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On this day in history in 1979, died Barnes Wallace.
Wallace was a scientist who developed the bouncing bomb, which was effectively used by 'The Dambusters' in the Second World War.
Wallis was born on 26th September 1887, at Ripley, Derbyshire. He was educated at Christ’s Hospital School, Horsham and left, aged 16, to train as a marine engineer, in a shipyard. In 1913, he joined Vickers Shipyards, for whom he worked, including successor companies, until his retirement in 1971.
Wallis first worked on airships until the Hindenburg tragedy led to the abandonment of airships as a method of mass transportation. Wallis was transferred to the aircraft department, and was involved in the design and building of the Wellington bomber, which was to prove an effective weapon in the Second World War.
When war broke out in 1939, Wallis meticulously studied the variety of methods that could bring about victory. He became convinced that the only way to overcome Germany and its allies was bombing on a mass scale. He wrote a paper, A Note on a Method of Attacking the Axis Powers, stating that if the enemy’s power supplies were curtailed, then they would be incapable of continuing the war. Wallis was taken seriously by the War Ministry, and allowed to make suggestions for the prosecution of the war. His first proposal was an outsize bomb weighing in at ten tons, but unfortunately, there was no current aircraft that could carry such a weight. This led Wallis to suggest a plane that could take this burden, the Victory Bomber, but the Ministry turned down the idea as infeasible.
Wallis then suggested a spherical bomb which he called the Surface Torpedo. The principal was that the bomb would skip across the surface of a reservoir, like a stone when skimmed across a stretch of water, and explode only when it sank to the base of the dam wall. The device had two great advantages in that it caused a massive explosion for a comparatively light weight, and the skipping effect meant that the delivering aircraft need not venture close to the dam which was powerfully defended by the enemy. The War Ministry tried the bomb out as an experiment, not seriously believing that it would prove effective. The RAF undertook a mission to attack the Möhne and Eder dams in Germany's industrial Ruhr area. The operation was an astounding success, destroying the dams, reducing power supplies, and producing heavy floods that slowed industrial production. The operation was immortalized by Paul Brickhill in his 1951 book The Dam Busters and the 1954 film of the same name.
After this success, Wallis was entrusted with the production of gigantic bombs. He made the Tallboy, weighing 6 tons, and the 10 ton Grand Slam, which destroyed the German warship Tirpitz, the V1 rocket launch sites, and much of Germany's railway system.
After the Second World War, Wallis designed an aircraft that could fly five times the speed of sound and needed a runway of only 300 yards. He became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1954, and was knighted in 1968.
Wallis died at Leatherhead, Surrey on 30th October 1979 and is buried in Effingham. [St Lawrence Church, Church Street, Effingham, Surrey, KT24 5LX]
Flower, Stephen. A Hell of a Bomb: The Bombs of Barnes Wallis and How They Won the War. (Paperback)
Morpurgo, Jack E. Life of Barnes Wallis.
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