The Dam Busters (1955)
The film The Dam Busters premiered on 16th/17th May 1955
(the 12th anniversary of the raid),
attended by numerous survivors of the raid. Overall, the film is a very good portrayal of
the story of the development of the "bouncing bomb" and Operation
Chastise itself (and of the characters involved in the story), but like all
cinematic versions, there are some inaccuracies, omissions or inconsistencies (for
whatever reason). This list gives some detail on the factual inaccuracies in the film:
- Upkeep: the bomb shown beneath the attacking Lancasters in the film
is too large and too spherical in shape; this suggests continuity with the
earlier footage of real test drops, but is more likely due to the secret
nature of the Upkeep weapon (it was still secret when the film was made,
details only being released in 1963 - hence in some of the real test drop footage from
the Wellington and Mosquito, the bomb is masked out by a black disc).
There is no hint of the mechanism used to spin the bombs, this feature going
unmentioned in the film as it was still secret.
The shots of the bombs bouncing towards the
dams in the film are actually archive shots of Highball tests on Loch
Striven. [There is no archive footage of Upkeep test drops with a
- Other Aircraft: During the crew briefing in the film (and very
prominently in the cinema trailer for the film), Gibson remarks
that 617 will be the only squadron operating that night. This is also stated
in Gibson's book and Morpurgo's biography of Wallis, although Sweetman and
that other squadrons were flying that night (including "gardening"
(mine-laying) operations all along the enemy coast (with 54 aircraft, one of
which was lost), and a 9 Mosquito raid on
Berlin; major bombing raids were off due to the full moon). [Cooper and Sweetman
correct, according to the
diary for May 1943.]
- The spotlights: The idea of the triangulated spotlamps to set the
aircraft height is shown as being Gibson's, during a visit to the theatre; in
fact it was Benjamin Lockspeiser (Chief Scientist at the Ministry of Supply) who came up with the idea, it having been
used as far back as World War I. Also in the film, the height spotlamps are shown under the nose and
tail of the Lancasters; in fact the second spotlamp was in the rear of the
bomb bay. In many art prints of the dams raid, the spotlamp beams are
incorrectly shown shining down directly beneath the aircraft (where they could
not have been seen from the cockpit).
- Hitting the dams: In the film, all the mines hit the dams (with the
exception of Hopgood's at the Möhne and Maudley's at the Eder) and it
appears to take several hits to break the dams, contrary to Wallis' theory
that one hit in the right place would be enough. In fact, it was the
first correctly placed mine which actually broke the dam in each case, just
as Wallis predicted. The last mine was dropped at the Möhne (by
Maltby) just as the dam was already crumbling following the hit by Young.
[This error, which actually reflects badly on Wallis, is probably down to
wanting it to appear as though all the aircraft bombed accurately.]
- The Eder: In the film, the second mine dropped at the Eder (by
Maudslay) is dropped too late and the explosion causes the aircraft to crash
into the hillside after a last faint radio message. However, it is now known
that Maudslay's aircraft actually crashed in Holland, so it was either not
damaged by the explosion of the mine (other than perhaps the radio), or took
longer to succumb to the damage than is suggested. [This error is probably
due to the records of the time which showed Maudslay as lost over the Eder.]
- The Sorpe: Although mentioned as one of the raid's targets during
the crew briefing in the film, the actual attack on the dam, and the
different method of attack, are not shown. [This omission is probably due
the anti-climax it would have produced, as the Sorpe was not breached.]
- The Lancasters: The Lancasters that appear in the film came from
the Maintenance Unit at RAF Hemswell, having the 617 Squadron code letters
applied (Gibson's aircraft also got the ED932 registration, though others kept
their real registrations) as well as having the dorsal turrets removed (as the
real aircraft had had) and the addition of the oversized dummy Upkeeps. Most
of the original Lancasters saw no further action during the war, and were
scrapped after the war ended, including Gibson's aircraft (AJ-G / ED932) which
incredibly was scrapped in 1946. All the aircraft used in the film were
broken up for scrap in 1956. The film aircraft appear to have 2 x 0.5"
machine guns in the rear turrets, though the original aircraft would have all
had 4 x 0.303" machine guns there; ammo seen being loaded also appears to be
0.5". [ This detail was probably overlooked when making the film. ]
- Test dams and testing tank: The catapult shown for testing the
bouncing bomb in the National Physical Laboratory's tank at Teddington is the original device; this is
now owned by the RAF Museum. The sequences in the testing tank were filmed in the actual tank
(although the number 1 tank was used, as it was more photogenic than the
number 2 tank where Wallis did all but one of his actual tests); one of the tanks
was demolished in 1998, the other in 2007.
