Radio Drama about WW2
The War in the Air

Not really a drama...Radio 2 (2000-2200, 17 May 13) celebrated the 70th anniversary of the bouncing-bomb raid on the Ruhr valley dams, which proved to be a turning point in the war. The programme was broadcast in the 'Friday night is music night' slot, presented by Jeremy Vine & Dermot O'Leary, from Biggin Hill airport, in front of an audience of 1700 people. It was a mixture of music, the voices of those who were involved, and some dramatic reconstruction, recounting the invention of the bouncing bomb by Barnes Wallis, the training of the pilots, and the eventual destruction of two dams in Germany's industrial heartland, along with much loss of life on both sides.

    George Johnson is now the last British survivor from 617 Squadron which was given the job of destroying the three hydroelectric dams which powered Hitler's armaments factories. The operation involved flying at very low levels; about 60 ft above ground, releasing the bomb at exactly the right height and speed, so that it would bounce on the surface of the lake and then detonate either on hitting the dam or, in Johnson's case at the Sorpe dam, without hitting it but very close to its centre.

    Johnson explained that his flight was slightly different from the others, which were front-on attacks. The Sorpe dam was in a valley; for the bomb to work they would have to fly down and along it and drop the bomb as near as possible to its centre. It was Johnson's job to aim the bomb; he lay face down in the perspex nosecone and guided the plane in. "We flew down over the hillside, over a church steeple we used as a marker, and then swooped down along the dam wall - but I wasn't satisfied. I hadn't done all that training to get it wrong and waste a bomb. I called it Dummy Run."

    He did more dummy runs before deciding the position was right. On the sixth dummy run, rear-gunner Dave Roger shouted 'Will somebody get that bomb out of here!' He was feeling the full effects of the g-forces as they swooped lower and lower. On the tenth run, they were almost touching the lake; just 30ft above at a speed of 220 mph, when they made the drop. The dam disintegrated and disappeared in a huge explosion as the bomb,weighing 9,000 lbs, detonated.

    The Dambusters won a host of medals, including a VC for Guy Gibson, who led the squadron, and Distinguished Flying Medal for Johnson, but the casualty rate was high. 53 of the 133 aircrew never returned.

Those involved in making the programme: the BBC Concert Orchestra, the RAF's Central Band, the RAF Squadronnaires, the Military Wives Choir; actors Carl Prekopp, Nick Boulton, Sam Dale, Will Howard, Clare Corbett. Carl Prekopp supplied the photo - thank you.

photo supplied by Carl Prekopp

There's just one more thing to say about the programme ... Brilliant!

Related plays involving the wartime RAF: Spitfire, by Mike Walker (2012), Bomber, by Len Deighton (1999), Barnes and Molly, by Ray Brown (2000), The Navigator's Log, by Don Haworth (1989)

4 Aug 2012. A drama by Mike Walker about the most famous British fighter aircraft in history, first broadcast in September 2010 to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Framed by recollections from veteran Geoffrey Wellum, the drama features specially made recordings of RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfires, including the only Spitfire still flying today to have fought in the Battle.

The drama traces RJ Mitchell's design from creation to legend and the fortunes of two young pilots who join a frontline Spitfire squadron just as the Battle of Britain begins. It stars Samuel West, Samuel Barnett, Rory Kinnear and Ruth Wilson.

Many factors were important in the Battle, but it was the excellence of the Spitfire which most famously evened the odds in the fight against the Luftwaffe. Mike Walker's drama takes us close to this magnificent aircraft and gives us a feeling of what it was like to fly the legendary plane which became, in test pilot Jeffrey Quill's words, 'a symbol of defiance and victory'.

Technical Advisor: Patrick Bishop; original music and sound design by David Chilton. Producer/Director: Amber Barnfather. A Goldhawk Essential production for BBC Radio 4.

Note from ND ... my grandparents had two young pilots billeted with them in Leicestershire during the war. They both fought in the Battle of Britain; one of them survived it.

Barnes and Molly*....2000
2 May 00. By Ray Brown. Love and mathematics combine in this true-life story of a secret romance between Barnes Wallis, inventor of the bouncing bomb, and his 17-year-old cousin. Starring Samuel West, Emilia Fox and Mary Stopes-Roe. Producer: Pete Atkin.

(R4, 4 parts: 1430, 1730, 1950, 2330, 4 Sep) was the story of a bomber crew, based on Len Deighton's novel about an air raid on Saturday 18 February 1943. It was broadcast in real time, and followed the fortunes of Sam Lambert and his men as they carried out a night attack on Krefeld. The play included interviews with pilots and others who were involved at the time. My father recalls counting six hundred bombers in the sky simultaneously in 1943 above Kirby Muxloe in Leicestershire, and thinking what feat of engineering it was to get so many planes airborne at the same time. Tom Baker narrated this stunning 4-hour production, and the cast included Samuel West, Jack Shepherd, and Frank Windsor as Air Marshall Harris: "If I have to, I will flatten the whole of Germany". The dramatisation was by Joe Dunlop.

    During the war, the men of Bomber Command, all volunteers, were unanimously regarded as heroes. The public appreciated that these extraordinary young men were daring to fly into the enemy’s heavily-defended territory and strike back at Germany for its unprovoked attacks on Warsaw, Rotterdam and other undefended civilian centres across Europe.

    The RAF Bomber Command Memorial, in London, recently commissioned, will commemorate the 55,000 bomber airmen who were killed. They died in blazing, crashing aircraft whilst fighting against the enemies of our free world.

    After the bombing of Bremen on 17-18 Jan 1942, the Nazi newspapers denounced the raiders as ‘terror fliers’. As they did so, sixteen Nazi bureaucrats met on 20 January in a villa at Wannsee outside Berlin to co-ordinate the extermination of the entire Jewish population of Europe.

    From 1942 until the end of the war, Hitler and the Wehrmacht High Command were to learn how serious Air Marshal Harris and his American counterparts were in bringing death and destruction to the Third Reich as part of destroyinging an evil regime which could not be brought to heel by anything but total defeat.

    Those who wish to know more about this period in our history should visit the Bomber Command website.

The Navigator's Log*....1989
One of several plays by Don Haworth about fighter and bomber crews of the Second World War. This play looks at events from the navigator's point of view, as they drop bombs on German cities in defence of their country. An excellent, thoughtful play drawing no conclusions but telling it as it was. Those who criticise "Bomber" Harris without having experienced the threat of imminent invasion should listen to it.

By Don Haworth. 'Talk of Love and War' draws on Don's RAF experience as a flier in the Second World War. Two young pilots make light of their dangerous combat assignments; it's the only way of keeping sane..... The play opens as it ends: with the sounds of ack-ack guns and the drone of fighters. The two pilots are played by William Nighy (Tom) and Hugh Ross (James), and in Tom's words 'James and I flew nightfighters on intruder operations over Western Europe, and we lived in a cubicle, a corrugated hut, which we shared with an iron stove...'

Don Haworth (1985)...In 'Talk of Love and War' I have two chaps who are talking in a hut, and that, really, is all there is in the play, but it is possible, simply through the dialogue of two people, to create very many different backgrounds, and to people all those backgrounds...... so that in this play, there are many people who are present to the listener, who are never actually present as actors speaking in the studio. The producer was Richard Wortley.

Death Kiss Kate....1976
(SNT 24 January 1976) The title tells us a lot: is a young woman romantically involved with more than one airman a fatal jinx? - AW

Nigel Deacon / Diversity website

Asterisked plays known to exist in VRPCC collections

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