Why Kent ignores the Dambuster heroes for their 70th anniversary?
The Dambusters Raid still seems incredible with its 70th anniversary today just gone, and yet the shame of its Kent connections going unrecognised.
With all of Europe occupied by Nazi Germany, and, in the lull of the airwar between the Blitz bombings on London and Kent airfields and the V1 and V2 rockets attacks on London and Kent, the Dambuster Raid of Operation Chastise on three dams in the Ruhr in May 1943 marked a quite extraordinary example of courage and innovation.
Nowadays a comical Carling Black Label ad or Shepherd Neame’s funny Spitfire ads and the Richard Todd film, now being remade by Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame, are the last few memories of the raid.
And the anniversary ignored in East Kent.
The Dambuster bouncing bombs were trialled off both the Broadstairs and Reculver coasts – designed to spin across the water, over torpedo nets, strike the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams and sink as depth charges to blow the dams open.
An almost unbelievable technical innovation matched only by daring if not suicidal flying skills.
With planes shot down over the Dutch coast both on the way out and on the way back, and 53 airmen out of 133, and 10 Lancaster bombers shot down the death toll was indeed high. Some planes were flying so low - even below treetop level! - and at night remember, that they were brought down by electricity pylons.
Yet the Mohne and Eder dams were successfully breached. The Sorpe dam remained largely intact – but after the spectacular heroism of nine attempted bomb runs in parallel to the dam by T for Tommy Lancaster bomber before successfully releasing its bombs.
10 bombing runs under fire at night over water and surrounded by steep mountains.
The raid was so astonishing too in the medal haul: a Victoria Cross for Guy Gibson, just 24 years old – and no doubt UKIP would revel in his dog’s name today - and 10 Distinguished Flying Crosses amongst dozens of other medals. Even though the raid eventually turned out to be largely a morale-booster with some production of electricity restored within months and the dams rebuilt.
And yet, without the tragic necessity of total war, these raids would rightly be considered war crimes now – bombing dams was outlawed in the Geneva Convention in 1977. Along with the firebombing of Hamburg later that year and Tokyo over the following two years of the war – both raids even more damaging than the nuclear strikes on Japan - targeting the civilian populations became the main emphasis of the airwar.
Indeed the main casualties of 1,600 from the Dambuster floods were 749 Allied prisoners of war used as slave labour and the civilian German population. And perhaps equally of concern, even in this modern era of famine and UNMDG, was hundreds of acres of farmland put out of production until well into the 1950’s causing starvation in Germany and Netherlands, resulting in the formation of Oxfam amongst other charities.
And the legacy of the raid became the use of Tallboy bunker-buster bombs on the V1 and V2 rocket sites (and 1,000 bomber raid on Peenemunde and V1 factories), not dissimilar to the fuel-air bombs used on Taliban caves in modern day Afghanistan. As well as attacks on the V3 supergun sited near the French end of today’s Channel Tunnel (designed to bomb both Maidstone and London), and a forerunner of Saddam’s Scud strikes on Israel and planned Iraqi supergun.
While the heroism of the Dambusters may never be needed again, when the modern RAF is procuring 500 killer drones.
And over 349 push-button computer game drone attacks have taken place since 2008 in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen via spy drones from US airbases in Nevada and now RAF Waddington. The latter not so far from the 617 squadron airbase at RAF Scampton and Lancaster bombers of 70 years ago.
But what a shame that East Kent has confined its place in such an astonishing exploit to nothing – the heroism of the Dambusters is as ignored in its East Kent homeland as the Spanish Armada, Channel Dash heroes, or Dunkirk Little Ships