CHASTISE: The Dam busters Story 1943.

JurisdictionNew Zealand
Date01 September 2020
AuthorCouchman, Bryan

CHASTISE: The Dam busters Story 1943

Author. Max Hastings

Published by: William Collins, London, 2019, 464pp. 25 [pounds sterling] (hb).

The audacious attack by 617 Squadron on the Mohne. Eder and Sorpe dams (Operation Chastise) in north-west Germany on 16-17 May 1943 is one of the most well-known RAF operations of the Second World War. Nineteen Lancaster bombers took off from England and. while suffering significant losses, managed to breach the first two of these dams using a revolutionary 'bouncing bomb' (really a cylindrical mine) ingeniously designed to skip across water and avoid any torpedo net defences. It was hoped that the destruction of these dams would cause significant disruption to the German war effort.

Since the publication of Paul Brickhill's 1951 book The Dam Busters and the romanticised 1955 film version of events bearing the same name, there has more recently been a host of other narratives from a variety of perspectives. Some of the finest of these accounts are acknowledged in the introduction of this latest story of the raid, perhaps raising the question as to why one would read yet another book on this topic. Part of the answer is that this account is written by Max Hastings, one of Britain's most talented, lively and, yes, opinionated popular narrative historians. Hastings takes full advantage of his previous research, dating back to the 1970s, when he interviewed many of the surviving main characters involved in the RAF strategic bombing campaign for his earlier ground-breaking book Bomber Command.

In his introduction Max Hastings writes, 'I have been moved to retell, and to reconsider, the Chastise story, in hopes of offering a new perspective which almost represents a paradox.' Hastings begins by sketching the bigger picture, or grand strategy, placing the raid in the broader context of the strategic bombing campaign. He explains how the raid was first conceived and the challenges that needed to be overcome. At the same time he introduces the human dimension through his pen portraits of the key protagonists. Thought-provoking interpretations of key characters are provided, such as Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, the deeply polarising commander-in-chief of Bomber Command: Sir Barnes Wallis, the bouncing bomb's inventor; and the men who actually flew the operation, led by their stoic commanding officer Wing Commander Guy Gibson.

In a compelling manner the author describes the astonishing low-level flying...

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