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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another James Holland winner, 29 May 2012
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This review is from: Dam Busters: The Race to Smash the Dams, 1943 (Hardcover)
I was surprised (as was James Holland) to find how few books have been written on Operation Chastise. The best known is Paul Brickhill's "The Dam Busters", on which the celebrated film was based. But Brickhill's book was written in the 1950s, when much was still secret (he didn't even know what the bomb looked like). Everything was published after 30 years, and James Holland has made excellent use of it. He describes well the feverish preparation (less than 10 weeks from the idea to the attack), and how the crews went into action when only one live bomb had been tested and most of them had not even dropped a dummy bomb - and it all had to be done 60 feet above the water surface in pitch darkness. In the case of the Eder Dam, it involved an astounding bit of flying - the pilot of a light plane with Mr. Holland as a passenger found the turn on to the target difficult at 150 feet in broad daylight and wondered how on earth fully-laden Lancasters managed it at 60 feet at night. Mr. Holland also corrects the impression that the raid squandered the lives of aircrews for little return. To repair the Möhne in time for the September rains, Albert Speer had to take workers from the building of the Atlantic Wall. The lost factories, mines and communications also hit Germany hard at the point where it was about to launch Operation Citadel at Kursk, the German defeat at which was the start of the long retreat that ended at Berlin.

One of the great ironies (of which I wasn't aware) was the fact that the whole thing owed a lot to the British Admiralty, which was enthusiastic about a smaller version for RAF Coastal Command as an anti-shipping weapon (with "Tirpitz" particularly in mind). The smaller bomb was never used operationally.

Best of all, Mr. Holland fleshes out the characters. Guy Gibson was no square-jawed Bomber Command "Top Gun" as played by Richard Todd in the film, but a fairly ordinary pilot, who had to work hard at it. Only turned 24, the product of a difficult childhood and with an awkward marriage, with enormous responsibilities on his shoulders, Gibson was fearful, yet also courageous (he really earned his VC over the dams). Barnes Wallis, the inventor of the bomb, was totally immersed in a weapon that could shorten the war, and didn't see the human consequences of his idea until 8 of the 19 crews didn't come back - he was devastated and never quite forgave himself. Mr. Holland also interviewed German survivors of what is still referred to as the "Möhnekatastrophe", and fills in personal details of the crews who flew the mission, four of whom are still with us. And yes, the dog does get a mention or two!

All in all, another splendid effort by Mr. Holland.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 31 May 2012 16:14:54 BDT
N. Page says:
a review that makes me want to check the book out, can't be bad.. thanks

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Jun 2012 15:20:14 BDT
Teemacs says:
Thank you. If you want to check out an older version, this old Australian radio serialisation of Paul Brickhill's book is quite good - and free!!

http://archive.org/details/TheDambusters1954OtrAustralianRadio
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Teemacs
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Location: Switzerland

Top Reviewer Ranking: 886