The Canal Busters: The First ‘Dambusters’ and the Race to Save Britain
Mark Felton

The Canal Busters: The First ‘Dambusters’ and the Race to Save Britain

Three years before the famous Dambusters raid, a plucky band of incredibly brave young RAF aircrew launched a suicidal operation deep inside Germany in a desperate race to save Britain from invasion.

Like the Dambusters raid and the fictional 633 Squadron, the forgotten 1940 mission shared similar targets, unique training programmes, special bombs and ultimately suicidal objectives.

As the Germans began to mass an invasion army in the Channel ports, and RAF Fighter Command Spitfires and Hurricanes fought the Luftwaffe over southern England, Bomber Command launched a last ditch attempt to ruin Hitler’s invasion timetable by blowing up a vital aqueduct, codenamed ‘M.25’, on the Dortmund-Ems Canal. Along this enormous waterway flowed daily hundreds of barges converted into landing craft, and thousands of tons of supplies for the German invasion force. If the 50m long concrete and brick aqueduct could be knocked down in a precision raid, the canal would be closed and Hitler’s invasion timetable thrown into chaos. But the Germans knew how vulnerable the aqueduct was, and have hundreds of flak guns and searchlights protect it. All previous attempts have failed with heavy casualties.

The RAF calls for a suicide mission, using outdated aircraft loaded with a special new type of bomb and crewed by young British and Australian fliers who were willing to sacrifice their lives to save Britain from invasion. With time running out in August 1940, and with limited options, Bomber Command had no choice but to launch a ‘mission impossible’ and go all out and attack M.25. That the raid succeeded, at horrific cost in men and aircraft, was even more incredible. The canal was shut down for 10 vital days, Hitler's invasion timetable upset and coupled with Fighter Command's victory in the Battle of Britain, caused the Fuhrer to indefinitely postpone Operation Sealion in October 1940. Sadly, Fighter Command's pilots were given all the glory for this reversal, while the men of Bomber Command were sidelined - until now. 

The Canal Busters is an incredible true story of a spectacular, though totally ignored and forgotten, wartime mission that most thought impossible. It is a narrative driven story replete with high drama, bravery and a cast of fearless young airmen who were determined to sell their lives dearly to strike a vital blow against Hitler’s war machine in Britain’s darkest hour, earning one of them the RAFs first Victoria Cross of the war and laying the foundations for other special missions to come, most famously the Dambusters Raid. It is an extraordinary story of British pluck and resourcefulness during the nation’s darkest hour, and a story that deserves to be given a wide audience in the modern era.

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  • Author: Mark Felton
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Mark Felton

Being born in the army garrison town of Colchester in 1974, it was perhaps inevitable that Mark Felton should develop an interest in military history. After university and a stint in the civil service he later gained a master’s degree and a PhD at the University of Essex. After working as a university lecturer he moved with his wife to China in 2005 where he  continued to teach. He has authored over a dozen books, many receiving national and international attention and also writes regularly for several major history magazines on both sides of the Atlantic. After living and wor...
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