Department of Engineering / News / Cambridge Dambusters expert to bring ‘bouncing bomb’ engineering to life at the Royal Albert Hall

Department of Engineering

Cambridge Dambusters expert to bring ‘bouncing bomb’ engineering to life at the Royal Albert Hall

Cambridge Dambusters expert to bring ‘bouncing bomb’ engineering to life at the Royal Albert Hall

Dr Hugh Hunt (front, centre) with some of the cast and crew of the 2011 Channel 4 documentary, Dambusters: Building the Bouncing Bomb

Dambusters expert Dr Hugh Hunt will demonstrate the engineering and science behind the ‘bouncing bomb’ live at the Royal Albert Hall as part of a commemorative event.

It really was touch and go whether we would succeed in recreating the 1943 mission. We’ll be bringing that learning to the Royal Albert Hall – this time using a bowling machine, tennis balls and a paddling pool.

Dr Hugh Hunt

The demonstration will be carried out on Thursday (17 May) to mark the 75th anniversary of the legendary Dambusters raid of the Second World War, with support from Trinity College engineering students Nathaniel Trueman and David Morris, Corpus Christi natural sciences student Abigail Rees, and Cambridge resident John Aldridge. It will be simulcast at 400 cinemas nationwide between 7.15pm and 8.15pm as part of The Dam Busters with Dan Snow, including at three cinemas in Cambridge (details below).

Historian Dan Snow will reflect on the work of the mastermind behind the operation, Sir Barnes Wallis, whose ‘bouncing bomb’ was carried by 19 Lancasters for the attack on the dams of Germany’s Ruhr valley.

And Dr Hunt, Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration, will explain the science and demonstrate the challenge of dropping a spinning bomb at the right moment to avoid German defences in the reservoir, sink beside the dam wall and then explode.

Operation Chastise breached two dams in Germany’s industrial heartland and damaged a third, unleashing torrents of water that destroyed mines, factories and houses, wrecked transport systems and ruined farmland.

While Germany scrambled to repair the damage and resume the power supplies that fed their war effort, Britain celebrated a propaganda coup. Images of the breached dams – thought to be impregnable – were splashed across newspapers and the aircrew of RAF 617 Squadron, led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, became famous.

Barnes Wallis’ daughters are also taking part in the 17 May event, bringing with them the marbles their father used to develop his idea of a bomb that skipped across water; an idea he initially thought up in the family bathtub. A 4D screening of Michael Anderson’s 1955 film, The Dam Busters, and the Glenn Miller Orchestra will follow.

Dr Hunt knows all about Barnes Wallis’ invention. He played a vital role in recreating the iconic raid for the 2011 Channel 4 documentary, Dambusters: Building the Bouncing Bomb. Made by Windfall Films, the two-hour long documentary won the Royal Television Society Award for best history programme and Dr Hunt went on to win the Royal Academy of Engineering’s 2015 Rooke Award for Public Engagement.

Dr Hunt said: “We understood the theory behind the bouncing bomb, but because Wallis’ original calculations and designs had been lost, no-one knew how the bomb was actually built nor whether it was possible to repeat the mission.”

The Channel 4 team of dam engineers, explosive experts, mechanics, pilots and Dr Hunt managed to do just that, constructing simulated bouncing ‘bombs’ from scratch and dropping them from a Second World War aircraft on a specially made one-third scale dam in a remote part of Canada.

The documentary was a challenge to make but millions of people around the world watched it and, says Dr Hunt, hopefully it explained the engineering behind Wallis’ invention.

“It really was touch and go whether we would succeed in recreating the 1943 mission,” he said. “We’ll be bringing that learning to the Royal Albert Hall – this time using a bowling machine, tennis balls and a paddling pool. But we should be able to explain the remarkable feat of Wallis and the 617 Squadron pilots.”

  • Dambusters: Building the Bouncing Bomb will be shown at Trinity on Wednesday 16 May, at 6.30pm, in the Winstanley Lecture Hall, followed by a Q&A with Dr Hunt. The screening is free and open to all, but places are limited. To reserve a place, email: communications@trin.cam.ac.uk
  • Cinemas in Cambridge showing the Dam Busters At 75: Live From The Royal Albert Hall: The Picturehouse; Vue; The Light.

This article was edited from the Trinity College website.

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. If you use this content on your site please link back to this page. For image use please see separate credits above.