Dambusters. The Race to Smash the Dams.

By James Holland

Printed: 2012

Publisher: Bantam Press. London

Edition: First edition

Dimensions 17 × 24 × 4 cm

Language: English

Size (cminches): 17 x 24 x 4

Buy Now

Item information


In the original dustsheet. Blue cloth binding with silver title on the spine.

  • F.B.A. provides an in-depth photographic presentation of this item to stimulate your feeling and touch. More traditional book descriptions are immediately available.

James Holland is a well-known modern historian who regularly appears on documentary videos. The rather poor production values of some of these documentaries rather biased me, but this book is a gem. Apparently encouraged by Rowland White, whose books I enjoy tremendously, James Holland looks at the raid from all aspects including the strategic impact notes from Barnes Wallis made years before. The human aspect of the raid is given great prominence as it deserved to be. I was not fully aware of just how ad-hoc the composition of 617 squadron and, far from being a crack squadron of volunteers, some of the crews were posted at short notice and in one case had only one operational mission to their credit.

He explains in some detail, a map actually embedded in the text would have been a great help, how slightly stronger than forecast winds were responsible for bringing many of the casualties within range of coastal FlAK batteries, but how some crews managed to cope by diligently calculating their drift over the sea. Forbidden from communicating during transit, crews in the right place had to watch on as their comrades were shot down in flames only a mile or two away over the Dutch coast. He places the raid in the context of an earlier low-level raid which had just one surviving aircraft, the captain and squadron commander winning the VC.

Just arriving at the dams was a feat, let alone doing it flying at 60 feet, at night, sometimes flying under power lines and down forest trails below treetop height. That the majority of the aircraft launched actually made it is a testament to the effectiveness of the training and the relating of it a testament to James Holland’s powers of explanation.

Holland places some emphasis on just how tired everyone was, especially Gibson who had just finished his second tour, even before training for the raid commenced, just how pressed for time everyone was and how this time pressure nearly led to disaster for one crew who found their compass had not been “swung” after the weapon was loaded. Attaching several tons of steel to an aircraft affects its compass reading and the piece of paper with the compass corrections, the “Deviation Card” was missing. This delayed their departure for quite some time, placing them in even more mortal danger. A little factoid I never knew.

I enjoyed this book immensely and will look forward to reading it again and again.


     The Möhne dam the day following the attacks

Operation Chastise, commonly known as the Dambusters Raid, was an attack on German dams carried out on the night of 16/17 May 1943 by 617 Squadron RAF Bomber Command, later called the Dam Busters, using special “bouncing bombs” developed by Barnes Wallis. The Möhne and Edersee dams were breached, causing catastrophic flooding of the Ruhr valley and of villages in the Eder valley; the Sorpe Dam sustained only minor damage. Two hydroelectric power stations were destroyed and several more damaged. Factories and mines were also damaged and destroyed. An estimated 1,600 civilians – about 600 Germans and 1,000 enslaved labourers, mainly Soviet – were killed by the flooding. Despite rapid repairs by the Germans, production did not return to normal until September. The RAF lost 56 aircrew, with 53 dead and 3 captured, amid losses of 8 aircraft.


Wallis as a sub-lieutenant in the Royal Naval Air Service

Sir Barnes Neville Wallis CBE FRS RDI FRAeS (26 September 1887 – 30 October 1979) was an English engineer and inventor. He is best known for inventing the bouncing bomb used by the Royal Air Force in Operation Chastise (the “Dambusters” raid) to attack the dams of the Ruhr Valley during World War II.

The raid was the subject of the 1955 film The Dam Busters, in which Wallis was played by Michael Redgrave. Among his other inventions were his version of the geodetic airframe and the earthquake bomb.


Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, VC, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar (12 August 1918 – 19 September 1944) was a distinguished bomber pilot in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. He was the first Commanding Officer of No. 617 Squadron, which he led in the “Dam Busters” raid in 1943, resulting in the breaching of two large dams in the Ruhr area of Germany. He was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces, in the aftermath of the raid in May 1943 and became the most highly decorated British serviceman at that time. He completed over 170 war operations before being killed in action at the age of 26.


James Holland FRHistS (born 27 June 1970) is an English author and broadcaster who specialises in the history of World War II. His most recently published written work is 2021’s Brothers in Arms: One Legendary Tank Regiment’s Bloody War from D-Day to VE-Day, which follows the Sherwood Rangers, a British tank regiment, throughout multiple battles.

Want to know more about this item?

We are happy to answer any questions you may have about this item. In addition, it is also possible to request more photographs if there is something specific you want illustrated.
Ask a question

Share this Page with a friend