THE AVRO LANCASTER.
This is the aircraft used by the aircrews who flew from Fiskerton.Designed by Roy Chadwick, the Avro Lancaster was developed from the disasterious Manchester. The Lancaster entered operational service in 1942.They had a crew of seven-Pilot, Flight Engineer, Radio Operator, Bomb-Aimer/front Gunner, Navigator, Mid-Upper Gunner and Rear Gunner.It was powered by four superbly British-engineered Rolls Royce Merlin engines and was able to carry heavy bomb loads over long distances during flights lasting up to eight-hours and at very reasonable airspeeds. This aircraft, with their highly-trained and professional crews, was the only way we could hit back at the enemy early in the war.
Of flying the Lancaster, Flt./Lt. H.H.M. Cave, a pilot with 419 Sqn in 1944-45 said the following: "The Lancaster was the finest aircraft I have ever flown. It was like flying a Tiger Moth except that it had four engines. It just floated like a bird and it didn't want to land! It was as if it just loved to fly. It was responsive to the controls-just a little touch to bank, climb or dive. just a slight movement and it performed beautifully and smoothly. The pilot has fantastic visibility, you could see everything. It was like being in a greenhouse. I could look around and if I adjusted my seat to its highest and shortened the rudder pedals to their fullest extent I could see through 360 degrees.I could see right through the astro-dome and the mid-upper turret.I had never flown this aircraft before so I went out with another pilot from the Squadron. He did one circuit and landing, stepped out of the aircraft and I took it from there. (Many thanks to Jim Cave for allowing me to use this text.)
A total of 7,377 were built in the UK and Canada.The Castle Bromwich factory alone employed 12,000 persons on Lancaster production.The Canadian-built Lancs being ferried over via Iceland using Female ferry pilots.Fifty-nine squadrons operated the Lancaster, flying some 156,000 sorties. Flying mostly at night, losses to aircraft and crews was very high. Facing appalling dangers and hardships which we cannot even imagine today, the crews took off not knowing if they would ever see their bases again.
Many more would die in training accidents. 15% of aircrew losses occurred in training accidents.Many would die returning to their bases after a long and terrifying bombing mission with battle-damaged aircraft and injured men at the controls. Bad weather and the dreaded fog would take its toll on tired crews-many crashing in the freezing wastes of the North Sea.
A Lancaster crew was expected to survive for three-weeks only. A crew could fly one night and be lost on the next night. Luck played a huge part. Of the total number of Lancasters built, half were lost by the end of the war.In one month alone-when the losses were at their highest, of sixteen 49 Sqn crews based at Fiskerton, 3 completed their tour of 30 operations, 1 crew were listed as prisoners-of-war, 1 crew was listed as killed-in-action and 10 crews were listed as failing to return. A staggering loss rate of 80%. Confined crew positions and bulky flying gear made it almost impossible to escape a crashing Lancaster.
If operational life was bad-life on the ground wasn't much better. Tin hut accommodation on hastily built airfields was freezing cold in winter and baking hot in summer. The accommodation sites could be miles from the messes and dining halls. Never enough food, he crews took pills to keep them awake when on ops and pills to make them sleep if they returned.
And when it was all over, some of those who survived stayed in the RAF. Most went back to the routine of civilian life. How strange it must have been for former aircrew after their wartime life. Over the years, some would re-visit their former wartime homes but many would not. A veteran told me that he still looks up into the night sky and checks the weather forcast even after all these years-bad weather meant an even more hellish night than usual.
In a book I have, the serial number of every Lancaster produced is listed together with its eventual fate. Many are listed as lost with the date and target. Many are listed as simply missing. At the end of hostilities, the Lancs which survived were simply broked up for scrap.
Lancasters operating from Fiskerton were involved in many important operations during the bombing campaign. These include: the "Shuttle" raids, targets in the heavily defended Rhur valley-the heart of Nazi Germany's war production, the long cold dangerous flights to Berlin in the winter of 1943/4 when the losses to aircraft and crews was the highest of the war, the daring 49 Squadron-led raid on the Schneider factory at Le Creusot, the vitally important and top-secret raid on the Nazi rocket development facility at Peenemunde and the last raid of the war on the die-hard SS stronghold at Bertchesgarden. Immediately after the end of hostilities, 576 Squadron began Operation Manna-the arial supply of food to starving Dutch cililians and the repatriation of allied Prisioners-of -war.
