The Dam Busters: 75 years on and the movie made at Elstree Studios

The Dam Busters cast and crew with a Lancaster

The Dam Busters cast and crew with a Lancaster

Supplied by Elstree Studios

This month marked the 75th anniversary of the iconic Dambusters raid – with the subsequent 1955 movie based of the attack made at Elstree Studios.

On May 16 to May 17, 1943, Royal Air Force No. 617 Squadron used a purpose-built ‘bouncing bomb’ invented by Barnes Wallis to attack German dams.

This military raid inspired the classic film The Dam Busters, which was made at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire.

The epic war film tells the true story of the raid, and was the most popular film at the British box office in 1955.

A special commemorative gala event was held at the Royal Albert Hall on May 17, which was screened in nearly 400 cinemas across the country.

To mark the occasion, there was an exclusive video featuring the last surviving member of the raid, Johnny Johnson, discussing his memories of his fallen colleagues.

Squadron Leader George ‘Johnny’ Johnson, 96, flew over the Derwent Valley in Derbyshire to mark 75 years since the raid took place.

The Dam Busters movie was first released in the UK in 1955, and directed by the late Michael Anderson, who died earlier this year.

Roger Morris, managing director of the now Hertsmere Council-owned Elstree Studios, said: “The Dam Busters was an iconic film.

“They used the water tank at the back of the studios. The tank is currently under the Big Brother house.

“We have a marvellous picture of the film crew and cast with a Lancaster.

“There’s a certain magic about Elstree and its studios, so many iconic films have been made here.”

The Dam Busters film starred Richard Todd, Michael Redgrave, Ursula Jeans and Basil Sydney.

Aeronautical engineer Barnes Wallis, played by Michael Redgrave, convinced the powers that his theory of making a bouncing bomb for the proposed attacks could become a reality, even though it would mean damaging German industry.

Actor George Baker was cast as Flight Lieutenant David Maltby in the film.

David Maltby was the RAF pilot who actually hit the dam with his bomb and burst it.

Film historian Paul Welsh said: ‘This is a classic Elstree film from the 1950s.

“The Studio spent two years in pre-production as it was a prestige production and it had to be accurate.

“The recently departed director Michael Anderson told me they warned him if they did not like the early rushes he would be replaced but he did a great job.

“The star was Richard Todd, who I had the pleasure to host a plaque unveiling in his honour in 1996 at Elstree.

“I knew him for many years and the last time I saw the film was sitting next to him at a public screening shortly before his death.”

He added: “In 1989, I invited several of the original RAF crew who took part in the raid to a reception at Elstree Studios.

“They were old men then but I was in awe of them as back in 1943 they were young lads with an appalling survival rate but they still made us all proud.

“I think The Dam Busters is a great movie. Okay the special effects are dated, but it has stood the test of time.

“Plus who can forget the wonderful music score. This was Elstree Studios at its best in the 1950s.”

• For more about Elstree Studios, visit

If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Welwyn Hatfield Times. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Welwyn Hatfield Times