The Science of Warfare … Part 2
Just about now, divers from the British Diving Association are deep in the waters of Loch Striven recovering two things that have been seen since the second World War.
Loch Striven is a sea loch extending off the Firth of Clyde and forms part of the Cowal Peninsula in Argyll and Bute on the West of Scotland. Nowadays it is a popular tourist spot for sightseers, fishing and hill climbing around the Loch. But in the lead up to 1943 the Loch was off limits to all but those involved in a secret mission which was the testing of a newly designed bomb. So much was the secrecy that smoke machines were used to deploy thick white smoke all around the Loch to prevent anyone from seeing what was going on.
The bomb in question was called the Highball. Three feet in diameter it weighed 1,200lbs. Described as spherical it did have flattened sides to fit its design and purpose. The bombs used in the tests contained no explosives and around 200 were tested on the Loch and have remained on the seabed of Loch Striven since 1943.
Designed by one of the more famous military boffins and inventor’s, Sir Barnes Wallace, the bomb was part of the bouncing bomb programme, hence the level of secrecy in the testing. Prior to launch the bombs were spun up by the opening of an air duct under the aircraft, after which they had to be dropped at a set speed, altitude, and precise distance from a target.
Once the design of the bombs had been perfected the rest of the flights were used for crew training, as the precision required to get the bombs to sink beside the target, but not hit it, was immense. The Highball would sink beside its target then become a depth charge.
The Highball was designed with only one target in mind, the German battleship and sister ship to the Bismarck, the Tirpitz. The giant battleship which had been used to attack the North Atlantic convoys was holed up in a secret mooring in Norwegian waters so access was very limited. All battleships have their maximum strength of armour around the sides, whereas the hull is less well protected. With a depth charge bomb going off near the hull would it was believed cause in most cases irreparable damage to a ship. The Highball was never used in anger.
But Wallace’s other bouncing bomb weighing in at nearly 10,000lbs and designed for a totally different purpose and was used in May 1943 during Operation Chastise. Led by the famous pilot, Wing Commander Guy Gibson, the Dambuster Mission as it became known led to the destruction of the Mohne and Edersee Dams, which when destroyed caused catastrophic flooding of the Ruhr valley and of villages in the Eder Valley where a lot of the German industrial working areas were located.
The Tirpitz was finally sunk in November 1944 after a bomber attack by the RAF and allied forces.
Do you know any Veterans that were involved in the testing of the bouncing bomb programme or involved in the missions themselves? If so please do get in touch and share your experiences.