The original model of the Möhne Dam used for explosives testing still exists
(though a bit overgrown), and in 2003 was declared a "scheduled
monument". The dam models seen in the film are the actual briefing models made by
the PRU at RAF Medmenham, although the Eder model was not completed in time so
was not available to the crews; these are now held by the
Imperial War Museum (the Möhne model is
on display at their London site).
- The explosions: as real explosions on the scale of the dam models
would not have been impressive, the film's explosion effects were created using a
matte made from the film of the explosion of the only live test of an Upkeep.
- Young's oar: "Dinghy" Young was in the victorious 1938 Oxford crew
in the Boat Race, and at the end of the film we see on his wall an oar painted
with the names of the crew. The oar is a genuine souvenir of the race, having
been borrowed from Young's family for use in the film.
- Gibson's Mae West: The lifejacket worn
by Todd in the film is not the type worn by RAF servicemen in 1943. However, after
shooting down a Heinkel 111 during his nightfighter days, Gibson went to Skegness
(where the aircraft crashed) and claimed one of the German lifejackets as a prize,
and he wore this himself from then on - it is thus (correctly) a German lifejacket
that Todd is seen wearing in the film.
- Wallis: Although Michael Redgrave's performance probably captures
the essence of Wallis, his character in the film absorbs some of the other
technicians involved, so that Wallis appears to be credited personally with
some of the research and ideas that were not actually his. Michael
Redgrave sat in on some meetings with Wallis to feed into his
characterisation, and Wallis was mostly happy with his portrayal in the film.
Redgrave is alleged to have told Wallis "I'm not going to imitate you, you know" to which
Wallis replied "Oh no, you must create me!" Redgrave was 47 when the
film was made (Wallis was 56 in 1943) and was knighted when he was 51 (Wallis
had to wait until he was 81 for his knighthood)!
- The music: "The Dam Busters March" by Eric Coates is heard
throughout the film; it appears to have been written for the film (one of few
film commissions accepted by the composer), although some sources claim it was
written earlier. Coates died in 1957; he is well known for other light British
classics, including "By a Sleepy Lagoon" used as the theme to the
long-running Desert Island Discs on BBC radio (1942-present).
- Nigger: This was the name of Gibson's black Labrador dog, killed in
a hit-and-run accident on the day of the mission (in the film). In fact, the
fatal accident took place the day before, and the car did stop (it
was driven by an RAF officer). "Nigger" was also the codeword to
indicate the breaching of the Möhne Dam; although today deemed politically incorrect
(despite the fact that it simply stems from the Latin word for black), it is
still used in the recent UK DVD release of the film (some US releases of the film had all references to this word cut
or overdubbed with "Trigger",
although the Morse code transmission heard still said "Nigger", and it does appear in the US DVD release
of the film). The UK Channel 4 screening in July 2007 also cut all uses of the
word, although the digitally remastered version being shown in cinemas at the
same time remained uncut. Sharp-eyed viewers may spot the
"ghost of Nigger" running through the trees at the end of the film (where
Gibson is talking to Wallis at Scampton) - no dog was known to be on the base
when the film was made, so the identity of the animal seen on film remains a
- The people: Many of the people who worked on the film went on to even greater things,
- Richard Todd (Guy Gibson): although The Dam Busters
was probably his "finest hour", Richard went on to star in many other films
including D-Day: the Sixth of June and The Longest Day
(he had taken part in the real action in Normandy, and played the part of his real
commanding officer in the film, with another actor playing Todd!) and more recently he did
occasional guest appearances on TV such as Silent Witness and
Holby City; died 2009.
