What better way to round off a Bank Holiday weekend than some stirring military history mixed with pop-science? That’s the payload delivered by this two-hour special, which sees a team of infectiously enthusiastic scientists try to recreate the iconic Dambusters bombing raid.
It’s easy to forget what an extraordinary technical achievement and audacious mission it was 68 years ago. Visionary British aircraft desginer Barnes Wallis devised a unique spinning five-ton bomb to bounce across the surface of water like a giant skimming stone.
The specially-formed 617 squadron used the revolutionary weapon to destroy two damns in Germany’s Ruhr valley, cripple Hitler’s arms factories and change the course of the war. But Barnes Wallis’ pet project – which he described to his children as “playing marbles” – required him to solve innumerable problems. His intricate calculations have since been lost. The hard work and skill involved is made clear here, as maverick Cambridge engineer Dr Hugh Hunt sets out to solve this scientific puzzle. Aided by dam engineers, explosives experts and specialist pilots, he mirrors Barnes Wallis’ approach.
Hunt’s early experiments involve cricket balls, bowling machines, paddling pools and oil barrels. Soon he’s building a massive concrete model of the Möhne Dam in Canada and modifying a vintage DC4 to fly dangerously low over a lake. Can they drop the bomb at precisely the right moment to blow the dam sky-high? Refreshingly, there’s no CGI or special effects here. It’s for real and repeats history with spectacular results.