‘Après moi, le déluge’ – the ‘Upkeep’ mine and the Dams Raid

By: shortfinals

Jan 27 2011

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Category: aircraft, Aviation, British Isles, Derbyshire, England, Great Britain, military, Museums, Peak District, RAF, Royal Air Force, Royalty, Second World War, warbird


Focal Length:26mm
Shutter:1/0 sec
Camera:NIKON D40

When I was a schoolboy, I often used to take a ‘bus to the outskirts of the nearby town of Ripley, Derbyshire, carrying my fishing tackle. A short walk brought me to Butterley Hill, with Butterley Reservoir (and the nearby Midland Railway Trust) at the bottom of it. Sometimes, just before I reached the huge, mostly silent, Butterley Engineering Company works (most of the buildings are now demolished), I used to glance at the row of modest houses across the road. One of them, grandly named ‘Cromer House’, was of special interest, in that it bore a small blue plaque announcing that ‘Sir Barnes Wallis, the most eminent of 20th century aviation engineers was born here on 26th September, 1887’ (more on the plaque, later).

Sir Barnes Neville Wallis, Kt, CBE, FRS, RDI, FRAeS (1887 – 1979), the second son of a doctor, grew up to be recognized as an engineering genius, inventing such things as geodetic construction (used on the Wellington bomber, etc.) and the principal of swing-wing aircraft. However, it was his work with air-dropped munitions (bombs and mines) such as ‘Tallboy’, ‘Grand Slam’ and ‘Highball’ for which he is most remembered. Perhaps his most famous invention was the ‘bouncing bomb’ (technically a mine) with the code name of ‘Upkeep’, which would skip over the surface of the water, and be used to attack the Ruhr Dams in Germany.

Special targets sometimes need a special operation; in this case they needed a special weapon, a special squadron and a special leader, too. ‘Operation Chastise’ was designed to breach the Eder, Sorpe, Ennepe and Möhne Dams in Germany’s Ruhr Valley. Wing Commander Guy Gibson (later Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, VC, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar, RAF) was a tremendous bomber leader, whose idea of a ‘rest’ was to get himself posted to a nightfighter squadron – where he got four confirmed kills! He was ordered to form ‘Squadron X’ (later numbered 617 Squadron) at RAF Scampton, near Lincoln, from picked aircrew, for the special task of destroying the dams in the Ruhr area, causing flooding, loss of hydroelectric power, and loss of water supplies to the industrial cities nearby. Intensive low-level training took place, using modified Avro Lancasters – BIII Special (Type 464 Provisioning) – capable of dropping the back-spun ‘Upkeep’ mine weighing around 10,000 lbs, from a height of EXACTLY 60 feet above the water level, at EXACTLY 232 mph, at night and under fire. ‘Upkeep’ mines, both inert and live, had been dropped in trials at Reculver, Kent (from RAF Manston) and Chesil Beach, Dorset (from RAF Warmwell) and the example above is one of the inert practice weapons, owned by the Barnes Wallis Memorial Trust, and displayed at the Newark Air Museum, Nottinghamshire.

The raid took place on the night of 16/17 May, 1943. The Möhne and Eder Dams were breached and massive damage done, with large areas of flooding, photographed by a Spitfire PR XI of No. 542 Sqn out of RAF Benson, Oxfordshire, the following morning. Unfortunately, 8 out of 19 attacking aircraft were lost. Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross, the nation’s highest award; all the other surviving aircrew were decorated. King George VI inspected 617 Sqn (now know as ‘The Dambusters’) at Scampton, and approved their official motto ‘Après moi le déluge’ – ‘After me, the flood’, allegedly used by the French King Louis XV (1710-1774).

617 Squadron practised hard, especially over the Derwent Dam in the Peak District of Derbyshire, and of all the memorials to the Dams Raid and Barnes Wallis, it is the simple plaque in the Derwent Valley Museum (which has an exhibition on 617 Sqn. and the raid) which I find most moving. That and listening to the theme tune, ‘The Dambusters March’ (from the 1955 film ‘The Dambusters’ starring Richard Todd) which was played well into the 1960s, as Derby County (‘The Rams’) trotted out for every home game (their then home was the Baseball Ground, around 1 mile from the Rolls-Royce Main Works in Derby).

Oh, and the plaque on Cromer House? It was replaced by a ‘Red Wheel’ plaque from The Transport Trust, which says, ‘Sir Barnes N. Wallis, 1887 – 1979, aeronautical engineer and inventor, designer of airships, aeroplanes, the ‘Bouncing Bomb’, and swing-wing aircraft was born here.’




4 comments on “‘Après moi, le déluge’ – the ‘Upkeep’ mine and the Dams Raid”

  1. Thanks. I had no idea about the Red Wheel plaques … so thanks for that. I also had no idea of the Derwin museum. Although I don’t have the exact locals of the plaques pertinent to Barnes Wallis I do have the towns so they should be easy to find when I make my UK trip someday. Thanks again 🙂


    • The Derwent Museum is located in one of the towers of the Derwent Dam, in the Peak District National Park (Goggle Earth will have images of the dam). I would add the Derby Industrial Museum to your list – one half of it is the Rolls-Royce Historical Collection which has fabulous aero-engines on display.


  2. Hello again, I looked closely at a photo I have of the Beaufighter that is in the National USAF Museum — it looks as if the port wing’s landing light occupies what otherwise could have been 2 x .303 MG positions.


    • Absolutely correct! The landing light stopped the idea of fitting the extra two .303 inch Brownings; this would have made it like receiving a blast from a Hawker Hurricane Mk 1 AND a Westland Whirlwind…..combined (enough to really spoil your day, if you were flying any Luftwaffe machine). DAP Beaufighters had an even bigger punch, of course, with the 4 x .5 inch Brownings in the wings.


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