You can obviously see that the bridge over the Wherre Valley, known locally as the Schildesche Viaduct, has been extensively repaired. The original viaduct was built in 1847 and the second one alongside it in 1917. During 1945, Allied war planners considered it to be one of the most important lengths of railway in Germany and an important target.
The viaducts each had 26 arches with a height of around 73 feet. The total length of each was around 1,100 feet. From early February 1945, some 3,000 tons of bombs had been dropped in numerous raids on the viaduct to no effect beyond a few bent tracks that were quickly repaired.
The viaduct was then selected as the first target for the Grand Slam bomb invented by Barnes Wallace. The raid took place on March 14, 1945. This massive 22,000-pound conventional bomb was in a specially hardened aerodynamic casing intended to penetrate deep into the ground and cause an earthquake when it exploded. Until the United States forces used the MOAB in Afghanistan in 2017, it was the most powerful conventional bomb used in action.
Two RAF Lancaster bombers took off along with 26 other Lancasters armed with Tallboy bombs. The squadron was 617 Squadron, which had previously carried out the famous Dambusters Raid. Only one of the Grand Slam-armed bombers reached the target. The other returned to base with a faulty engine. When the Grand Slam was dropped, it fell 80 feet from the target, but the explosion caused a 100-foot crater that undermined the bridge sufficiently and caused a large section of it to collapse. In 1965, one of the two viaduct sections was repaired with a steel and concrete span that looks totally different from the original. In 1983, the other length was repaired in much the same way.
The damage to Germany’s war effort of this raid was actually minimal as a bypass route on earth embankments had already been constructed. The mode of repair has clearly left the viaduct as a reminder of the event in 1945.
Know Before You Go
The Hamm-Minden railway is now part of the German High Speed Rail system. In the 1980s a large stormwater control lake was created on the western side of the viaduct and the outlet from it now passes under the structure. A very attractive park was created around the lake.