May 16

This Day in History

World War II

May 16, 1943:

As Brits launch Operation Chastise, Germans launch Operation Gypsy Baron

On this day in 1943, the British Royal Air Force sets into motion a plan to bomb key dams in order to flood the Ruhr region of Germany, while the German army pursues an anti-partisan sweep in Russia.

Operation Chastise, part of a larger strategy of "area bombing" begun a year earlier was led by Guy Gibson, one of the RAF's best bomber pilots. Leading 18 bombers at low altitude across the North Sea and Holland, Gibson lost six bombers and 56 of his crew (out of 133) who were shot down before reaching their destinations, the Mohne, Eder, and Sorpe dams. The surviving aircraft succeeded in destroying two of their three targets, causing the Ruhr river, a tributary of the Rhine, to flood the surrounding area, killing 1,268 people, including, unfortunately, 700 Russian slave laborers. Gibson would be awarded the Victoria Cross for his successful, though costly, raid.

Meanwhile, the German army went on the offensive against partisan resistance fighters who controlled large tracts of swampland, forest, and mountain ranges and were still battling the German invaders on the eastern front in Russia. Out of 6,000 partisans in the region, German bombing killed 1,584 and another 1,568 were taken prisoner. Bombs were not the only things that fell from the sky; the Germans dropped 840,000 leaflets calling for the surrender of the partisans.

On the evening of that same day, the Warsaw ghetto revolt was finally put down with the destruction of the Warsaw synagogue. The revolt began on April 18 when Jews, walled into a stifling area after the massive German assault on the city, began a heroic armed revolt against their German persecutors. After all was said and done, 14,000 Jews were killed in the revolt or sent to the death camp at Treblinka and another 42,000 were sent to labor camps in Lublin.

Fact Check We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!

What Happened on Your Birthday?

Pick a Date