The story of the legendary dambusters has inspired multiple books and a film, with most history buffs knowing a lot about Sir Barnes Wallis and his bouncing bomb, which was developed to destroy dams in Nazi-controlled Europe.
Veteran author Max Hastings has revisited Operation Chastise and breathed fresh air into the epic World War II raid on Germany’s main dams.
Previous dambuster accounts tend to glamorise the Royal Air Force’s May 1943 raid as a daring game-changer, and idolise those involved, but Hastings takes a more neutral but no less interesting look at how the raid was conceived, reluctantly accepted by Bomber Command chief Sir Arthur Harris, planned and carried out by Wing Commander Guy Gibson’s Lancaster squadron. He follows the development of Barnes Wallis’s innovative bouncing bomb, which was a remarkable technical success but never used again in the War (a smaller spinoff for naval use never made it into combat).
Hastings has done extensive research into Operation Chastise and the Royal Air Force and provides an excellent overview of Bomber Command. He has well balanced and incisive character studies of all those involved and, unusually for most accounts, delves into the effects of the raid, particularly on the local German population as well as the forced labourers from occupied lands – half the dead from the flooding in Germany were forced labourers and prisoners of war and their stories are often overlooked.
Hastings takes an honest and critical look at the effectiveness of British wartime bombing and its considerable shortcomings and examine the failure to follow up with further raids on the dams that could have stopped their rapid reconstruction.
The Chastise raid was ultimately not the massive war-altering move it was expected to be, but was nevertheless an impressive feat and provided immense propaganda to Allied forces desperately in need of some good news at that stage of the Second World War. The technical achievements in building the bouncing bombs and the immense skill of the pilots who delivered them are well expanded on in this book.
Chastise: The Dambusters Story 1943 is highly recommended for its detail, historical accuracy, fresh perspectives (with a lot of new material published) and balance, especially from the German side. It is well written and sure to entertain even those who have only marginal interest in World War II history. Chastise is also an excellent addition to the bookshelves of those interested in the Second World War and is in this author’s opinion the definitive book on the subject.
Chastise: The Dambusters Story 1943
Author: Max Hastings
Publisher: William Collins (September 2019)
Hardcover: 464 pages