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|Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster B I PA474 of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. This aircraft carries the deepened bomb aimer blister (Mod. 780) and the later paddle-bladed propellers. Neither H2S blister nor exhaust shrouds are fitted.|
|First flight||9 January 1941|
|Primary users||Royal Air Force
Royal Canadian Air Force
Royal Australian Air Force
|Developed from||Avro Manchester|
|Developed into||Avro York
The Avro Lancaster is a British four-engined Second World War heavy bomber. It was designed and manufactured by Avro as a contemporary of the Handley Page Halifax, both bombers having been developed to the same specification, as well as the Short Stirling, all three aircraft being four-engined heavy bombers adopted by the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the same wartime era.
The Lancaster has its origins in the twin-engine Avro Manchester which had been developed during the late 1930s in response to the Air Ministry Specification P.13/36 for a capable medium bomber for "world-wide use". Originally developed as an evolution of the Manchester (which had proved troublesome in service and was retired in 1942), the Lancaster was designed by Roy Chadwick and powered by four Rolls-Royce Merlins and in one version, Bristol Hercules engines. It first saw service with RAF Bomber Command in 1942 and as the strategic bombing offensive over Europe gathered momentum, it was the main aircraft for the night-time bombing campaigns that followed. As increasing numbers of the type were produced, it became the principal heavy bomber used by the RAF, the RCAF and squadrons from other Commonwealth and European countries serving within the RAF, overshadowing contemporaries such as the Halifax and Stirling.
A long, unobstructed bomb bay meant that the Lancaster could take the largest bombs used by the RAF, including the 4,000 lb (1,800 kg), 8,000 lb (3,600 kg) and 12,000 lb (5,400 kg) blockbusters, loads often supplemented with smaller bombs or incendiaries. The "Lanc", as it was affectionately known, became one of the more famous and most successful of the Second World War night bombers, "delivering 608,612 long tons of bombs in 156,000 sorties". The versatility of the Lancaster was such that it was chosen to equip 617 Squadron and was modified to carry the Upkeep "Bouncing bomb" designed by Barnes Wallis for Operation Chastise, the attack on German Ruhr valley dams. Although the Lancaster was primarily a night bomber, it excelled in many other roles, including daylight precision bombing, for which some Lancasters were adapted to carry the 12,000 lb (5,400 kg) Tallboy and then the 22,000 lb (10,000 kg) Grand Slam earthquake bombs (also designed by Wallis). This was the largest payload of any bomber in the war.
In 1943, a Lancaster was converted to become an engine test bed for the Metropolitan-Vickers F.2 turbojet. Lancasters were later used to test other engines, including the Armstrong Siddeley Mamba and Rolls-Royce Dart turboprops and the Avro Canada Orenda and STAL Dovern turbojets. Postwar, the Lancaster was supplanted as the main strategic bomber of the RAF by the Avro Lincoln, a larger version of the Lancaster. The Lancaster took on the role of long range anti-submarine patrol aircraft (later supplanted by the Avro Shackleton) and air-sea rescue. It was also used for photo-reconnaissance and aerial mapping, as a flying tanker for aerial refuelling and as the Avro Lancastrian, a long-range, high-speed, transatlantic passenger and postal delivery airliner. In March 1946, a Lancastrian of BSAA flew the first scheduled flight from the new London Heathrow Airport. In 1963, the last remaining Lancasters were retired by the RCAF.
In the 1930s, the Royal Air Force (RAF) was primarily interested in twin-engine bombers. These designs put limited demands on engine production and maintenance, both of which were already stretched with the introduction of so many new types into service. Power limitations were so serious that the British invested heavily in the development of huge engines in the 2,000 horsepower (1,500 kW) class in order to improve performance. During the late 1930s, none of these were ready for production. Both the United States and the Soviet Union were pursuing the development of bombers powered by arrangements of four smaller engines, the results of these projects proved to possess favourable characteristics such as excellent range and fair lifting capacity. Accordingly, in 1936, the RAF also decided to investigate the feasibility of the four-engined bomber.
The origins of the Lancaster stem from a twin-engined bomber design that had been submitted in response to Specification P.13/36, which had been formulated and released by the British Air Ministry during the mid 1930s. This specification had sought a new generation of twin-engined medium bombers suitable for "worldwide use". Further requirements of the specification included the use of a mid-mounted cantilever monoplane wing, all-metal construction; the adoption of the in-development Rolls-Royce Vulture engine was also encouraged". Various candidates were submitted for the specification, such as Fairey, Boulton Paul, Handley Page and Shorts; all submissions were designed around two-engine configurations, using the Rolls-Royce Vulture, Napier Sabre, Fairey P.24 or Bristol Hercules engines. The majority of these engines were under development at this point; while four-engined bomber designs were considered for specification B.12/36 for a heavy bomber, wings which mounted two pairs of engines were still in the experimental stage and required testing at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), the resulting increase in overall weight of adopting a stronger wing also necessitated further strengthening of the overall aircraft structure.