For anyone interested in learning about the Lancaster and the bombing campaign, there is a wealth of information on the subject which can be found on the internet. (See Links page on this website for a growing number of links to similar sites.) Another equally good way is through books on the subject. Local libraries stock many books. One such series of books is called: "The Lancaster At War" series. This excellent collection of books has thousands of images taken at the time on operational airfields, Fiskerton included, together with detailed accounts and stories by the persons who actually took part at the time.
JUNE 2008. A MUST-READ BOOK ENTITLED "BOMBER BOYS-FIGHTING BACK 1940 TO 1945 HAS BEEN WRITTEN BY PATRICK BISHOP. WRITTEN IN A MODERN WAY, THIS SUPERB BOOK GIVES THE FACTS,STATISTICS,REASONS AND ACCOUNTS OF WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO BE INVOLVED WITH THE BOMBING CAMPAIGN- FROM BOTH SIDES.
A GOOD FILM, SHOT DURING THE CAMPAIGN IS CALLED "NIGHT BOMBERS" FILMED MOSTLY IN COLOUR AND FAIRLY LATE IN THE WAR AT HEMSWELL IN LINCOLNSHIRE. THIS FILM SHOWS THE ENTIRE OPERATIONS PROCEDURE FROM BRIEFING, THROUGH TO THE OPERATION AND THE DE-DRIEFING AFTER LANDING.
BOTH OF THE ABOVE WILL GIVE ANYONE AN EXCELLENT INSIGHT INTO THE BOMBING CAMPAIGN OF W.W.11.
Of the personal and factual/historical stories of Bomber Command, there are thousands. Stories of astonishing selfless bravery, pilots remaining at the controls of burning aircraft to give their crews a chance to bail out, knowing they themselves would not survive. Stories of incredible devotion to duty, of veteran crews who had completed their tour of ops but volunteered,(all aircrew were volunteers,) for a second tour of 20 operations. Individuals who offered to help with a crew shortage-many paying the ultimate price for their heroism. Senior officers who led by example and flew when not always required to. And the tragic stories: crew-members like P/O Mynarski, a Canadian who was attempting to free a trapped crew-mate when his clothes and parachute caught fire- forcing to jump to his death-his name lives on with the Canadian flying Lancaster being named after him. Crews who were lost on their final mission of the tour. Crews who were lost on their first mission of the tour, some crews did not even had time to unpack their kit before being posted as missing and the crews who were lost in the final days of the war. And the stories of incredible luck: crews who flew their tour and never encountered a night fighter or fired a shot in anger and every op was routine and uneventful.
It is not easy for post-war generations like mine to understand what it must have been like all those years ago. All we have to look at are old black and white photos of war-weary planes and young men who were about 19 but looked much older. But if you read of the stories, visit the airfields and the heritage centres and study enough, I believe it is possible to get a small insight, a feel even of how these young men lived during those dark years.
THE ROLL OF THE GROUNDCREWS.
Each Lancaster had,in addition to an aircrew, its own groundcrew. This was made up of craftsmen who serviced every system and part of the aircraft. Their standard of work and skill levels would have been of the very highest British quality. Given the nature of the tasks the aircraft were performing and the pressure to keep the aircraft operational their job must have been very difficult. Working around the clock at the lonely dispersals- in all weathers perched high above the groung battling to get "their" Lancaster fit to fly for that night's operation and doing everything possible to ensure no malfunction could occur which might endanger "their" aircrew. But hardest of all, how would they have felt after waiting hours for their Lanc to return and then the sad realisation that it not be coming back to the now lonely dispersal-another seven young faces which would never be seen again.
THE REASON WHY.
Since the war, questions have been raised about the ethics and the effectiveness of the bombing campagn. Whilst the campagn may not have won the war by itself, it certainly laid the foundations that helped to secure our eventual victory.
1940. The Germans were in France-enjoying the spoils of war. Most of Europe was under their control. Next on the agenda was the defeat and conquest of Great Britain. This country of ours stood on the brink of defeat. Had the Germans invaded, our country and way of life would have been lost for ever. Everyone who invaded us before brought something with them which helped to make us the people we are. The Nazies would have brought nothing and took everything.
They began bombing our cities as a prelude to invasion-London, Hull, Swansea and the midland towns and cities and many more. Prime Minister Churchill visited these towns and cities. He was furious, ordering immediate raids in retaliation. After the heavy raid on Coventry in November 1940, he was further enraged to learn the germans has coined a new phrase: "to coventrate a British city." We learned a lot from this well planned and executed raid on hoe to Coventrate ourselves.
On the 11th of September 1940, the heroes of Fighter Command saved the country-now it was to be the turn for the heroes of Bomber Command to go on the offensive and carry forward the fight for survival.
