Hitlers Armaments Minister Albert Speer was the driving force behind a frantic campaign to keep German industry on its feet in the face of Allied bombing. His personal mission to keep Germany working was continued despite his growing doubts about the war. His personal loyalty to Hitler seems to have outweighed his doubts.
One of his greatest challenges came following the ‘Dambusters raid’ of the 16th-17th May. As usual he was quickly on the scene, and as usual making a personal report to the Fuhrer on what he was doing:
On April 11, 1943, I proposed to Hitler that a committee of industrial specialists be set to determining the crucial targets in Soviet power production.
Four weeks later, however, the first attempt was made — not by us but by the British air force — to influence the course of the war by destroying a single nerve center of the war economy.
The principle followed was to paralyze a cross section, as it were – just as a motor can be made useless by the removal of the ignition.
On May 17, 1943, a mere nineteen bombers of the RAF tried to strike at our whole armaments industry by destroying the hydroelectric plants of the Ruhr.
The report that reached me in the early hours of the morning was most alarming. The largest of the dams, the Mohne dam, had been shattered and the reservoir emptied. As yet there were no reports on the three other dams.
At dawn we landed at Werl Aireld, having first surveyed the scene of devastation from above. The power plant at the foot of the shattered dam looked as if it had been erased, along with its heavy turbines.
A torrent of water had flooded the Ruhr Valley. That had the seemingly insignicant but grave consequence that the electrical installations at the pumping stations were soaked and muddied, so that industry was brought to a standstill and the water supply of the population imperiled.
My report on the situation, which I soon afterward delivered at the Fuehrer’s headquarters, made “a deep impression on the Fuehrer. He kept the documents with him.”’
The British had not succeeded, however, in destroying the three other reservoirs. Had they done so, the Ruhr Valley would have been almost completely deprived of water in the coming summer months.
At the largest of the reservoirs, the Sorpe Valley reservoir, they did achieve a direct hit on the center of the dam. I inspected it that same day. Fortunately the bomb hole was slightly higher than the water level. Just a few inches 1ower — and a small brook would have been transformed into a raging river which would have swept away the stone and earthen dam.
That night, employing just a few bombers, the British came close to a success which would have been greater than anything they had achieved hitherto with a commitment of thousands of bombers. But they made a single mistake which puzzles me to this clay: They divided their forces and that same night destroyed the Eder Valley dam, although it had nothing whatsoever to do with the supply of water to the Ruhr.
A few days after this attack seven thousand men, whom I had ordered shifted from the Atlantic Wall to the Mohne and Eder areas, were hard at work repairing the dams.
On September 23, 1943, in the nick of time before the beginning of the rains, the breach in the Mohne dam was closed.
We were thus able to collect the precipitation of the late autumn and winter of 1943 for the needs of the following summer. While we were engaged in rebuilding, the British air force missed its second chance. A few bombs would have produced cave-ins at the exposed building sites, and a few more bombs could have set the wooden scaffolding blazing.