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A bowling machine, tennis balls and a paddling pool in the Royal Albert Hall?

Trinity’s Dr Hugh Hunt and three Cambridge students will demonstrate the science behind the bouncing bomb on the 75th anniversary of the legendary Dambusters’ raid.

Trinity Fellow Dr Hugh Hunt and Cambridge students will demonstrate the engineering and science behind Barnes Wallis’ bouncing bomb to a packed Royal Albert Hall on 17 May – 75 years since the Dambusters took off on one of the most audacious raids of the Second World War.

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.

The skill and bravery of the Dambusters – and the engineering behind Operation Chastise – will be commemorated at the Royal Albert Hall on 17 May with historian Dan Snow, veterans’ families, a 4D screening of Michael Anderson’s 1955 film, The Dam Busters, and the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The event will be simulcast at 400 cinemas around the UK, including three cinemas in Cambridge (see below).

Barnes Wallis’ daughters will take part in the commemorative event – bringing the marbles their father used to develop his idea of a bomb that skipped across water – initially in the family bathtub!

During the evening, Dr Hunt 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. On stage at the Royal Albert Hall he will be assisted by Trinity Engineering students, Nathaniel Trueman and David Morris, Corpus Christi student, Abigail Rees, and Cambridge alumni, John Aldridge and Hilary Costello.

Dr Hunt knows all about Barnes Wallis’ invention because with Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, he and Hilary Costello, then a PhD student, played a vital role in recreating the iconic raid for the Channel 4 documentary, Dambusters: Building the Bouncing Bomb.

Dr Hunt on location

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, made by Windfall Films, won the Royal Society’s Best History Documentary and Dr Hunt won the Royal Academy of Engineering’s 2015 Rooke Award for Public Engagement. Dambusters: Building the Bouncing Bomb will be shown at Trinity on 16 May, 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, please email: [email protected]

Barnes Wallis at his desk

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. 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.’





Cinemas in Cambridge showing the Dam Busters At 75: Live From The Royal Albert 

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