Eighty years ago tonight, 19 Avro Lancaster bombers from RAF No. 617 Squadron took off on one of the most daring raids of the Second World War. Just ten returned.
To commemorate the 80th anniversary of 'Operation Chastise' over Germany, more commonly known as the Dam Busters raid, a tribute to 617 squadron has been unveiled at the Buriton War Memorial outside St Mary's Church.
The tribute includes a scaled down version of the 'bouncing bomb', and even a scattering of penguins left over from the village's Falklands 40th anniversary commemorations last year.
Elaine Bray, who alongside fellow villager Karen White created the tribute in support of The Royal British Legion (RBL), said: "The Dam Busters raid was an incredible feat and of course was made into the classic black and white movie.
"Buriton has quite a strong military presence, both retired and currently serving personnel, and we just like to do what little we can to honour those of the past, present and future.
"We did the silent silhouettes for 2018, the wall of poppies for the RBL centenary and last year the marching Marines silhouettes and a penguin trail around the village to honour the Falklands War.
"All done just to raise the profile of the RBL and keep this charity in peoples' minds."
Elaine and Karen fund their RBL tributes themselves and call on a strong network of friends who kindly supply them with all manner of items for their creations.
"We scrounge basically!", Elaine continued. "The parish of Buriton is amazing at supporting the RBL every November, usually raising in the order of £1,000."
And the penguins?
Elaine added: "The penguins have no link to the Dam Busters at all, but people will remember them from last year. In fact they were a very big hit and to save them just sitting in the garage they make appearances.
"They did a group carol singing at Christmas, and now they are wearing berets of the Marines on the basis that someone has to guard the bomb! As you probably can tell by now, I have a quirky imagination."
So what are Elaine and Karen planning next? "The next significant date will be 80th anniversary of D-Day next year and we are working on that already," Elaine said.
Wing Commander Guy Gibson and his Dam Busters
Operation Chastise was a British Royal Air Force (RAF) mission carried out on the night of May 16-17, 1943. The objective of the operation was to disrupt German industrial production and morale by targeting key dams in the Ruhr Valley using innovative bouncing bombs.
Led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, 19 Lancaster bombers from No. 617 Squadron were tasked with striking three major dams: the Möhne, Eder, and Sorpe. The specially-developed bouncing bombs, designed by Barnes Wallis, were intended to skip across the water and detonate against the dams' walls, causing massive damage.
Despite numerous challenges, including heavily fortified defences and adverse weather conditions, the raid achieved partial success. The Möhne and Eder dams were breached, causing catastrophic flooding in the surrounding areas, while the Sorpe dam sustained only minor damage. The destruction of the dams severely disrupted hydroelectric power, water supply, and industrial operations in the region, though some of the damage was repaired relatively quickly.
Tragically, the operation resulted in significant loss of life on both sides. Of the 19 aircraft that set out, eight were shot down by German anti-aircraft fire or night fighters and another crashed on the approach to the dams. Fifty-three out of the 133 RAF personnel involved were killed, and three were captured as prisoners of war.
The German side reported 1,294 civilian deaths and 1,026 injured as a direct result of the dam breaches, with further losses due to the destruction of infrastructure and subsequent flooding.
Operation Chastise, while not achieving its complete objectives, was regarded as a daring and audacious raid that showcased the skill and determination of the RAF. It had a significant impact on German industrial capabilities and demonstrated the potential of precision bombing techniques. The operation remains a remarkable chapter in military history and is remembered as a testament to the bravery of the individuals involved, both in the air and on the ground.