Airfix 1/72 'The Dambusters'

KIT #: A50061
PRICE: $54.00 SRP
DECALS: One option
REVIEWER: Scott Van Aken
NOTES: Includes vacuform base, glue, brush and paints


Operation Chastise was an attack on German dams carried out on 16–17 May 1943 by Royal Air Force No. 617 Squadron, subsequently known as the "Dambusters", using a specially developed "bouncing bomb" invented and 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, while the Sorpe dam sustained only minor damage. Two hydroelectric powerplants were destroyed and several more were damaged. Factories and mines were also either damaged or destroyed. An estimated 1,600 people drowned. The damage was mitigated by rapid repairs by the Germans, with production returning to normal in September.

The two direct mine hits on the Möhnesee dam resulted in a breach around 250 feet (76 metres) wide and 292 feet (89 metres) deep. The destroyed dam poured around 330 million tons of water, equivalent to a cube measuring 687 metres, into the western Ruhr region. A torrent of water around 32.5 feet (10 metres) high and travelling at around 15 mph (24 km/h) swept through the valleys of the Möhne and Ruhr rivers. A few mines were flooded; 11 small factories and 92 houses were destroyed and 114 factories and 971 houses were damaged. The floods washed away about 25 roads, railways and bridges as the flood waters spread for around 50 miles (80 km) from the source. Estimates show that before 15 May 1943 water production on the Ruhr was 1 million tonnes, this dropped to a quarter of that level after the raid.

The Eder drains towards the east into the Fulda which runs into the Weser to the North Sea. The main purpose of the Edersee was then, as it is now, to act as a reservoir to keep the Weser and the Mittellandkanal navigable during the summer months. The wave from the breach was not strong enough to result in significant damage by the time it hit Kassel (approx. 35 km downstream).

The greatest impact on the Ruhr armaments production was the loss of hydroelectric power. Two powerplants (producing 5,100 kilowatts) associated with the dam were destroyed and seven others were damaged. This resulted in a loss of electrical power in the factories and many households in the region for two weeks. In May 1943 coal production dropped by 400,000 tons which German sources accredit to the effects of the raid.

According to the recent sources, at least 1,650 people were killed: around 70 in the Eder Valley, and at least 1,579 bodies were found along the Möhne and Ruhr rivers, with hundreds missing. 1,026 of the bodies found downriver of the Möhne Dam were foreign prisoners of war and forced-labourers in different camps, mainly from the Soviet Union. Worst hit was the city of Neheim (now part of Neheim-Hüsten) at the confluence of the Möhne and Ruhr rivers, where over 800 people perished, among them at least 493 female forced-labourers from the Soviet Union. (Some non-German sources erroneously cite an earlier total of 749 for all foreigners in all camps in the Möhne and Ruhr valleys as the casualty count at a camp just below the Eder Dam.)

After the operation Barnes Wallis wrote, "I feel a blow has been struck at Germany from which she cannot recover for several years." However, on closer inspection, Operation Chastise did not have the military effect that was at the time believed. By 27 June, full water output was restored, thanks to an emergency pumping scheme inaugurated only the previous year, and the electricity grid was again producing power at full capacity. The raid proved to be costly in lives (more than half the lives lost belonging to Allied POWs and forced-labourers), but in fact no more than a minor inconvenience to the Ruhr's industrial output. The value of the bombing can perhaps best be seen as a very real boost to British morale.

In his book Inside the Third Reich, Albert Speer acknowledged the attempt: "That night, employing just a few bombers, the British came close to a success which would have been greater than anything they had achieved hitherto with a commitment of thousands of bombers." However, he also expressed puzzlement at the raids: the disruption of temporarily having to shift 7,000 construction workers to the Möhne and Eder repairs was offset by the failure of the Allies to follow up with additional (conventional) raids during the dams' reconstruction, and that represented a major lost opportunity. Barnes Wallis was also of this view; he revealed his deep frustration that Bomber Command never sent a high-level bombing force to hit the Mohne dam whilst repairs were being carried out. He argued that extreme precision would have been unnecessary and that even a few hits by conventional HE bombs would have prevented the rapid repair of the dam which was undertaken by the Germans.

The effect on food production was more significant, with many square kilometres of arable land being washed away and effectively unusable until the 1950s. There was also a great loss of farm animals bred for food.


I guess it is not too surprising that Airfix would choose to give a last gasp of its older tooling Lancaster in a special boxing. I thought it was engraved when I bought it, but it turned out to be raised detail. The Lancaster got its fame outside the UK for its use in the daring raids on German hydroelectric dams during 1943. Its commanding officer, Guy Gibson is a person of some note as well as much due to his personality as his skills.

What sets this kit apart from the standard Lancaster B.III is the very large vacuform base of one of the dams. This has a pair of vacuform towers to fit atop the already molded single base. Actually, it is rather well done and should not be beyond the skills of most to assemble and paint. An in-flight display stand is provided for the aircraft. One drills a hole in the appropriate location and sticks the stand pole through it. The base is not absolutely flat so there is plenty of room for the base of the stand under it. Since the towers also held AA, I'm sure one could find some 1/72 AA guns to help liven things up a bit.

Since this is the special with the Wallis bomb and its various bits, not only is there another sprue that includes the bomb and accessories, but another pair of fuselage halves without the upper turret is also included. The rest of the kit is very much standard Lancaster, so one could build a normal Lanc with the bits in the box, though why one would want to after having paid a premium for the 617 Squadron offering is beyond me.

I have not shown the sprues in this one as Airfix does not provide sprue charts and there is just too much plastic to properly photograph. I'm sure that by now most of you who are interested have seen sprue images elsewhere. Needless to say, it is nicely done for their older mold. The cockpit is a bit barren with plank seats and some nice crew members to place on them. Decals are provided for the instrument panel and some sidewall bits. A few holes will need to be drilled in the fuselage halves before assembly, but the instructions show where these go.

Turrets are equally fair and I'm not sure whose idea it was to have separate gun barrels for the quad tail turret, but I'm sure these will cause issues. Interestingly, there is no rear gunner. I also found it interesting the one will have to fully assemble the props onto the engine faces prior to gluing these faces onto the nacelles. Good luck getting the seams taken care of without breaking something. The kit has separate elevators and ailerons, just like one would expect. Landing gear are nicely done and there is some interior detail in the main wells. Closed gear doors are provided and will need to be cut if one does a ground display.

The instructions are well drawn and continue Airfix's irritating tendency to provide only Humbrol numbers for the various paints. Instructions also show where to make various holes for mounting the aircraft on the stand. Markings are for just one aircraft, that of Guy Gibson. It would have been nice to have a few more options as all that needed to change would be serials and aircraft number. After all, 19 planes participated in this event. There is a full color painting guide with actual paint names so you'll get the outside paints without having to refer to a chart somewhere. The decals are nicely done and if like current Airfix offerings will be very nice. 

The LHS got in several of these kits last year when it was first released. At the time, I was rather lukewarm on picking up another Lancaster as I already have them from Revell and Hasegawa, neither of which have yet been built. Displaying this when done will be a bit of a trick for those who are space challenged, but I have to say that I like the idea. Not sure about availability as I would think this would sell well. I've little use for the paints that come in the kit, but may well give some of them a try when it comes to painting the interior.


You can thank me for this one.

June 2013

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