadron took off, led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson.

Its first and defining mission, immortalised in The Dam Busters film, was to bomb German dams in an attempt to destroy important military factories by flooding them.


[ image: Engineer Herbert Jeffree recalls that the first attempt saw a ball bounce off to the side]
Engineer Herbert Jeffree recalls that the first attempt saw a ball bounce off to the side
The targets were the Moehne, Eder and Sorpe dams in the Rhineland. They generated hydroelectric power to keep the industrial heart of Germany beating.

The Moehne and Eder dams were successfully breached but at the cost of nearly half the squadron. And, although seen at the time as a heroic triumph, there was little significant material damage to Germany's war effort.

But, another of the bouncing bomb scientists, Norman Boorer, says that this ignores the psychological effect of the raid. He argues that the Germans were given a kick in the teeth.

The water tanks are currently administered by the National Physical Laboratory, the organisation responsible for holding British standards for measurements such as distance, mass, light speed and time.

The NPL's role is to define these constants with ever-increasing accuracy, not to preserve historical monuments. Another factor is that ships are now designed using computers rather than water tanks.

The plan is to replace the tanks with a park. English Heritage has recommended that one of them should be turned into a pond but a more likely memorial is a plaque.








Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage


[an error occurred while processing this directive] [an error occurred while processing this directive]
Internet Links

Dambusters history

Internet Movie Database - The Dam Busters

National Physical Laboratory


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.