The Dam Busters (1955)
Official, Ministry of Aircraft Production: You say you need a Wellington Bomber for test drops. They're worth their weight in gold. Do you really think the authorities will lend you one? What possible argument could I put forward to get you a Wellington?
Barnes Wallace: Well, if you told them I designed it, do you think that might help?
Farmer: Every time one of these Lancasters fly over, my chickens lay premature eggs.
Gibson: How many guns do you think there are, Trevor?
Trevor-Roper: I'd say there are about ten guns - some in the field, and some in the tower.
Barnes Wallace: Do you know how much water it takes the Germans to make a ton of steel?
Doctor: I haven't the least idea.
Barnes Wallace: One hundred tons. Now just look at this.
[gestures to a map on his desk]
Barnes Wallace: The whole of this great arsenal of war factories in the Ruhr depends for its water on three enormous dams. The Moehne. The Eder. And, the Sorpe. They control the level of the canals and supply a lot of hydroelectric power as well. When those are full they hold four hundred *million* tons of water. Just think of the chaos if we could break those walls down.
Bomber Harris: Cochrane...!
[gestures for him to wait]
Bomber Harris: Don't go for a minute. What do you think of Wallis' idea for bursting the Ruhr Dams?
Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane: It sounds a bit far-fetched. But, personally, I think it could be done.
Bomber Harris: I hope you're right. Anyway, I've given it my support, and I've had orders to get ready. I want you to take it on.
Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane: Right, sir. I'd like to. It'll mean taking a squadron out of the line for special training.
Bomber Harris: No. We must form a special squadron for this. And man it with experienced crews who have just finished their present thirty trips. Some of those keen youngsters won't mind doing an extra one.
Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane: Do you have anyone in mind to command the squadron?
Bomber Harris: Yes. Gibson.
[Whitworth is helping Gibson select pilots for the new squadron]
Group Capt. Whitworth: I'd go for these two Australians if I were you; Les Knight and Micky Martin. Martin knows pretty well all there is to know about low flying.
Gibson: Yes, I met him when he was collecting his DFC. I know this New Zealander, Les Munro, I'd like to have him. Oh and Joe McCarthy, he's great.
Group Capt. Whitworth: [laughs] Oh, the American. The Glorious Blonde. He used to be a Coney Island beachguard. We mustn't forget the English.
[leads Gibson to another personnel book of pilots]
Group Capt. Whitworth: Here's Bill Astell. Oh yes, David Maltby.
[skips over one pilot]
Group Capt. Whitworth: Oh, uh, he's just started another tour.
Gibson: [points to a picture in the book] And Hoppy Hopgood from my old squadron. I'd like to have Dave Shannon and Burpee from there too.
Group Capt. Whitworth: Well, we shan't be popular with the other squadron commanders if we start squeezing chaps like these from them.
Gibson: [addressing the squadron at the briefing before the raid] Well, the training's over. For obvious reasons, you've had to work without knowing your target, or even your weapon. You've to put up with a good deal from other people who think you've been having a soft time. But, tonight, you're going to have a chance to hit the enemy harder, and more destructively, than any small force has ever done before! You're going to attack the great dams of Western Germany!
Flight Sgt. J. Pulford, DFM: [watching morse lamp signals between the two other planes in formation] Martin's having a chat with Hopgood.
Gibson: What's he saying, Hutch?
Flight Lt. R.E.G. Hutchison, DFC: He says we're going to get screechers tomorrow night.
Gibson: Sure we are. Biggest binge of all time.
Bomber Harris: [Harris arrives in the Operations Room to follow the progress of the attack. Officers in the room come to attention and salute] Carry on.
Bomber Harris: Well, Cocky, how's it going?
Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane: All right so far, sir. The first wave's about twenty miles from the Dutch coast. Enemy radar has probably picked them up by now
Flight Lt. A.T. Taerum, DFC: [Taerum consults his charts] Skipper, groundspeed two-zero-three. We'll be there in one hour and ten minutes. We'll be over the Dutch coast in two minutes.
Flying Officer F.M. Spafford, DFC, DFM: [Sees Dutch coast approaching] There it is now. Stand by front-gunner, we're going over.
Gibson: Sir, have a drink to celebrate. We've done the trick!
Group Capt. Whitworth: What trick?
Gibson: Flying at 150 feet. No need for altimeters. No need for anything else.
Group Capt. Whitworth: Well, how's that?
