Saturday, 29 October 2016

The Lancaster "The Lanc" Bomber Command's "Shining Sword"

First a disclaimer. Now I'm no historian (well just an armchair one). So if I've made any mistakes in this article please forgive me. And I'll amend it with all credit to those who provided further information.

(c) Darren Greenwood 2012
The History

The Avro Lancaster was a four-engined development of the earlier Avro Manchester twin-engined Heavy bomber. The prototype Lanc BT308 first flew on January 9th 1941 from Woodford in Manchester. BT308 originally featured the triple tail-fin design of the previous Manchester, but this idea was later dropped, and the two outer tail fins were enlarged. BT308 later flew in this configuration on February 12, 1941, it was such an improvement that the aircraft flew with both port engines shut down, proving that the larger tail fins could keep the aircraft flying straight and level. 
The second prototype DG595 first flew on May 13th 1941. With the production of the Manchester now stopped, the Lanc was approved and production began. The first production version was L7527, and first flew on October 31, 1941. This aircraft was powered by Merlin XX's. 
The first RAF squadron to receive the Lanc was No.44 (Rhodesia) Squadron at Waddington on Christmas Eve of 1941. 97 (Straits Settlement) Squadron was the second squadron to equip with the Lanc at Coningsby from January 1942.

Going Operational

On March 3rd 1942 the Lanc took part in its first operation on Heligoland Bight on a mine laying operations. All four Lancs returned back to RAF Waddington. 
The first night operation with Lancs was on March 10/11th 1942 when two Lancs from No.44 Squadron took part in an operation on Essen, each carrying 5,000Ib of incendiaries. Along with the Lancs were Handley-Page Hampdens, Avro Manchesters, Short Stirlings and Vickers Wellingtons, making up a total of 126 bombers in total.
The first daylight operation for Lancs was on the MAN factory at Augsburg on April 17th 1942, when Lancs from 44 and 97 Squadrons took part. The operation was led by Squadron Leader John D. Nettleton who would later receive the VC, and be the first of 10 Lanc crew to receive the VC. 
Lancs also took part in the first "Thousand Bomber" operation of May 30/31 1942, which was code named Operation Millennium. Out of 1,047 bombers, 868 reached the objective Cologne.

Operation Chastise (The Dambusters)

Perhaps the Lancs most famous exploit is Operation Chastise, which was an operation against the Ruhr Dams on May 16/17 1943. This operation was carried by the newly formed No.617 Squadron, led by Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson. For this raid the 19 Lancs had been specially modified to carry the "Upkeep" mine devised by Barnes Wallis. Of the 19 aircraft that took part in the operation, 8 were lost, and only 3 of the 56 crew survived to be PoW's. For this operation Guy Gibson was awarded the VC, with 34 other medals being awarded to the aircrew who had taken part in the operation. There were 5 DSO's, 10 DFC's four Bar's, 2 Conspicuous Gallantry Medals, 11 DFM's and one Bar. Thirteen RCAF and two RAAF personnel lost their lives on the operation.

An Avro Type 464 Provisioning Lancaster as modified for Operation Chastise in May, 1943.
Against the Tirpitz

Another famous achievement for which the Lanc is synonymous with, is the three operations against the German battleship Tirpitz. Along with 617 Squadron, 9 Squadron was also a special duties squadron, specializing in dropping the 12,000Ib "Tallboy" high capacity bomb on strategic targets. In September Operation Paravane was mounted. The Lancs flew from Yagodnik in the Soviet Union, some aircraft were lost on route to Yagodnik, and the remaining aircraft took off from Yagodnik on September 15, 1944 to bomb the Tirpitz in her Norwegian fjord of Kaafjord. The element of surprise was lost when a German ground unit gave previous notice of the Bomber's direction, and a smokescreen was set up. But the Tirpitz was bombed and one "Tallboy" did hit the Tirpitz, and had gone through the forward deck and through the waterline on the starboard side before exploding, while a second near miss had also incurred damage. 
By mid-October the damage had been patched, and the Tirpitz was moved to Tromso, which now brought her in the range of RAF bases in northern Scotland, particularly RAF Lossiemouth. The Lancs were now heavily modified and fitted with more powerful Merlin 24's The mid-upper turret was removed, as was the pilot's armour, guns and ammunition from the forward turret. Also the ammunition was reduced for the rear turret for weight reduction. Extra fuel tanks were also fitted in the fuselage to give the aircraft sufficient range. The combined force of 40 Lancs (20 from 9 Squadron, 19 from 617 and 1 from No.463 Squadron on photographic duties) left their RAF bases for Scotland, and on October 29 left RAF Lossiemouth for Tromso on Operation Obviate. The weather over the target had deteriorated, and this made bombing difficult, and the crew dropped their "Tallboys" by gun flashes they could see through cloud. A third operation took place during November 1944. On November 12, 1944 the Lancs set off on Operation Catechism, this time the weather was perfect, and the Tirpitz was hit several times, and rolled to port before capsizing. The Tirpitz was no more.

Loading a 12,000Ib "Tallboy" on Avro Lancaster ED763 "Honor"

Grand Slam

The "Grand Slam" was a 22,000Ib High Capacity bomb. The first use of this weapon was on March 14, 1945 against the Bielefeld Viaduct. Another operation in which the "Grand Slam" was used, is the operation against Hitler's "Eagle's Nest" at Berchtesgaden, carried out on April 25, 1945. The last operation using "Grand Slam" was a night operation against an oil target in Tonsberg in Norway on April 25/26 1945.
Post-War use

After the Consolidated Liberator had ceased RAF use, the Lanc became the principal Coastal Command Maritime Reconnaissance type. The last example of the Lanc to be retired by the RAF was MR3 RF325, which was used by the School of Maritime Reconnaissance at RAF St Mawgan, and was retired on October 15, 1956. The Lanc also served with other countries Post-War. Serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force for 20 years, and operating in various roles including Air-Sea Rescue. The Lanc also served with the Air Forces of Argentina and Egypt, and the French Navy. The Soviet Air Force also used the Lanc along with the Royal Australian Air Force and the Swedish Air Force who used a Lanc as an engine test bed. Many Lancs were also used in development trials, and put onto the UK civilian registers in the UK and Canada.

