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Barnes Wallis – before Chastise

Barnes Wallis, the inventor of the Bouncing BombBarnes Wallis, the inventor of the bouncing bomb that was used in the Dambusters raid Operation Chastise, was born in Derbyshire in 1887.

At the age of 17 he decided to leave school and begin an engineering apprenticeship, against the wishes of his parents, who wanted him to go to university.

He trained as a marine engineer and eventually took a degree in engineering in 1922 as an external student at the University of London.

He got married in 1925 to Molly and they had four children: Barnes, Mary, Elisabeth and Christopher. Working with Vickers, he invented the R100 airship in 1930, which at the time was the largest airship in the world.

This used pioneering geodetic construction which Barnes Wallis also employed in aircraft design, most successfully with his contribution to the design of the Wellington bomber.

Wallis realized at the outset of the war that bombing would play a significant role in deciding the balance of power and proposed strategies in a report called ‘A Note on a Method of Attacking the Axis Powers’ which led to the formation of an advisory committee called the Air Attack on Dams (AAD) committee.

The bouncing bomb was just one of many ideas that Wallis had and he struggled to get it taken seriously. Sir Arthur Harris’s response was that it was ‘tripe of the wildest description’.

However, Wallis showed great determination. Bomb aimer in 617 Squadron Johnny Johnson said that:

"He struck me as a very determined man – one who was quite convinced of his work and that it would work. He was, perhaps, a trifle shy but I suspect this was a result as I read later, of his dealings with the hierarchy, which in the early stages were pretty blustery. He had some considerable difficulties in proving his point and getting this particular raid approved."

This blog is dedicated to Warrant Officer James Arthur, bomb aimer with 617 Squadron on the Dambusters raid, who died on May 17, 1943, age 27.

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