- Robert Shaw (Pulford, Gibson's Flight Engineer): became a big name
in Hollywood, and is probably best remembered as Quint in Steven Spielberg's
Jaws (he got eaten by the shark); died 1978.
- Bill Kerr (Harold "Micky" Martin): a regular on UK radio
and TV in the 1960s,
best known alongside Tony Hancock, he is still working in occasional guest
roles in Australia.
- Nigel Stock (Spafford, Gibson's Bomb Aimer): well known on TV in
the 1970s as Owen M.D. and as Watson alongside Peter Cushing's
Sherlock Holmes; died 1986.
- George Baker (David Maltby): regularly seen as Inspector Wexford in
The Ruth Rendell Mysteries and in many other guest roles in
film (notably James Bond films) and on TV; died 2011.
- Richard Thorp (Henry Maudslay): since 1982, has played Alan Turner
in TV series Emmerdale.
- Patrick McGoohan (uncredited, appears as a rather serious guard outside
the briefing room in his first film role): later most famous as The Prisoner and as King Edward I in Braveheart; died 2009.
- John Read (uncredited, special effects): became business partner
of Gerry Anderson, and worked on many TV series including Stingray,
Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Cloppa
Castle; died 2006.
- In a number of shots of the Lancasters doing low flying practice (before
the bombs are ready) ... the bombs are clearly visible beneath the aircraft!
- When the practice with the range sight begins, we see close-ups of test
bombs hitting a dummy target of two oil drums with a flag on top - but in the
wide shots of the dam approach, this target is not seen.
- As Shannon goes over the Eder, we hear the engines running up before
he pushes the throttles forward.
- In some of the long shots, the "Lancasters" in the background are actually
post-war Avro Lincolns. The Wellington and Mosquitoes seen preparing for test
drops are in post-war markings. Sharp eyes may spot a silver Canberra in the
far distance of one shot.
- The train washed away in the flood is running on the left track (as in the
UK) - but German trains would normally run on the right track!
- As the aircraft lined up to attack the Eder Dam, Waldeck Castle was behind them on a hill
on the east side of the lake, but the castle seen in the film appears (in some shots) to be on the west side of the lake.
In fact, the castle is painted on glass, and the aircraft footage is re-used from the Möhne attack.
- Other movie and TV trivia related to The Dam Busters:
The Dam Busters was nominated for an Oscar for "Best Special
Effects", and for BAFTAs for "Best British Film", "Best British Screenplay"
and "Best Film from any Source" - it didn't win any of them.
The Dam Busters was first shown on TV in the UK on Sunday
30th May 1971 - two days after Wallis retired from the British Aircraft
- The Death Star trench sequence in the film Star Wars
(1977) was allegedly inspired by The Dam Busters or by 633 Squadron (1964) which
was itself inspired by The Dam Busters.
- Dick King-Smith's first novel The Fox Busters (1978) was
also inspired by The Dam Busters; his later novel
The Sheep-Pig was made into the film Babe
and was a huge hit.
- In the film Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982), a clip of
The Dam Busters is seen on a TV in Pink's room during the "One Of My
Turns" scene (Roger Waters' father was killed at Anzio during WW2).
- Wallis lived in Effingham, Surrey, but "Wallis's house" in The Dam Busters is actually in Little Missenden, Buckinghamshire.
The Dam Busters came 11th in the
2005 Channel 4 viewer
poll to find the "100 Greatest War Films" (it was beaten by
Bridge on the River Kwai, Black Hawk Down, Zulu, A Bridge Too Far,
Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Schindler's List, The Great Escape,
Apocalypse Now and Saving Private Ryan which came
The Dam Busters came 5th in the
2014 Channel 5 viewer
poll to find the "Greatest Ever War Movies" (it was beaten by
Saving Private Ryan, Zulu, A Bridge Too Far and The Great Escape which came
The Dam Busters came 86th in the
2004 BFI's definitive list of of the top 100 most-seen films in the UK,
with a cinema audience of 8.4 million.
- Mosquito Squadron (1969), starring David McCallum and
Charles Gray, features Mosquitoes dropping Highballs to destroy a German
secret weapon site in a tunnel beneath a French chateau, and also to breach
the chateau walls to release prisoners held there. The film plot is entirely
fictitious, but the idea of using Highballs bounced over land to destroy
tunnels and walls was actually tested, and some real test footage of
drops at the Ashley Walk bombing range in the New Forest is seen in the film.
