Barnes Wallis file photo [24029]

Barnes Wallis

Given NameBarnes
Born26 Sep 1887
Died30 Oct 1979
CountryUnited Kingdom


ww2dbaseBarnes Neville Wallis was born in Ripley, Derbyshire, England, United Kingdom on September 26, 1887 and was educated at Christ Hospital school in Horsham. Leaving school at seventeen he became an marine engineering apprentice and in 1913 joined Vickers (later Vickers-Armstrong) working on airship design. In 1922 he obtained a degree in engineering at the University of London, and in 1930 pioneered, along with John Edwin Temple, the use of light alloy and production engineering in the structural design of the R100 - at the time, was the largest airship ever designed.

Following the R101 disaster, Wallis moved to the Vickers aircraft factory at Brooklands where he became involved in the development of the Wellesley and Wellington bombers, both of which employed Wallis's geodetic framing for fuselage and wing structures construction. This astonishingly robust design's strength would frequently allow Wellingtons to fly home from missions even when missing sections of the wing or tail and with gaping holes in the fuselage; although the flexible structure could give concern to inexperienced crews as the wings wobbled somewhat alarmingly in flight.

ww2dbaseAs World War II progressed it became apparent that the Rumanian oilfields were too distant for bombers to reach from Britain and the German coal mines were too deep underground to be affected by bombs. That left the power from hydro-electric dams as the only possible targets with which to damage Germany's industrial might and thereby shorten the war. The story of Guy Gibsons daring attack on the Ruhr dams in May 1943 would be too well known to need repeating here, but the success of the mission was unquestionably due to Wallis's unique "Upkeep" bouncing bomb.

ww2dbaseAs early as 1941 Wallis had put forward a proposal for a very large bomb that, if detonated deep underground, would create a shock wave that would destroy the foundations of the target. At that time bombs used by the Allies had thin casings, which maximised the amount of explosive, but lacked the ground penetration proposed by Wallis. After the success of the Dams Raid he set about designing the first of his "earthquake" bombs, the Tallboy. It had to have a strong casing to penetrate the earth and to achieve this, each bomb was cast in one piece of high-tensile steel that would enable it to survive the impact before exploding. Furthermore, he designed the bomb to be extremely aerodynamic so that it would attain the high terminal velocity necessary to achieve the penetration required. Each bomb therefore was effectively handmade, weighing 12,000 pounds and was 21 feet long. It was Tallboy bombs dropped by Nos. 9 and 617 Squadrons which would sink the German battleship Tirpitz in Tromsø Fjord, Norway in November 1944.

ww2dbaseWith the success of the Tallboy, Wallis began to design an even larger bomb very much in line with his original proposal of 1941. It was officially known as "Bomb, Medium capacity, 22,000-lb" but more commonly known as the Grand Slam. Like the Tallboy it had a stabilising fin and thick casing as well as Torpex explosive, which apparently is 50 per cent more more powerful than TNT. Only one squadron was ever equipped with the Grand Slam - No. 617 "Dambusters" Squadron.

ww2dbaseOn March 13, 1945, Group Captain Fauquier, No. 617 Squadron's Commanding Officer, left RAF Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire, England with a 22,000-lb Grand Slam slung underneath his Lancaster bomber, while Squadron Leader Calder flew a second Lancaster similarly armed. This was the first mission with the big bomb and their target was to be the Schildesche viaduct. However, poor weather meant that they had to return to base. As with the smaller Tallboy bomb, the production run of the Grand Slam was very limited and so the crews were instructed not to jettison their bombs if the mission was aborted, but to return with them. So they were both the first pilots to take off and to land with the world's then heaviest bomb! The following day, better weather allowed the squadron to make another attempt and Calder was the first to drop a Grand Slam. Five arches of the viaduct were destroyed and the Allies, after several months of fruitless bombing, would have no further need to return to this target. Of the handful of Grand Slam bombs built, only 42 were used in anger up until April 19, 1945, when the last one was dropped on Heligoland on the German coast. Today two of the five existing complete Grand Slam bombs are in Lincolnshire; at the Scampton Heritage Centre and at the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Visitor Centre.

ww2dbaseAfter the war, as head of Vickers-Armstrong's Research and Development Department at Brooklands in Surrey, England, Barnes Wallis continued to work on various aeronautical projects, including research into supersonic flight and swing-wing technology, until his retirement. He was awarded a cash bonus of £10,000 for his wartime work - a most colossal sum of money in the 1940s, and most would agree that it was richly deserved. He accepted the money gratefully, then at once donated the entire amount to a fund set up to help the children of RAF men killed in the war. Knighted in 1968, Sir Barnes Wallis passed away at his home in Effingham, Surrey in 1979 aged 92.

ww2dbaseToday the legacy of Sir Barnes Wallis lives on. On the 13th April 2015 a new community facility at RAF Scampton, was formally opened by Dr. Mary Stopes-Roe, the daughter of Sir Barnes Wallis. The £693,000 project involved refurbishing a dilapidated building, including a new roof. The refurbishment was part-funded by a grant of £7,000 from the RAF Charitable Fund. The money provided the finishing touches, helping to pay for furniture, equipment and materials to make the centre a welcoming place for families. The Barnes Wallis Community Centre will be used for supporting families during times of deployment, for training courses, GP outreach services, Sure Start events and services, and will also be available for use by other groups including the Scouts and Brownies.

Rupert Matthews, Heroes of Bomber Command - Lincolnshire (Countryside Books, 2005)
The Lincolnshire Echo

Last Major Revision: Sep 2015

Barnes Wallis Timeline

26 Sep 1887 Barnes Wallis was born in Ripley, Derbyshire, England, United Kingdom.
23 Apr 1925 Barnes Wallis married Molly Bloxam in Britain.
30 Oct 1979 Barnes Wallis passed away in Effingham, Surrey, England, United Kingdom.

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Event(s) Participated:
» Dambuster Raid

Associated Aircraft:
» Wellington

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