Nova Kakhovka Attack — Dams Are A Favorite Target Of War
Stunning images of the attack of Nova Kakhovka dam, which had been described as a strategically important target, serve as a reminder that military forces in past wars have set off similar disasters to take out dams' power.
A major dam and hydro-electric power plant in Russian-occupied southern Ukraine was destroyed on Tuesday, prompting fear and mass evacuations as Ukraine accused Russian forces of committing an act of “ecocide.”
Videos posted to social media showed the destroyed dam and torrents of water flowing out into the river and flooding populated areas downstream, where people were forced to evacuate.
As stunning as the images are, the attack of Nova Kakhovka is not a complete surprise. The dam had been described as a strategically important target since the beginning of the war, and the Ukrainian government warned in 2022 that destroying it would cause a "large-scale disaster."
Indeed, the attack is just the most recent example of military forces seeing the massive potential energy stored behind hydroelectric dams as an offensive weapon. Destroying these critical pieces of infrastructure can destroy cities and spread terror, as well as disrupt agriculture and industry, and cripple power generation.
Here are some of the most notable wartime dam attacks in history:
1938: The Yellow River attack in the Sino-Japanese War
1938 June Yellow Riverast.m.wikipedia.org
The Yellow River attack in 1938 was a significant military operation, carried out by the Nationalist Chinese forces against the invading Japanese during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945).
During the war, the Japanese Army advanced deep into China, aiming to capture and control strategic regions and target the Yellow River, one of the major water streams in China. In June 1938, the Nationalist Chinese government, led by Chiang Kai-shek, came up with a plan to disrupt the Japanese control over the Yellow River.
Authorities were ordered to cut off the resources and infrastructure that could be used against them.
The operation involved the intentional breaching of the Yellow River's levees in an effort to flood the surrounding areas and create a defensive barrier. The goal was to create a massive flood that would delay the Japanese army's movements, disrupt their supply lines, and force them to divert resources to deal with the flooding. But the flood had other consequences. The waters caused massive destruction, destroying villages, farmland and infrastructure along with the displacement of 500,000 Chinese civilians, and the loss of numerous lives.
1941: Dnipro Dam, destroyed during Operation Barbarossa
Ruins of the Dnipro Dam during the Second World Warcommons.wikimedia.org
During World War II, on Aug. 18, 1941, Soviet forces destroyed the Dnipro dam in Zaporizhia, Ukraine. As German troops advanced into Ukrainian territory during the early stages of Operation Barbarossa -- the German invasion of the Soviet Union -- Soviet authorities were ordered to cut off the resources and infrastructure that could be used against them.
The destruction of the Dnipro dam resulted in widespread flooding, disrupting the German advance and causing economic and logistical difficulties for the occupying forces. It also impacted the local population, leading to thousands of people's displacement.
After the war, the Soviet Union embarked on the reconstruction of the Dnipro dam. The power station was rebuilt and continued to play a crucial role in the development of Ukraine's energy sector. It is now being compromised again with the recent attack on the Nova Kakhovka dam.
1943: Dam Busters raid
The Dam Busters raid, officially known as Operation Chastise, was a significant military operation conducted by the British Royal Air Force (RAF) during World War II. It targeted several dams in Germany's industrial heartland.
During World War II, Germany's industrial production relied heavily on its dams for hydroelectric power and water supply. Damaging or destroying these dams was seen as a way to disrupt their industrial capabilities and flood the surrounding areas, thereby impacting German industries and transportation networks.
Barnes Wallis, a British engineer, devised a special weapon known as the "bouncing bomb." It was designed to skip along the water's surface, and then sink near the dam wall before exploding.
On the night of May 16, 1943, a total of 19 Lancaster bombers of No. 617 Squadron, later known as the "Dam Busters," departed from RAF Scampton in England. The Dam Busters raid resulted in the destruction of two dams, causing severe flooding in the Ruhr Valley and disrupting German industry and transportation networks.
1952: Sui-ho dam attacks, Korean War
Sui-ho Dam, 22 February 1953commons.wikimedia.org
The attack on the Sui-ho Dam was a series of bombings during the Korean War on 13 hydroelectric generating facilities by United Nations air forces as part of the North Korean bombing campaign in 1952.
A massive amount of water was released, flooding the downstream areas and causing extensive damage.
Primarily targeting the hydroelectric complex associated with the Sui-ho Dam in North Korea, the attacks were intended to apply political pressure.
The attacks destroyed nearly all the facilities targeted and completely knocked out power in North Korea for two weeks, and reduced available power to northeast China by a quarter.
1990: The Peruća Dam attack, Croatian War of Independence
The Peruća Dam attack took place in 1990, in Croatia (then part of Yugoslavia). It involved the intentional destruction of the Peruća Dam by the Yugoslav People's Army during the early stages of the Croatian War of Independence.
The Peruća Dam, located on the Cetina River near the town of Sinj in southern Croatia, was an important hydroelectric power plant providing electricity to the surrounding region, and also supplied drinking and irrigation water.
As a result of the attack, a massive amount of water was released, flooding the downstream areas and causing extensive damage to infrastructure, agriculture, and the environment. It also had huge consequences for the local population, with thousands of people displaced in the affected areas.
2017: The Tabqa Dam attack
The Tabqa Damcommons.wikimedia.org
The Tabqa Dam attack in Syria in 2017 was a military operation conducted by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led alliance supported by the United States, to retake the Tabqa Dam from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The Tabqa Dam had been captured by ISIS in 2014 as part of their territorial expansion in the region.
The attack on the dam was complex due to the strategic importance of the structure and the potential humanitarian and environmental consequences if it were to be damaged, as it provided electricity, controlled water flow for irrigation purposes and prevented downstream flooding.
After several weeks of intense fighting, the SDF, with support from the U.S. and allies, managed to retake the dam and gain control of the surrounding area. The operation was a significant blow to ISIS, as the loss of the Tabqa Dam hindered their ability to generate revenue from electricity generation and control water resources.
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