In a recent interview with the last surviving British Dambuster, the BBC’s Stephen Sackur described the Dams Raid as having become ‘…part of Britain’s national folklore’. But why is Operation ‘Chastise’ so firmly entrenched in our national psyche, and has its mythology distorted our memory of the raid? Victoria E Taylor explores the phenomenon of the Dambuster legend.

This painting by Anthony Saunders depicts Gibson, Maltby and Martin approaching the Mohne Dam. (COURTESY THE MILITARY GALLERY)

Few wartime tales stir British national pride like Operation ‘Chastise’. Between 16–17 May 1943, the nineteen Lancaster bombers from 617 Squadron cracked open the Möhne and Eder Dams in the heart of German industry. The 336 million tonnes of water unleashed dislocated transportation systems; swamped industrial and domestic infrastructure; and constituted, as Adolf Hitler put it, a great ‘disaster in the West’ for the Nazis.

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