Wallis arrived at the idea of a bouncing bomb when thinking about how he, as an engineer, might help shorten World War II. His idea was that a bomb dropped from an aircraft could be made to bounce along the surface of a river before striking a dam where it would sink and detonate. The bouncing would allow evasion of anti-torpedo nets placed in the river to protect the dams, and allow the bomb to explode right next to the dam, where it would be most effective, and potentially breach. Numerous tests were carried out before arriving at the dustbin-shaped Upkeep bomb design, and determining optimal backspin and drop height. On May 16, 1943, 19 modified Lancaster Bombers left on their mission to destroy the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe Dams in an effort to disrupt Nazi supply lines. After several attempts, the Möhne and Eder Dams were breached, though the Sorpe Dam obtained less damage. Eight aircraft were lost, with 53 of the 56 crew aboard them killed. The mission is thought to have resulted in more than 1,300 causalities on the ground, many of whom were overseas workers. The mission did strike the Nazi war machine, however, destroying 25 bridges, 11 factories, and various other mines and infrastructure, and damaging many more.
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It's seventy years to the day since No. 617 Squadron of the Royal Air Force returned from Operation Chastise, in which specially designed bouncing bombs were dropped in an attack on the Möhne, Sorpe and Eder Dams in Germany during World War II. Though the bouncing bomb is without doubt the invention for which Barnes Wallis is most renowned (thanks in no small part to its depiction in the film Dambusters) Wallis' other work before, during, and after World War II was of great importance, and in some cases, far ahead of its time. Gizmag spoke to Dr. Andrew Nahum, Principal Curator of Technology at the Science Museum where many of Wallis' papers are archived, about swing-wing aircraft, earthquake bombs, improbable mathematics lessons, and the geodetic Wellington Bomber.
Read the full article: Dambusters 70 years on: Barnes Wallis – an engineer ahead of his time