Gibson: Why, SIMPLE! A couple of spotlamps. One in the nose and the other in the belly. Trained to shine down and meet together at 150 feet below the aircraft.
Flight Lt. J.V. Hopgood, DFC: All you've got to do is watch through the cockpit blister and keep the two spots plumb together on the ground, or the water, and there you are at 150 feet. Accurate to an inch!
Group Capt. Whitworth: Yeah, but that would mean carrying lights right into the attack!
Flight Lt. H.B. Martin, DSO, DFC, AFC: Well, that's better than finishing up in the drink.
Group Capt. Whitworth: That's wonderful! How did you think of it?
Gibson: Oh genius, pure genius. We gave the idea to Farnborough and they did the rest.
Flight Lt. D.J. Shannon, DSO, DFC: Still need a bombsight that'll work at low level.
Flight Lt. D.J.H. Maltby, DSO, DFC: And when are we going to get the real bombs.
Gibson: [Takes Whitworth aside] You know it's getting on these fellows' nerves not knowing a damn thing about anything.
Group Capt. Whitworth: I know. But the old boy's got new trials on Friday. You ought to go down again. He's pretty sure it'll work this time.
Barnes Wallace: How are you getting on with the low flying?
Gibson: Ah, it's awfully hard to get accuracy. I mean to within a few feet. Especially at night, over water. Still, we'll find some way of doing it.
Barnes Wallace: Yes, yes, it must be very difficult.
Flight Lt. R.C. Hay, DFC: Bomb-aiming is another headache, sir. The ordinary bombsight isn't accurate enough at such a low level. And you want the aircraft to drop their bombs dead on the same spot, one after another?
Barnes Wallace: Yes, yes, within a few feet.
Gibson: Well, we'll look after our headaches and leave you to look after yours.
Barnes Wallace: I'm afraid that's all we can do at present. Oh, I shall get it right within a few days. You must try and come down again.
Gibson: I'd like to, sir.
Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane: [showing Gibson a model of the targets] Well, Gibson, there it is. That's your main target - the Moehne Dam.
Gibson: So *that's* it. I thought it was going to be the "Tirpitz".
Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane: If you can blow a hole in this wall...
[points to model]
Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane: -you'll bring the Ruhr steel industry to a standstill; and do much other damage besides. I'm showing you the targets. But you'll be the only man in the squadron who knows, so keep it that way.
Gibson: Very good, sir.
Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane: [indicates other models] And these are the models of the two other dams, the Eder and the Sorpe. But, the Moehne is the most important one.
Gibson: I see, sir.
Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane: Come along and study these as often as you like. We're having regular reconnaissance to see what they're doing over there and what's the height of the water. The operation must be carried out when the lakes are full.
Gibson: When's that likely to be, sir?
Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane: About the middle of May. You'll need a good moon as well. So, it looks like we're tied to a night between the 12th and the 17th. By the time the next full moon comes around the water level will have started to fall again, so it's our only chance this year. About five weeks from now. How's the training going?
Gibson: Oh, pretty well sir. Except for the low flying.
Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane: Yes, I guessed you'd be in trouble over that.
Gibson: It's fairly easy by day, but night flying over water at 150 feet is pretty near impossible.
Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane: You can't trust your altimeters?
Gibson: No to the limits Mister Wallis wants. He insists on 150 feet. Not a foot below, or a foot above. I'd hoped we could get over it by practice. But, on still nights, when the water's smooth, there's a sort of no man's land between the dusk and the water.
Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane: Well, I've got the Farnborough experts on that. I hope they'll come along with an idea. By the way, Wallis is going to test the full-sized bomb at Reculver tomorrow. I'd like you to go down and watch. Take your bombing leader with you.
Gibson: Right, sir.
Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane: Good morning, Gibson.
Gibson: Morning, sir.
Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane: First of all, congratulations on the bar to your DSO.
Gibson: Thank you, sir.
Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane: You finished your third tour last night?
Gibson: Yes sir.
Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane: Would you be prepared to take on one more trip?
Gibson: What kind of trip, sir?
Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane: I can't tell you much about it, for the present. But, it'll be a special one and you'll command the operation. I'm afraid it'll mean putting off your leave. How do you feel about it?
Gibson: Alright sir.
Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane: Good. It's going to need careful training, the commander-in-chief wants a special squadron formed. it'll be best if you formed it yourself. I'm telling all the squadrons they'll have to be prepared to give up some of their most experienced crews. They're not going to like it.