The main reason for the campagn was given at the time by the Secretary of State for air as "The progressive dislocation of the German military,industrial and economic system." and the timing of the commencement of the bombing campaign was one of the most important tactical factor in our eventual victory.
Air Marshall Arthur "Bomber" Harris became head of Bomber Command. A WW1 pilot himself, he has spent the years between the wars developing the theories and techniques of bombing. He was given a job to do-namely to attack the enemy using any means at his disposal. He personally had seen the horror and slaughter of trench warefare in the First World War and believed he could prevent a re-occurance of this. Not just by bombing the Nazi war machine but also by the bombing of German cities too. He believed that the will to continue the fight would collapse and if they could be bombed into submission the German people would rebel against the Nazis, therefore bring an early end to the war without the need of a D-day landing and the loss of Allied lives that this would incur. Unfortunately,this did not happen as Harris, along with everyone else, had seriously underestimated just how fanatical the Nazis were.
What did happen though, was that the bombing of German targets, us by night and later the Americans by day kept the Nazis on the defensive for over four-years. It destroyed and disrupted their war- manufacturing facilities and forced the enemy to use up precious resources that would have been used offensively against us, on and after D-Day. There can be little doubt that the bombing campaign helped to bring about our eventual victory. The German armaments minister Albert Speer later would say: "The biggest factor in our defeat was the bombing." 900,000 German troops were assigned to anti-aircraft defence and a further 300,000 workers were employed repairing factories. He also stated that the biggest single factor in the Ardenne offensive failure, was the disruption to supply lines caused by the bombing.
Later, after D Day and certainly after the failed Ardenne offensive, the Nazis knew they could not possibly win the war. They could have put an end to the bombing at any time by simply giving up the fight. But instead of doing this,they were busy planning counter attacks and developing weapons of mass destruction. Rockets and atomic energy. Combined, this atomic capability would have been the end of this country and it would have been used against us without any hesitation or compassion. It was only a matter of when the atomic rockets would start raining down on us. Just try to imagine what would have happened to Europe and possibly the world itself had the second world war had gone atomic.There was a real urgency to end the war as quickly as possible by any means, including mass bombing before this could happen. The Nazis elected to start a total war and we were forced to do the same. They chose to fight to the very end and the bombing campaign continued to the very end. Because of this, many thousands of innocent civilians, on both sides of the North Sea and allied servicemen lost their lives unnecessarily.
Let us not forget the effects our bombing had on the German civil population. Dragged into a war they did not want,wishing like us to live their lives in peace. Targets were selected for their industrial, military and stratigic values or chosen simply to cause as much disruption and chaos as possible-timing being all important. Unfortunately, these targets were often located in urban areas and casualties on the ground were heavy. It was not our intention to simply kill civilians. The raids on the eastern cities of Chemnitz, Dresden and leipzig which were mounted in the last few weeks of the war, were carried out at the request of Soviet army intelligence and were designed to cause as much chaos and disruption as possible therefore assisting the Soviet armies which were advancing from the East in the face of heavy resistance. Unfortunately, these cities were also packed with German refugees who were trying to flee the Soviet army advance-a fact we were unaware of. Had the Germans laid down their arms, they could have ended the war sooner and saved the slaughter. These last raids, so close to the end of the war and the horrible, needless loss of civilians and allied aircrew which occurred, would have been prevented.
Today, there are only 26 Lancasters known to exist world wide and only two flying examples. One is in Canada, and one in Lincolnshire. We actually have two Lancs here in Lincolnshire. PA474 is part of the Battle of Britain Mamorial Flight which is based at RAF Coningsby and can be visited daily. This Lanc can also be seen flying most weekends whilst on its way to a display somewhere.It is customery for the pilot to fly low over Lincoln and the unmistakable sound of four perfectly sycronised Merlins can be heard for miles. It is a very strange sensation when walking around an old bomber airfield and suddenly, you hear the first sounds of the Merlins which get louder and then eventually, you see the Lanc itself.
