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Arts & Culture

NOVA: Bombing Hitler's Dams

Blowing the dam at a test site in Canada, from NOVA's "Bombing Hitler's Dams."
Courtesy of WGBH
Blowing the dam at a test site in Canada, from NOVA's "Bombing Hitler's Dams."

Airs Wednesday, January 11, 2012 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

In 1943 a squadron of Lancaster bombers staged one of the most audacious raids in history — destroying two gigantic dams in Germany’s industrial heartland and cutting the water supply to arms factories — with a revolutionary bouncing bomb invented by British engineer Barnes Wallis. Wallis and the pilots of 617 Squadron dealt a mighty blow to the German war machine.

Nazis and the Bomb

How close was Hitler to developing a nuclear weapon? Read the article by Mark Walker.

In "Bombing Hitler's Dams," NOVA re-creates the extreme engineering challenges faced by Wallis and the pilots with the aid of six spectacular experiments. Each represents a technical challenge that the “Dambusters” had to solve to make their mission a success.

A team of experts — from dam engineers to explosives specialists — steps into the shoes of the Dambusters.

They will adapt a vintage World War II DC4 to carry a bomb the size of an oil drum; train to drop it from a dangerously low altitude in pitch darkness; get it to bounce over obstacles and onto the target; and finally, at a test site in Canada with a 1:6 scale model of one of the German dams, try to repeat history.

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Watch Bombing Hitler's Dams Preview on PBS. See more from NOVA.