Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

Dam Busters

The True Story of the Inventors and Airmen Who Led the Devastating Raid to Smash the German Dams in 1943

by James Holland

Dam Busters describes the maneuvering that went on behind the scenes before one of Britain’s most important efforts to cripple the Nazi war machine. . . . Holland is good at making complex matters clear.” —Wall Street Journal

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 480
  • Publication Date November 11, 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2278-0
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $18.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 464
  • Publication Date November 04, 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2169-1
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $28.00

About The Book

The night of May 16, 1943. Nineteen specially adapted Lancaster bombers take off from an RAF airfield in Lincolnshire, England, each with a huge, nine-thousand-pound cylindrical bomb strapped underneath it. Their mission: to head deep into the German heartland and destroy three hydroelectric dams that power the Third Reich’s war machine.

From the outset it was an almost impossible task, a suicide mission. First the men had to fly extremely low, at night, and in tight formation over miles of enemy-occupied territory. Then, just sixty feet above the water and at some of the most heavily defended targets in Germany, they had to drop with pinpoint precision a complicated spinning cylindrical bomb that had never before been used operationally.

More than that, the entire operation had to be put together in less than ten weeks. When the visionary aviation engineer Barnes Wallis’s concept of the bouncing bomb was green-lighted, he hadn’t even drawn up the plans for the weapon that was to smash the dams. What followed was an incredible race against time that, despite numerous setbacks and against huge odds, became one of the most successful and game-changing bombing raids of all time.


“An impeccably researched work in the style of a fast-paced techno-thriller.” —Publishers Weekly

“Though it is such a well-known story, it has never been told in such depth before. James Holland, who has mastered every detail . . . tells the complex and gripping chronicle of the raid with panache.” —The Daily Mail

“Extremely detailed but never dull . . . Holland offers a definitive, nuts-and-bolts history.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A well-written study of engineering and invention operating under great pressure. . . . For all World War II history buffs.” —Library Journal (starred review)

Dam Busters describes the maneuvering that went on behind the scenes before one of Britain’s most important efforts to cripple the Nazi war machine. This is [a] somewhat familiar story, about the development of Upkeep and Highball, the spinning spherical bombs. . . . James Holland has delved into the new trove [of declassified documents] and uses it to shed light on this weapons program, the politics of its development and the eventual mission. . . . . Holland is good at making complex matters clear . . . [and] good at writing action sequences.” —Mark Yost, Wall Street Journal

“Dramatically details the circumstances of this terrifying, improbably successful military operation. . . . Holland’s Dam Busters, thrilling, authoritative and containing astonishing photos, is a military history ‘must read.’ It is also a shining tribute to those intrepid young airmen.” —Chris Patsilelis, Tampa Bay Times

“James Holland has achieved a near impossible feat. He has taken a tale we all thought we knew, told us we didn’t know much until now and made it come alive.” —Charles Glass, author of The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II and Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation

“The Dambusters Raid was a one-of-a-kind attack, totally unlike anything that had gone before, and it finds a brilliant chronicler in James Holland, whose scholarship and erudition vividly brings that extraordinary event to life seven decades later.” —Andrew Roberts, author of The Storm of War, Masters and Commanders, and A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900

“Painstakingly researched and splendidly told. . . . Holland skillfully interweaves interesting anecdotes and previously unrevealed details. . . . This is the definitive book on the subject, deserving a place in the library of any student of the famous raid.” —Nicholas O’dell, Aviation History

“In his previous books . . . Holland combined a lively style with fresh insights based on deep historical research. Those qualities shine through this new account.” —The Literary Review

“Holland tells the story with gusto and pace . . . he has truly and brilliantly plugged an enormous gap.” —The Mail on Sunday

“For many years, we have been told that the raid on the dams on the Ruhr and the Eder has been wrongly celebrated, and that despite the ingenuity of the bouncing bombs and the undeniable bravery of the RAF aircrew, the operation was more of a propaganda coup than something that really hurt the German war effort. . . . Holland argues that the Dam Busters revisionists have got it wrong. The raid was in fact a triumph, and did an enormous amount of damage.” —New Statesman

“A dramatic retelling of one of the most daring, extraordinary and outrageous raids of World War II . . . A fantastic, informative read.” —Waterstones.com

“An expertly researched and engaging read, Dam Busters sheds new light on the remarkable story of the men of 617 Squadron who led the raid to destroy Germany’s key hydroelectric dams. It also tells the lesser-known tale of the innovative scientists who developed the technology. James Holland vividly brings to life not only the main characters, but the entire incredible era as well.” —Patrick K. O’Donnell, bestselling author of Dog Company: The Boys of Pointe du Hoc—The Rangers Who Accomplished D-Day’s Toughest Mission and Led the Way across Europe

“It took a remarkable combination of strategic ideas, skills, actions, and people to win the war for freedom in WWII. James Holland offers a thoroughly researched and highly descriptive narrative of how ingenious engineering and breathtaking courage accomplished an almost impossible task. Recommended for fans of military nonfiction everywhere.” —Marcus Brotherton, Author of A Company of Heroes and Shifty’s War


The second version was considerably larger than the one used during the trials, at some sixty-one inches wide, and had been codenamed “Upkeep.” This bomb, Wallis hoped, would be used for an attack on the German and Italian dams. Low-flying aircraft would swoop in over the Möhne and Tirso dams, for example, and at the right height and speed would drop a rotating bomb, which would then bounce across the water, over the torpedo net, hit the dam wall, sink beneath the surface and then explode and in the process cause a seismic breach in the dam wall, through which the millions of cubic tons of water would flow, wreaking havoc and destruction and denying the enemy the use of the reservoir, which held vast amounts of “white coal” (water), an essential ingredient in the industrial processes that supported the German and Italian war machines.

However convinced Wallis may have been about the potential of Upkeep and the feasibility of such an attack, there were two massive obstacles to overcome.

The first was that the RAF Bomber Command operated at night, and usually at bombing heights of more than 18,000 feet, yet Upkeep could only work if dropped at the kind of low level last seen during the Augsburg Raid the previous April—a raid that had proved that, even with special training and the most assiduous planning, the aircraft involved would be lucky to reach their destination. Also, the kind of accuracy that would be needed so that Upkeep skipped over the torpedo nets and hit the dam wall in precisely the right spot was, frankly, the stuff of dreams.

The second major obstacle was time.