Gibson: Well, the sixpenny bombsight works and the spotlamps work. We've flown two thousand hours, and dropped a good many more than two thousand practice bombs. The specially converted aircraft start arriving tomorrow. So, from now until the word "go" I want you to practice flying them at your all-up proper weights.
Gibson: You can work that out, Dinghy. Don't forget that some of the armour's been taken out. And don't exceed 63,000 pounds or otherwise we shan't get off.
Gibson: Any problems?
Squadron Leader H.M. Young, DFC: You want the front gunner to stay in his turret the whole time?
Gibson: Oh yes, he'll have to deal with the flak guns.
Squadron Leader H.M. Young, DFC: The trouble with that is his feet.
[mimics with fingers]
Squadron Leader H.M. Young, DFC: They dangle in front of the bomb-aimer's face. How about fixing up some stirrups to get his feet out of the way and make him more comfortable?
Gibson: That's a good plan.
Squadron Leader H.E. Maudslay, DFC: Have you any idea when we're going, sir?
Gibson: Probably within a week. But, keep it under your hats! You won't have to put up with being called "the armchair squadron" much longer
Squadron Leader H.E. Maudslay, DFC: Two months without an operation is getting us stalejake now.
Flight Lt. J.V. Hopgood, DFC: There was damn near a riot yesterday when somebody in 57 Squadron started it again
Flight Lt. H.B. Martin, DSO, DFC, AFC: Our fellows would feel better if they blew off steam
Gibson: [grins] Alright, the next time somebody starts being funny, have a riot.
[assembled pilots laugh]
Gibson: Alright, that's all.
[pilots get up to leave]
Capt. Joseph Summers, CBE: How'd you get on?
Barnes Wallace: It's hopeless.
Capt. Joseph Summers, CBE: What happened?
Barnes Wallace: Nothing. I walked up and down Whitehall. In and out of offices. Up and down stairs. Sat outside rooms. I felt like a peddlar trying to sell clockwork toys.
Capt. Joseph Summers, CBE: I wish there was something I could do.
Barnes Wallace: There is, Mutt.
Capt. Joseph Summers, CBE: What?
Barnes Wallace: Let's take the whole thing straight to Bomber Command.
Capt. Joseph Summers, CBE: Harris?
Barnes Wallace: Yes! You're one of the few men that really know him. If he sees the films and gets interested... Well, it'll only need one word from him.
[sees Mutt shaking his head]
Barnes Wallace: Why not?
Capt. Joseph Summers, CBE: Well, there's a bit of a snag there. See, he gets so innundated with fantastic inventions...
Barnes Wallace: Oh, that's ridiculous! Everything he's using had to have been invented. Look, if you tell him that it's worthwhile he'll listen to you, won't he?
Capt. Joseph Summers, CBE: I'll do what I can... But don't blame me if he throws us both out of the window.
Bomber Harris: [Wallis and Summers have come into his office] Hello, Mutt. Wallis.
Barnes Wallace: Good morning.
Bomber Harris: What is it you want?
Barnes Wallace: I've got an idea for destroying the Ruhr Dams. The effects on Germany would be enormous.
Bomber Harris: I know all that. I've read the report.
[thumps file folder on his desk]
Bomber Harris: But, do you *really* think you can knock down a dam with *that* thing?
Barnes Wallace: Yes.
Bomber Harris: Well, it looks clever enough on paper. But that goes for *all* of these wheezy ideas. When you try to make them work, they fall down *flat*.
Barnes Wallace: This one doesn't.
Bomber Harris: How do you know?
Barnes Wallace: We've tested it and proved it. I've got some films here I'd like you to see.
Bomber Harris: [mildly surprised] Why... If you've proved the thing, why hasn't it been taken up?
Barnes Wallace: I don't know. But the films only take five minutes to run. You could see them and judge for yourself.
Bomber Harris: Well... All right.
[gets up from desk and heads toward projection room]
Bomber Harris: Send the projectionist out of the room. If this thing's as good as you say, there's no point in letting everyone know.
[indicates his aide, Air Vice-Marshall Saundby]
Bomber Harris: Saundby can run the film.
Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane: [looks at message sent from the attack group] The northern wave's run into trouble on the coast. McCarthy is going on to the Sorpe Dam by himself.
[looks at map]
Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane: Gibson's formation should be nearly at the Moehne by now.
