The science and scientific legacy of Operation Chastise

Operation Chastise, more often known as the ‘Dambusters raids’, was one of the most audacious aerial military operations of the Second World War, in that it made use of operationally untested technical innovations under extreme logistical constraints. Of particular interest is the scienti� c environment in which the mission was implemented. Here I review the principal scienti� c innovations that were necessary for the realisationof the mission. These went beyond the rotating depth charge itself. Simple but nevertheless ingenious methods for altitude and range � nding were devised for low altitude � ying, and the new system of two stage blue day–night � ying was implemented for simulated night � ying. Even drugs to combat airsickness during low altitude � ight in turbulence were tested. The diverse technical expertise that was necessary for the original idea to be transformed into a logistical reality in less than three months provides a particularly lucid instance of eVective scienti� c management in a framework of rapid technological change. I also describe an expedition inspired by these developments, which � fty years on used a dedicated low altitude night � ying microlight aircraft (the Barnes Wallis Moth Machine) to catch insects over a rainforest canopy, illustrating the legacies that such missions can leave.


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Authors: Cockell, Charles S.

1 January, 2002
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews / 27
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