Menu Donate Request our help

Helpline: 0300 102 1919

"Powerful waves shone out silver in the moonlight"

Although significant losses were sustained by 617 Squadron on the Dambusters raid of 16 and 17 May 1943, the damage that the Lancasters inflicted on their targets was also great. A number of German civilians gave their accounts of what unfolded in the minutes and hours after the raid.

Artist Max Schulze-Sölde was living above the Möhne Dam. He reported that after the raid: "The small lake in front of the dam grew wider and wider and the landscape suddenly seemed completely altered. Powerful waves shone out silver in the moonlight – the wall was broken!"

The artist was safe above the level of the dam, but those below it were not so lucky.

Housemaid Elfriede Baader recalled someone yelling out, "Save yourselves! The water’s coming."

She said, "On the road I watched as waves engulfed the pastor's house and the church. There was an indescribable crash and a bursting of walls and beams. I saw only water vapour and rushed into the wood."

A labour camp downstream from the Möhne was also badly hit by the flood and almost 750 foreign workers were consumed by the water, a significant portion of the total number of around 1700 civilian casualties inflicted by the raid.

The extent of the flood was noted the morning after the raid by Spitfire pilot Squadron Leader Jerry Fray, who flew over the Ruhr Valley to take reconnaissance photographs.

"I was flying at 30,000 feet," he recalled, "and I looked down into the valley, which had seemed so peaceful three days before, but now it was a wide torrent with the sun shining on it. Twenty-five miles from the Ruhr, the whole valley was inundated, with only patches of high ground and church steeples which I had seen as part of the pattern of the landscape a few days before, showing above the flood waters."

This blog is dedicated to the memory of Pilot Officer Samuel Whillis, a flight engineer with 617 Squadron on the Dambuster raid, who was killed in action on 16 May 1943, age 31.

Visit the Dambusters homepage

Sign up to receive the RAFBF e-newsletter