During the height of World War II it was the target of British Bomber Command to damage and destroy as much of Germany's industry as possible. After all, it is industry that is at the heart of any war effort. After in depth studies and many attacks of the industrial areas in Germany, the British soon realised that after an attack, the factories were soon rebuilt and more importantly dispersed over a wider area which made them more difficult to attack again.
It quickly became apparent though that there were limitations to where industry could be located. All industry requires power and therefore it must be located within a reasonable distance from a power source. This changed the way in which Bomber Command thought about attacking Germany's industry. Instead of attacking the factories, attacking their power sources was a much better strategy. The main advantage of attacking power sources is that many more than one factory uses the same power source. Destroying one power source would therefore lead to disruption in many factories and industries.
Bomber Command's attention then turned to which power sources to attack to give maximum damaging impact on the industry in Germany. Three sources of energy were identified; coal mines, the Rumanian oil fields and the hydroelectric dams. Two of these were quickly discounted. Coal mines were relatively easily repaired or rebuilt and the RAF possessed no aircraft with a suitable range to attack the oil fields located in far east Germany.
Despite the problems with the other two targets, the hydroelectric dams of Germany's Ruhr Valley were probably the best targets. These dams supplied water and power to the industry of the Ruhr Valley which was the heart of Hitler's war machine, as well as controlling the water levels in canals that transported materials to and from the factories. Huge resources of coal and iron ore saw the Ruhr Valley grow into the heartland of the country's industry during the early 20th century. Along with many large cities in the surrounding area, the dams were built during the growth period to cope with the inevitable power and water requirements. It was estimated that one quarter of Germany's water was consumed by this industrial area.
Of the 20 massive dams constructed in the Ruhr Valley, six dams were selected as targets with three of these being the primary targets. The Mohne, the Eder and the Sorpe dams were the three primary targets. Between the Mohne and Sorpe, they held back 76% of the total water available to the industrial valley, one of the main reasons they were two of the primary targets.
If breached these dams would bring the whole industrial valley to a stand still, causing massive damage to the steel industry devastating production of tanks, aircraft, guns and locomotives which were all vital to Germany's war effort.
Ironically, attacking the dams in Ruhr Valley was not a new idea. In anticipation of war, Britain began looking at industrial targets in the Ruhr as early as 1937. The dams were high on the target then, but these plans were shelved because of one major problem which eluded Bomber Command. How do you hit and breach a dam? - A problem which was far more complex than it appeared, especially over 60 years ago.
Enter Barnes Neville Wallis...
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