Dr Robert Owen, the Official Historian of the No. 617 Squadron Association, will discuss the backstory to the unit’s operations during the Second World War.


Following their breaching of the German Dams in May 1943, No. 617 Squadron, Royal Air Force, was maintained as a specialist precision bombing unit. For the remainder of the Second World War the Squadron carried out precision attacks using new and unconventional weapons, culminating with Barnes Wallis’s deep penetration bombs, ‘Tallboy’ and ‘Grand Slam’. 

The numerous accounts written detailing the Squadron’s history fail to take into account many of the factors that determined the its role and concentrate on the operational record and the weapons used. The result is a distorted and incomplete perception of the Squadron’s development and a misconception of its full contribution to the bomber offensive.

This lecture will identify the various policy and decision making bodies and examine their role in selecting weapons and targets for the Squadron. It will explore the issues which determined the role played by the Squadron:  changes in Air Staff policy for Bomber Command, choice of targets, the development and production of weapons, and tactical requirements. Comparison is made between the planners’ original intentions for the Squadron and the final operational record.

Many of the Squadron’s eventual operations emerged as the result of an inability to execute initial planning resulting from unrealistic expectations of weapon performance, delays in the development of new weapons or political intervention. Alternative targets were selected not only to take advantage of the Squadron’s existing capabilities but to address specific issues, often imposed on the planners by outside agencies which would have otherwise diverted Bomber Command from the main offensive. In other instances they were used to supplement existing operations carried out by main force. Such was the gestation time for new weapons that when they emerged originally proposed targets were no longer applicable and new targets had to be found. The Squadron’s role in the development and assessment of weapons, equipment and new techniques for the Command is revealed to be greater than previously recognised.

This examination of the backstory to the Squadron’s operations reveals a hitherto unrecognised complexity in the evolution of the Squadron’s role, and demonstrates how haphazard delays and set-backs were transformed into new policy to meet ever changing requirements.


Please note that this lecture will be held in the main lecture theatre (MC001) at the University of Wolverhampton, Wulfruna Street, Wolverhampton, WV1 1LY at 18:30PM on Thursday 10 March 2016.


This lecture is free of charge however; we do ask that you pre-book a free ticket, as seats are limited. Booking is quick and easy, we just need some basic contact information.



Robert Owen is the Official Historian of the No. 617 Squadron Association and Chairman of the Barnes Wallis Foundation. He received his doctorate in May 2015, through the Arms and Armour Research Institute, University of Huddersfield, for his thesis entitled: ‘Planned Development or Haphazard Evolution? No. 617 Squadron 1943-45’. This work was supervised by Professor Richard Morris and the Reverend Paul Wilcock, with funding assistance by the RAF Museum and RAF Historical Society.  

Robert Owen’s research into the Squadron extends over 40 years and he is co-author of Breaching the German Dams for the RAF Museum and contributing author to Dam Busters – Failed to Return. He has assisted the authors of numerous authoritative books on the subject together with the producers of TV documentaries. He has contributed to publications for the RAF Museum, Keith Park Memorial Fund, Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the RAF’s official publications commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain and Sir Frank Whittle’s first jet powered flight. He is also author of a number of articles for magazines including Aeroplane.


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