The dams in the Ruhr Valley supplied hydroelectric power and water for steel making, and were important to Hitler’s war machine.
LONDON — On the night of May 16, 1943, a squadron of bombers set out from Britain to conduct a series of strikes against heavily fortified dams in the Ruhr Valley of Germany, using bombs that bounced on the water before exploding. Of the 133 who started the mission, only 77 returned.
The last surviving pilot of those who came back was John Leslie Munro, who died Monday at 96.
His death was met with tributes across the globe, including in Britain and in his native New Zealand, for his role in the daring “Dambusters” mission that struck at the industrial heartland of the Nazi war effort and lifted Allied morale.
Mr. Munro, who was known as Les, was part of the Royal Air Force’s 617 squadron that was tasked with destroying three dams with specially designed bombs shaped like cylinders that had to be dropped at a height of about 60 feet.
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The bombs were designed to bounce across the water, allowing them to avoid obstacles like anti-torpedo nets, and then sink to the base of the dam walls before exploding, magnifying their effect.
According to accounts of those who survived the mission, the pilots and crew had only a few weeks to prepare, and they learned of their targets just hours before the raid. The dams in the Ruhr Valley supplied hydroelectric power and water for steel making, and were important to Hitler’s war machine.
During the mission, the Lancaster bomber piloted by Mr. Munro was hit by flak. The plane’s communications abilities were destroyed, and he was unable to attack the dams. But he managed to fly to safety despite a large hole in the aircraft’s body.
The bombs caused devastating flooding in the Ruhr Valley, and historians estimate that more than 1,300 people on the ground, including prisoners of war, were killed.
The bombers were hailed as heroes, and the mission was immortalized in “The Dam Busters,” a 1955 film that told the story of an aeronautical engineer who persuaded RAF leaders to embrace his bouncing bombs.