There is an amazing story of patience, determination and hard work behind the second Lincolnshire Lancaster. She is NX611,"Just Jane" which is based at the old bomber airfield at East Kirkby. This aircraft, which looks in as good a condition as she was the day she rolled off the production line, forms part of the East Kirkby Heritage Centre which is owned by two brothers,Fred & Harold Panton who lost their older brother during the war whilst flying on ops and the heritage centre is a tribute to him and the other 55,000 aircrew lost on operations during the bombing campaign. The centre, together with the Lanc, has a fully restored control tower, dimly lit with mannequins dressed in authentic RAF uniform complete with authentic background sound effects. A NAAFI/shop which provides excellent catering at a reasonable cost and the shop which sells paintings,books,prints and East Kirkby/Lancaster memorabilia including the incredible story behind Jane. There is a hanger full of photographs and other exibits plus other restored buildings. The centre also has an airworthy two-seater Spitfire which flies from East Kirkby and performs displays. Maintained by their own full time engineers Ian Hickling & Mark Fletcher, Jane does not fly (at the moment) but perform engine starts and taxi runs and was used for the tv series Night Flight. The displays are incredible. Everybody gathers round the Lanc and the ground and flight crews start the engines. The engines are syncronised and Jane taxies away for a short distance and returns, then performs an engine run-up to about 50% power. The sounds from the Merlins is wonderful. When the engines are shut down, peace decends over the airfield and you cannot help but think what it must have been like all those years ago on so many airfields when up to 36 Lancs would have started up prior to take off. Taxi rides on Jane can be booked. East Kirkby is an amazing, unique experience and for anyone wanting an insite into what it must have been like on a wartime should see it. Is a tribute to all who have worked so hard to achieve this unique centre of the Lancaster world.
Update to above. Today Just Jane, for the first time in public, performed two tail up runs on a grass strip at East Kirkby airfield. After start up, she taxied past the crowd, which lined both sides of the hardstanding leading out onto the old airfield, turned right and taxied off into the distance. Following a 360 degree turn, she lined up for the run and her engined were run up and she began to roll. When level with the spectators her tail lifted off and she roared past. The engines were throttled back and Jane eventually came to a halt in the distance, turned again and taxied past us to the end where she started her run. A full repeat was performed. Following this, she taxied back towards us and her engines were shut down. When the flight crew got off the aircraft, a huge cheer and a massive round of applause greeted them. The whole event was a moment in history to be remembered forever and a fitting tribute to 55,000 aircrew lost during the bombing campaign. After the display, both the flight crew and the owners were wandering around chatting to everyone and were interviewed by the media. The atmosphere for the whole occasion was incredible and because, as always, we were allowed so close to Jane before,during and after the runs, those of us that were there felt we were a part of the occasion. It was a privilage to be a part of an important and awesome piece of aviation history in the making.
In addition to the three lancs mentioned above, the other twenty-three part or complete lancasters are: one each at Hendon,Duxford,Imperial War museums. One each France, Sweden, New Zealand and America.(This one undergoing refurbishment to flying condition.) Australia has two and the remaining fourteen in Canada, one of which lies in a lake in shallow water.
Bomber Command aircrew, as were all our armed forces during World War 2, were made up of many nationalities. Men came from all over the world to help us in our hour of need, Australia,New Zealand, America,Canada and many others. In addition to aircrew, Canada provided a safe environment for aircrew training and was a major contributer to Lancaster production. Built to a very high standard, these Canadian-built Lancs were flown across the Atlantic by ferry pilots, often Female, to join the battle to save Britain and the free world.
RUNNING COSTS OF A LANCASTER BOMBER ON OPERATIONS.
Select this link for a breakdown of the cost,to the taxpayer of a typical Lancaster sortie.(Article courtesy of Larry Wright.) Also, select this link for Larry's superb website on all things relating to the Lancaster, including photos,information etc.
Note: today, 28th December 2006. Article in British newspapers announcing that this country has finally made the last payment to America for the debt owed for the cost of World War 11. (It took us sixty-one years to pay for the war)
Lancaster B mk.1 Specifications.
|Length: ||69ft 4in (21.08m) |
|Wingspan: ||102ft 0in (31.00m) |
|Height: ||20ft 6in (6.23m) |
|Maximum Speed: ||287mph (462km/h) |
|Cruising Speed: ||200mph (322km/h) |
|Ceiling: ||19,000ft (5,793m) |
|Range: ||2,530 miles (4,072km) with 7,000lb (3,178kg) bomb load. |
|Powerplant: ||Four Rolls Royce Merlin XX, 22 or 24 of 1,280hp each. |
|Payload: ||Up to 22,000lb bombs carried internally. Later versions modified to carry a variety of single high explosive bombs of 8,000lb (3,632kg), 12,000lb (5,448kg) or 22,000lb (9,988kg) for special missions. |
|Defensive Armament: ||2 x .303 Browning machine guns in nose turret, 2 x .303 Browning machine guns in mid-upper turret and 4 x .303 Browning machine guns in tail turret. Early models also had ventral turret with a single .303 machine gun |