In response, British aviation company Avro decided to submit their own design, designated the Avro 679, to meet Specification P.13/36. In February 1937, following consideration of the designs by the Air Ministry, Avro's design submission was selected along with Handley Page's bid being chosen as "second string". Accordingly, during April 1937, a pair of prototypes of both designs were ordered. The resulting aircraft, named the Manchester, entered RAF service in November 1940. Although considered to be a capable aircraft in most areas, the Manchester proved to be underpowered and troubled by the unreliability of the Vulture engine. As a result, only 200 Manchesters were constructed and the type was quickly withdrawn from service in 1942.
As early as mid-1940, Avro's chief design engineer, Roy Chadwick, had been working on an improved Manchester design. This redesign was powered by four of the more reliable but less powerful Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, specifically adopted the form of the Merlin "Power Plant" installations which had been developed by Rolls-Royce for the earlier Beaufighter II, installed on a larger wing. Initially, the improved aircraft was designated as the Type 683 Manchester III, it was subsequently renamed as the Lancaster. The prototype aircraft BT308 was assembled by the Avro experimental flight department at Ringway Airport, Manchester; the prototype was constructed from a production Manchester airframe, which was combined with a new centre section designed to accommodate the additional engines. On 9 January 1941, test pilot H. A. "Bill" Thorn performed the prototype's maiden flight at RAF Ringway, Cheshire.
Flight testing of the new aircraft quickly proved it to be a substantial improvement on its predecessor, aviation author Jim Winchester referred to the Lancaster as being "one of the few warplanes in history to be 'right' from the start." The first prototype was initially outfitted with a three-finned tail layout, a result of the design having been adapted from the Manchester I; this was quickly revised on the second prototype, DG595, and subsequent production Lancasters to the familiar larger elliptical twin-finned tail unit that had also been adopted for the later-built Manchesters, discarding the stubby central third tail fin. The adoption of the enlarged twin fins not only increased stability but also provided for a greater field of fire from the dorsal gun turret position. The second prototype was also outfitted with more powerful Merlin XX engine.
Some of the later orders for Manchesters were converted in favour of the Lancaster; both bombers shared various similarities and featured identical design features, such as the same distinctive greenhouse cockpit, turret nose and twin tail. The designs were so similar that an entire batch of partially constructed Manchesters could be completed as Lancaster B I aircraft instead. Based upon its performance, a decision was taken early on to reequip twin-engine bomber squadrons with the Lancaster as quickly as possible. In October 1941, the first production Lancaster, L7527, powered by Merlin XX engines, conducted its first flight.
Avro received an initial contract for 1,070 Lancasters. The majority of Lancasters that were manufactured during the war years were constructed by Avro at their factory at Chadderton near Oldham, Greater Manchester and were test flown from Woodford Aerodrome in Cheshire. As it was quickly recognised that Avro's capacity was exceeded by the wartime demand for the type, it was decided to form the Lancaster Aircraft Group, which comprised a number of companies that undertook the type's manufacture, either performing primary assembly themselves or producing various subsections and components for the other participating manufacturers.
In addition to Avro, further Lancasters were constructed by Metropolitan-Vickers (1,080, also tested at Woodford) and Armstrong Whitworth. It was also produced at the Austin Motor Company works in Longbridge, Birmingham, later in the Second World War and postwar by Vickers-Armstrongs at Chester as well as at the Vickers Armstrong factory, Castle Bromwich, Birmingham. Belfast-based aircraft firm Short Brothers had also received an order for 200 Lancaster B Is, but this was cancelled prior to any aircraft have been completed. Only 300 of the Lancaster B II, which was outfitted with Bristol Hercules engines, were constructed; this had been produced as a stopgap modification as a result of a shortage of Merlin engines due to fighter production have had a higher priority placed upon it at that time.
The Lancaster was also produced overseas. During early 1942, it was decided that the bomber should be produced in Canada, where it was manufactured by Victory Aircraft in Malton, Ontario. Of later variants, only the Canadian-built Lancaster B X was produced in significant numbers. A total of 430 of this type were built, earlier examples differing little from their British-built predecessors, except for using Packard-built Merlin engines and American-style instruments and electrics. In August 1942, a British-built Lancaster B I, R5727, was dispatched to Canada as a pattern aircraft, becoming the first of the type to conduct a transatlantic crossing. The first Lancaster produced in Canada was named the "Ruhr Express".[Note 1] The first batch of Canadian Lancasters delivered to England suffered from faulty ailerons; this error was subsequently traced to the use of unskilled labourers.
The Lancaster B I was never fully superseded in production by a successor model, remaining in production until February 1946. According to aviation authors Brian Goulding and M. Garbett, the Lancaster B I altered little during its production life, partially as a result of the sound basic structure and design; of the visible changes, the fuselage side-windows were deleted, the Perspex chin of the bomb-aimer was enlarged, and a larger astrodome was provisioned. Various additional bumps and blisters were also added, which would typically house radar equipment and radio navigational aids. Some Lancaster B I bombers were outfitted with bulged bomb bay doors in order to accommodate increased armament payloads.
