The Real Story – About the Bouncing Bomb

The following article appeared in the Museum’s Newsletter in the fall of 1996.

by Don Currie – WWII 635 Sqdr. PFF

You have probably heard about the famous 617 Squadron Dambuster’s raid which blew up one of the dams on a German River. This was done by a so-called ‘bouncing bomb’ invented by Barnes Wallis. What is not generally known is that it was his reading of the exploit of a crew of 635 Squadron, (PFF), that gave him the idea. It happened this way:

We were in our good old Lancaster I, T for Tommy, getting near our target with a full bomb and flare load, flying through a lot of heavy German ack ack. Over the Ruhr Valley a piece of flak went through the starboard undercarriage door and blew out the tire.

We were near the target and all pretty busy, but Len, our pilot, came on the intercom and said, “Chuck, you’ve got nothing to do for the next little while, I’ll lower the undercart, you go out and change the tire.” (Chuck was our wireless op and having slept through briefing, had been busy trying to get Lord Haw Haw on his radio to find out where we were going.)

So Chuck reeled in his trailing antenna, tied the end around his waist, grabbed the spare tire, put it around his neck, climbed down under Willie our flight engineer, and went out through the front turret. Because his intercom cord was too short, he had to use hand gestures toward Willie to show how he wanted Len to bank and turn, or climb and dive, until he was positioned under the now-lowered undercarriage.

Unfortunately these manoeuvres had caught the eyes of the German gunners on he ground and they coned us in their searchlights and began firing. Unfortunately it also attracted a couple of Luftwaffe fighters. Between George in the rear turret and Mac in the upper, working with his flare pistol, they were driven off.

Now Chuck, using the tire iron which was part of the Lanc repair kit, pried the blown tire off the rim, and let it fall. Then, with the spare in position around the rim, he signalled for Len to roll the Lanc violently to port, which literally jammed the new tire on the rim. Operation accomplished, the undercart came up, we resumed course, while Geoff, our plotter, went to Chuck’s position and reeled in the antenna, bringing Chuck back in through the front turret.

He went back to his normal rest position in front of the radio. Said he was a bit winded, as he had not been on oxygen out there, but by being in the slipstream, there had been enough air forced into his lungs to keep him going.

It was only later, when a damage report came back out of Germany, that we found out what had happened. When the blown tire landed, it was upright on the Frieden River reservoir, and this together with its forward speed, caused it to bounce and roll along the full length of the reservoir on top of the water, knocking out a ham control tower and its ack ack crew at the end. The tire wound up in the Frieden River some 100 feet below.

When he heard of this Barnes Wallis immediately saw the possibility of using a bomb like this on German dams and set to work to perfect it. The world famous Dambuster’s raid was the result. Unfortunately he was not aware of the squadron or crew who had done the “op” in the first place, which had given him the idea, so 635 and ourselves were never given credit.

Actually, as this was an RAF station, because we did not bring a spare tire back after signing out, we were accused of losing it and stores got its cost added to our bar bill. This left us so impoverished we had to survive on NAAFI beer for a month!