- "The Dam Busters March"
sounds remarkably similar to the melody line of
"I'll Never Stop Loving You", sung by
Doris Day in the film Love Me or Leave Me - both films were released in 1955, so
this is surely a coincidence? Among six Oscar nominations for the latter film was "Best Song" (it didn't
- "Casualties of War", an episode from series 5 of ITV drama
Foyle's War starring Michael
Kitchen, features a fictitious group working on "bouncing bomb" research. The
show featured a test rig with an Upkeep on it, computer-generated footage of
test drops from a Lancaster, and an archive shot showing a real Lancaster
accurately dropping its Upkeep onto the beach (Barnes Wallis is seen leaping
about in the foreground). The formulae and diagrams on the blackboards in the
research office were taken from Wallis' original notes. With a possible nod to
history, in charge of the group was Prof. Townsend (the name of one of the
original 617 Squadron pilots), and one of the characters who turns out to be a
baddie is a Dane called Hans Lindemann (Prof. Lindemann / Lord Cherwell was
Churchill's chief scientific adviser, and was consistently opposed to Wallis's
ideas). The episode was first shown on TV in the UK on Sunday 18th April 2007.
- Carling Black Label did a
Dam Busters spoof
another one which also uses
The Dam Busters music
- Other trivia related to 617 Squadron:
- Guy Gibson appeared on Desert Island Discs in February 1944 - the theme
music for the show was written by the composer who would later write "The Dam Busters March",
Eric Coates. No recording of this show survives.
- Guy Gibson's widow Eve died on the same date in 1988 as Sir Harold Martin, who was the
third pilot to attack the Möhne Dam during the raid.
- During his flight to the Ruhr for Operation Chastise, Guy Gibson passed virtually overhead
of Steenbergen in the Netherlands, where he would be buried in 1944.
- Steenbergen means "stone mountain" so is not too dissimilar to "brick hill" -
Paul Brickhill was the author of "The Dam Busters" book which was one of the primary sources
for the film (in addition to Gibson's own Enemy Coast Ahead).
- Nigger was unpopular on the station (being prone to
urinating on aircrew's legs after drinking too much beer), and a rumour from the time
says that he was not buried where he appeared to be, but his body was dumped
in the woods, a rumour supported by the lack of bones found when the grave had to be moved post-war;
it has also been suggested that the accident which killed him may not
have been wholly accidental.
- Doug Webb, who was a front gunner on the raid, later became a stills
photographer in film and TV productions - his work includes the title sequence
for The Sweeney.
More information on the film is available from the
Internet Movie Database and
If you know of any other trivia related to the film which are not listed here, please e-mail us and we will add it here.
The Dambusters (2014??)
A remake of The Dam Busters is a work in progress of Sir David Frost's company David Paradine Productions. The original production schedule (for a summer 2009 release) has now slipped and (as of summer 2013) no filming is believed to have taken place and no firm release date has been announced. The budget has been reported as $40 million.
People and companies known to be involved in the remake include:
- Sir David Frost - Executive Producer
- Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings, King Kong
- Christian Rivers - Director (making his directorial debut, as Michael
Anderson did on the original film)
- Steven Fry (QI, Wilde, Blackadder,
Gosford Park etc.)
- Weta Workshop - large props, including ten Lancasters
- Weta Digital - digital visual effects
Sir Ian McKellen has been mooted in the media as a possible Barnes Wallis (though he's actually 18 years too old), and James McAvoy
has also been mentioned as a possible Guy Gibson (incredibly, he's 11 years too old too) as has Tom Cruise (he's 28 years too old)!
The press have already picked up on the problem of the name of Gibson's dog (Nigger) in the film,
and Peter Jackson has said they'll be "damned-if-they-do, damned-if-they-don't"! Press reports have
said that "Nidgy" or "Digger" is going to be used instead.
More information on the film is available from Wikipedia.
If you know of any other information related to the remake, please send
us an e-mail and we will add it here.