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Munitions Manufacture in WW2 - Part 2 : Barnes Wallis' Bouncing Bomb
Following on from the WW2 era story of the 'rocket heads' made at Lainchburys in Kingham, we now come to another and more select component made there. I'd been told, before I got to know her, that my friend Win had been involved in making parts for Barnes Wallis' famous bouncing bomb used on the breath-taking Dams Raid and immortalised in the film 'The Dambusters'. Everyone is familiar with Eric Coates' wonderful tune and the bravery of those taking part in the raid is equally well known. What stayed largely unknown, for many years after the event, was exactly what the 'Upkeep Mine' or 'Bouncing Bomb', as it was known, actually looked like. Even in 'The Dambusters' film, the wrong shape of bomb was used. The problem was that this weapon remained on the Official Secrets list into the 1960s. When, in later years, Win talked about her part in making components for it, she wasn't always believed. It just seemed so unlikely. Win has been a great help to us in providing an eyewitness account of life at the time of the Americans' stay in the area. I felt I owed it to her to try to get to the bottom of the story.
Win recalled being involved with work on these particular components over a period of months. She machined them on her shift and Roy Sole machined them on the other shift. Roy made a little crane to lift them onto the turret lathe, so this component was heavy. She said it was of steel, circular and with a circumference she would just have been able to reach her arms around. The edge had to be bevelled and holes drilled into the face.
Having looked at photos of the bouncing bomb, or 'Upkeep Mine', its official and technically more accurate name, there is only one component which matches Win’s description. That is the disc at each end of the cylindrical 'bomb' on which it was suspended and spun beneath the aircraft. I visited the Brooklands Museum and took physical measurements from the bomb they have there and became more convinced that the end discs were what Win was working on. The diameter and weight, the holes for the hydrostatic pistols and drive spigots at one end, the bevelled edge; all fit her description. Another piece of the jigsaw is that Win was told that the discs machined at Lainchbury’s were among the most accurate of those produced. This becomes significant if you consider that the bomb weighed 9,250 lbs, was spun backwards at 500 rpm before being released and that it was balanced by adding weights before use. Clearly accuracy was very important.
Having a keen interest in this aspect of his old firm in his father’s days, David Lainchbury enquired among his old employees and discovered this component, like that of the rocket heads, was almost certainly cast at the Hub Ironworks in Chipping Norton. No doubt manufacture was distributed widely to lessen the risk from enemy bombing, but it remains to be discovered where else these components were made and how Charlie Lainchbury knew the purpose for which they were intended. I believe his brother had been in the Royal Flying Corps so maybe he had connections. As for where else these 'Upkeep' end discs were made; perhaps someone reading this can tell us.
It was the day after the Dams Raid that Charlie took Win aside and told her that her work had been a part of the enterprise. Her friend Joan was also there and Joan’s son still recalls Win’s story. But Win took no satisfaction in her achievement at the time. She had met socially with other RAF bomber crews and was saddened by the huge loss of life among the aircrews on this mission. It also seems sad to me that her achievement has gone unrecognised officially. It was only after much time had passed that official recognition was given to members of the wartime Merchant Navy and only very recently to the land girls of the Women's Land Army. The efforts of the munitions workers have still to be so recognised.
You might well consider this a detour from the task of finding out about the old Diary, and indeed it was. However, on the weekend I visited the old engineering works with David and other locals who’d been helping me, it transpired that one of the former employees told him her neighbour, Gwen, once lived where Win used to live and it emerged that Gwen was the landlady of Margaret the land girl we’re seeking. She was also able to give us an idea of the dates and what she thought Margaret’s surname was. So we arrived back at researching the Diary after all. But the trip to Kew to sift through the Women’s Land Army record cards belongs in another story.
For more information :
Also John Sweetman's book, 'The Dambusters Raid'