The Dam Busters follows the conception and implementation of a new British weapon during World War II and the true story of Operation Chastise – a mission carried out by the Lancaster bombers of RAF 617 Squadron against the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe dams in Germany’s industrial Ruhr valley.
In 1942, aeronautical engineer Dr Barnes Wallis (Michael Redgrave) is possessed with a seemingly absurd idea – the creation of a revolutionary “bouncing” bomb, capable of dodging torpedo nets by skimming over the water’s surface to destroy the Ruhr dams and paralyse Germany’s heartland.
The film describes the development of the bomb – showing Wallis shooting marbles across a bathtub of water as the idea begins to form – through to devising a particularly simple bombsight and an altimeter that had to be developed.
Wallis meets with Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris (Basil Sydney), the head of RAF Bomber Command, in order to procure the resources necessary to create his bombs. Hesitant at ﬁrst, Harris eventually approves Wallis’s plans and Prime Minister Winston Churchill (not depicted on screen) authorises the project.
A special Squadron is formed and selected to carry out the attack, led by Wing-Commander Guy Gibson (Richard Todd) who is given responsibility for the sortie and intensive training.
Major disappointments accompany the initial trials: the casing of the bomb has to be drastically re-designed and it transpires that the aircraft will need to approach the dam considerably lower and faster than had been predicted.
The climax of the film – the actual attack on the German dams – is rather a disappointment due to some unimpressive special effects. The bombers ﬂy low and attack the dams as planned. Although eight Lancasters and on-board crew members perish, two dams are successfully breached.
Adapted by R.C. Sherriff from the books Enemy Coast Ahead (1946) by Guy Gibson and The Dam Busters (1951) by Paul Brickhill, the film is a tribute to the genius of Barnes Wallis who fought persistent scepticism and disbelief from Whitehall that such a feat was possible.
Dr Barnes Wallis
Sir David Pye
Stanley Van Beers
Doctor WH Glanville
Official from Ministry of Aircraft
Captain Joseph Summers
RAF Officer at trials
Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris
Group Captain JNH Whitworth
Wing Commander Guy Gibson
Flight Lieutenant RD Trevor-Roper
Flight Lieutenant REG Hutchison
Flight Officer FM Spafford
Flight Lieutenant AT Taerum
Flight Sergeant Pulford