An Avro Lancaster B.Mk.I as operated by the Argentine Air Force, which operated 15 of the type.
An Avro Lancaster B.Mk.VII formerly NX627
Avro Lancaster 10P FM207

As above in glorious color. 
An Avro Lancaster B.Mk.I as operated by the Egyptian Air Force, which operated 9 of the type.

Above and below is the sole Lancaster operated by the Swedish Air Force. 8001 formerly RA805.

An Avro Lancaster MR.3 as used by 1 S.M.R at RAF St.Mawgan in the early 1950's


This version was powered by four Rolls-Royce Merlin XX, 22 or 24 engines. This was the most numerous version built. The first B.Mk.1 first flew on October 31, 1941.

B.Mk.1 (Special)

This modified B.Mk.1 was modified to carry loads in excess of 12,000Ib, the biggest of which was the 22,000Ib "Grand Slam". To carry this weapon had the bomb underslung in a doorless cut away bomb bay, and was also powered by Merlin 26 engines. The designation "Special" was applied to aircraft modified for specific duties. What is interesting to note about this version is that what wasn't needed internally was stripped out to save weight. The navigator had a wicker seat among other things. They were also powered by the more powerful Merlin 24, which had the power to lift the Lanc, and the 22,000Ib HC bomb "Grand Slam" into the air. Because the Lancs were faster after dropping the munition, the crews nicknamed these versions "Clapper Kites". On account that they could go like the Clappers.


This version was built by Armstrong Whitworth, and it was powered by Bristol Hercules VI (and later) Hercules XVI radial engines. The B.Mk.II was built to overcome the problem of Rolls-Royce Merlins not being manufactured fast enough to satisfy demand. The main drawback with this version was that when fully bombed up it could not reach the same operating height as it's Merlin powered comrades, and this version also had a higher fuel consumption. Only 300 of this type were built, and served mainly with 115 Squadron RAF, although some did see service with 61 Squadron and 408 Squadron RCAF.


This version was powered by Packard built Merlin 28, 38 or 224 engines. The Packard built Merlin 28 delivered 1,300hp and also differed in carburetion. The Merlin 38 (which was equivalent to the Merlin 22) delivered 1,390hp, and the Packard Merlin 224 (which was equivalent to the Merlin 24). The Packard Merlin was first trialled on Lancaster B.Mk.I R5849 and W4114 (which became the first prototype B.Mk.III). The B.Mk.I and B.Mk.III were similar in performance, but the new designation was because of different servicing procedures. The B.Mk.III also had better fuel consumption.

B.Mk.III (Special)

Or Type 464 Provisioning. 23 were modified to carry the 9,250Ib "Upkeep" mine for Operation Chastise in May 1943.

 B.Mk.VII (FE)

This version was built by Austin Motors. Most of them were modified for service in the Far East to operate with Tiger Force. They had an electrically operated Martin turret. 150 B.Mk.VII's had been earmarked for Tiger Force, and were powered by Merlin 24's. But with the surrender of Japan, this version saw no action in the Far East theatre.


This version was built in Canada by Victory Aircraft in Ontario. They were powered by Packard Merlin engines. Later versions had a Martin turret in the mid-upper position.

Other variants.


This version was used in the Photo Reconnaissance role. It had all turrets removed.

ASR Mk.3

This version was used on Air Sea Rescue duties. It carried an airborne lifeboat.


This version was used in the Maritime Reconnaissance role.


A modified B.Mk.III. They were powered by Merlin 85's or 87's and nine B.Mk.III airframes were modified to B.Mk.VI standard. 

DV170 Mk III converted to Mk VI. Used by Rolls Royce for Merlin trials : series 65, 85, 38, 68, 100, 102 & 621 300+ f/hrs testing. Dismantled (probably at Hucknall), by road to Newton 10Dec47, scrapped by 58MU

DV199 Mk III converted to Mk VI. Merlin 100 trials. Arrival date may be 16Jul43. Dismantled (Hucknall?), by road to Newton 12May47, scrapped by 58MU

JB675 Mk III converted to Mk VI prototype at Hucknall Nov43. At Hucknall for development of Merlin 68, 102, 150, 620 (fitted outboard for tests for Canadair 4), 621, 630, 641. Dismantled, by road to Cosford, scrapped Jul48

JB713 Mk III converted to Mk VI by R-R. Cat E (Missing) 19Aug44 on operations with 635 Sqdn

ND418 Mk III converted to Mk VI by R-R. 9 ops with 635 Sqdn. Dumped by Oct47

ND479 Mk III converted to Mk VI. Crashed while landing at Boscombe Down after engine failure

ND558 Mk III converted to Mk VI at R-R Hucknall. To Woodbridge 12Nov48 & SoC

ND673 Mk III converted to Mk VI. 23 ops with 635 Sqdn. Dumped at Farnborough /46

ND784 Mk III converted to Mk VI. Engine testbed : ASX in bombbay Mamba fitted in nose by AST, Hamble Oct47 Remains reported on Foulness Island Jun60

The B VI was withdrawn from operational service in November 1944.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent well written concise history of the Lancaster bomber.