Flight Lt. H.B. Martin, DSO, DFC, AFC: [looks out cockpit canopy at the Moehne as the attack formation arrives, and flak starts coming up] There it is, boys. Bit aggressive, aren't they? Someone's woken them up. What do you think about it, Bob?
Flight Lt. R.C. Hay, DFC: My goodness. It's... It's big, isn't it? Can we really break *that*?
Gibson: [Gibson calls around to the pilots as the attack starts] "P for Popsie", are you there?
Flight Lt. H.B. Martin, DSO, DFC, AFC: OK, Leader.
Gibson: Hello, "M Mother" are you there?
Flight Lt. J.V. Hopgood, DFC: I'm here, Leader
Squadron Leader H.M. Young, DFC: Here, Leader.
Flight Lt. D.J.H. Maltby, DSO, DFC: Here, Leader.
Flight Lt. D.J. Shannon, DSO, DFC: Here, Leader
Squadron Leader H.E. Maudslay, DFC: Here, Leader.
Flying Officer L.G. Knight, DSO: Here, Leader.
Gibson: Hello, all Cooler aircraft. I'm going in to attack. Stand by to come in in your order when I tell you.
Gibson: [as Gibson heads in to attack] Hello "M for Mother" stand by to take over if anything happens.
Flight Lt. J.V. Hopgood, DFC: OK, Leader. Good luck!
Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane: Are you in touch with the reserve formation?
Group Signals Officer: All except Burpee, sir. He hasn't answered for some time.
BBC Announcer: [morning after the raid] This is London. The Air Ministry has just issued the following communique. In the early hours of this morning, a force of Lancasters of Bomber Command, led by Wing Commander G.P. Gibson DSO DFC, attacked with mines the dams of the Moehne and Sorpe reservoirs. These control two-thirds of the water storage capacity of the Rurh Basin. Reconaissance later established that the Moehne Dam had been breached over a length of 100 yards, and that the power station below had been swept away by the resulting floods. The Eder Dam, which controls the headwaters of the Weser and Fulda Valleys, and operates several power stations, was also attacked and reported as breached. Photographs show the river below the dam in full flood. The attacks were pressed home at extremely low level with great determination and coolness in the face of fierce resistance. Eight of the Lancasters are missing.
Barnes Wallace: [Morning after the raid] Is it true? All those fellows lost?
Gibson: Only two aircraft went down in the attacks. That was Hopgood's over the Moehne and Maudsley's at the Eder. Astell got it soon after crossing the coast. And Dinghy Young was shot down over the sea, on his way home. The rest we don't know about. They've been calling them since midnight, but they haven't answered. The flak was bad. Worse than I expected.
Barnes Wallace: [upset] Fifty-six men... If I'd known it was going to be like this, I'd never have started it.
Gibson: Now you mustn't think that way. If all these fellows had known from the beginning they wouldn't be coming back they would have gone for it just the same. There isn't a single one of them that would have dropped out. I knew them all. I know that's true. Look, you've had a worse night than any of us. Why don't you find the doctor and ask for one of his sleeping pills?
Barnes Wallace: [Shakes head] Aren't you going to turn in, Gibby?
Gibson: No, I... I have to write some letters first.
[Gibson walks off into distance. Theme music. Roll credits]
RAF Officer at trials: [after another failed test of the full-sized bomb] Well, it's a bad business isn't it?
Barnes Wallace: Yes, I'm afraid it is.
RAF Officer at trials: What are you going to do?
Barnes Wallace: I think I know the trouble, I must work on it again.
RAF Officer at trials: Well, here we are on the 22nd of April. The deadline date for the raid the 19th of May. That's barely four weeks.
Barnes Wallace: Give me a few more days. A week at most.
RAF Officer at trials: If you go and change the design. the factories will never do it in time...
Barnes Wallace: I shan't change the design. I must just strengthen the casing and try a new method of release.
RAF Officer at trials: Oh well, a week from today. If it doesn't work then, we shall have to call it off. There's nothing else we can do.
Flight Lt. J.F. Leggo, DFC: [Looks at his watch at dinner, before the raid] We've still got an hour. Let's go put our feet up for a bit before we change.
Flight Lt. H.B. Martin, DSO, DFC, AFC: Not a bad idea. C'mon.
Barnes Wallace: You know, there's such a very thin dividing line between "inspiration" and "obsession", that sometimes it's very hard to decide *which* side we're really *on*!