Dambusters historians have described plans to turn a historic RAF base into a migrant camp as “appalling” and “an absolute horror story”.
It is 80 years since the newly formed 617 Squadron at RAF Scampton was tasked with one of the most audacious missions of the Second World War – destroying three key dams in the Ruhr valley.
The Dambusters’ legacy now risks being overshadowed by Home Office plans to convert the base into a camp for up to 2,000 asylum seekers.
Historian James Holland and Al Murray, the comedian and military history enthusiast, have spoken out against the move.
Over the past four years, the pair have presented a bi-weekly Second World War podcast, We Have Ways of Making You Talk.
Safeguard the future of Scampton
Speaking ahead of a special series of episodes marking The Dambusters’ 80th anniversary, Mr Holland said: “There is a really, really good levelling-up plan there, which will safeguard the future of Scampton, will make it a hub of aviation and aerospace excellence, continue its aviation story, bring £300 million to the area and 1,000 jobs.
“Or you scrap all that and turn it into a refugee asylum centre with shipping containers on the runway. It’s absolutely appalling.
“I think it’s absolutely shocking and to do it right now on the 80th anniversary of the Dambuster raids is classic insensitive timing.”
On Thursday, London’s High Court rejected an application by West Lindsey District Council to block the plans.
Councillors fear the move would destroy plans for a £300 million regeneration project.
Open letter to the Home Secretary
Mr Holland is one of 40 historians – including Sir Antony Beevor, Dan Snow, Sir Max Hastings and Professor David Edgerton – who signed an open letter to Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, voicing their opposition to the plans.
Murray, another signatory, told The Telegraph: “I am not particularly fetishistic about ‘you can’t build here, you can’t change this, you can’t change that’. The world changes.
“But this was an opportunity to put tech and aviation into RAF Scampton, preserve a little bit of heritage and create jobs in the area rather than warehouse unfortunates.
“I signed the letter because that part of the world has had the carrot of levelling-up dangled over it again and again, and it was taken away.”
The famous midnight raid in 1943
On May 16, 1943, Bomber Command tasked 617 Squadron, comprising 133 British, Australian, New Zealand and American airmen with destroying three key dams in the Ruhr valley, the industrial heartland of the German military machine.
Armed with Barnes-Wallis’s bouncing bomb, 19 Lancaster Bombers, under the command of 24-year-old Wing Commander Guy Gibson, successfully breached the Möhne and Eder, and crippled the Sorpe.
Catastrophic floods swept away factories, bridges, railways, farmland and energy supplies, costing Germany about £6.7 billion in repairs.
Less than half of Gibson’s men were lost during the midnight raid, with 53 killed and three taken prisoner.
Mr Holland and Murray flew over the three dams last month in a Cessna light aircraft to help understand the danger that Gibson and his men were exposed to.
The crews had to fly 60 feet above the water, a fraction higher than a lamp post, and release the 4.2 tonne bomb at exactly 1,280 feet from the dam to ensure it bounced over each of the anti-torpedo nets and hit its target.
Their skill was impossible
Flying even 800 feet above the water puts the near impossibility of the challenge in perspective, Murray said.
“We were doing it in daylight on an April morning. You could see everything.
“These guys were doing it at night in moonlight with the possibility of being discovered and shot down.
“The three greatest feats of flying in all human history: the Wright Brothers, The Dambusters and the Moon landings.
“In terms of aviation, their skill was essentially impossible – it’s impossible.
“I found it more unbelievable, more staggering, having actually been there.”
It came as Rishi Sunak vowed to solicit as many barges “as it takes” to house migrants.
The Prime Minister told the Mail on Sunday he would hold twice-weekly cross-governmental meetings to ameliorate the crisis.