Early production Lancaster B Is were outfitted with a ventral gun turret position. In response to feedback on the lack of application for the ventral turret, the ventral turret was often eliminated during the course of each aircraft's career. While some groups chose to discard the position entirely, various trials and experiments were performed at RAF Duxford, Cambridgeshire and by individual squadrons. A total of 50 Austin-built Lancaster B Is were constructed to a non-standard configuration, having a Frazer Nash turret installed directly above the bomb bay; this modification was largely unpopular due to its obstruction of the internal walkway, hindering crew movements. Various other turret configurations were adopted by individual squadrons, which included the removal of various combinations of turrets.
The Lancaster B III was powered by Packard Merlin engines, which had been built overseas in the United States, but was otherwise identical to contemporary B Is. In total, 3,030 B IIIs were constructed, almost all of them at Avro's Newton Heath factory. The Lancaster B I and B III were manufactured concurrently and minor modifications were made to both marks as further batches were ordered. The B I and B III designated was effective interchangeable simply by exchanging the engines used, which was occasionally done in practice. Examples of modifications made include the relocation of the pitot head from the nose to the side of the cockpit and the change from de Havilland "needle blade" propellers to Hamilton Standard or Nash Kelvinator made "paddle blade" propellers.
The Avro Lancaster was a British four-engined strategic bomber that was used as the RAF's principal heavy bomber during the latter half of the Second World War. The typical aircraft was powered by an arrangement of four wing-mounted Rolls-Royce Merlin piston engines, each of which drove a set of 13 ft diameter de Havilland Hydromatic three-bladed airscrews. While not optimal, the Lancaster was capable of flying the return journey home on only two operational engines, along with very limited distances on a single running engine. Goulding and Garbett have claimed that experienced Lancaster pilots were often able to out-manoeuver Luftwaffe fighters. It possessed largely favourable flying characteristics, having been described by aviation authors Brian Goulding and M. Garbett as being: "a near-perfect flying machine, fast for its size and very smooth...such a delightfully easy aeroplane to fly...there are instances of Lancasters having been looped and barrel-rolled, both intentionally and otherwise".
The Lancaster benefited from a structure that possessed considerable strength and durability, which had been intentionally designed to maximise structural strength-per-weight; this resulted in the Lancaster being capable of withstanding some levels of damage resulting from attacks by hostile interceptor aircraft and ground-based anti-aircraft batteries. However, during the first year of the type's career, some instances of structural failures were encountered on Lancaster B Is and a number of aircraft were lost in accidents as a result of the design limitations having been greatly exceeded. Compared with other contemporary aircraft, the Lancaster was not an easy aircraft to escape from; in a Halifax, 25 per cent of downed aircrew bailed out successfully, and in American bombers (albeit in daylight raids) it was as high as a 50 per cent success rate while only 15 per cent of the Lancaster crew were able to bail out.
The Lancaster uses a mid-wing cantilever monoplane configuration. The wing is constructed from five separate main sections while the fuselage is likewise composed of five sections. Aside from a few elements, such as the fabric-covered ailerons, the Lancaster's oval-shaped fuselage had an all-metal covering. All of the wing and fuselage sections were manufactured separately, during which they were outfitted with all of the required equipment in advance of final assembly being performed, as a measure intended to accelerate the rate of production. The Lancaster was equipped with a retractable main undercarriage and fixed tailwheel; the hydraulically-actuated main landing gear raised rearwards into recesses within the inner engine nacelles. The distinctive tail unit of the aircraft was outfitted with a large twin elliptical fins and rudder arrangement.
Starting at the nose, the bomb aimer had two positions to man. His primary location was lying prone on the floor of the nose of the aircraft, with access to the bombsight controls facing forward, with the bombsight computer on his left and bomb release selectors on the right. He also used his view out of the large transparent perspex nose cupola to assist the navigator with map reading. To man the Frazer Nash FN5 nose turret, he stood up placing himself in position behind the triggers of the twin .303 in (7.7 mm) guns. Ammunition for the turret was 1,000 rounds per gun (rpg). The bomb aimer's position contained the nose emergency hatch in the floor; at 22 by 26.5 inches (560 by 670 mm) (two inches narrower than the Halifax escape hatch) it was difficult to exit through while wearing a parachute. Operational research experts, including British scientist Freeman Dyson, amongst others, attempted unsuccessfully to have the escape hatch enlarged.
On the roof of the bomb bay the pilot and flight engineer sat side by side under the expansive canopy, with the pilot sitting on the left on a raised portion of the floor (almost all British bombers, and most German bombers, had only a single pilot seat as opposed to American practice of carrying two pilots, or at least having controls for two pilots installed). The flight engineer sat on a collapsible seat (known as a "second dicky seat") to the pilot's right, with the fuel selectors and gauges on a panel behind him and to his right. The pilot and other crew members could use the panel above the cockpit as an auxiliary emergency exit while the mid-upper gunner was expected to use the rear entrance door to leave the aircraft. The tail gunner escaped by rotating his turret to the rear, opening the door in the back of the turret, passing into the fuselage, and clipping on a parachute that was hung on the side wall. He could then exit through the rear entrance door.
Behind the pilot and flight engineer, and behind a curtain fitted to allow him to use light to work, sat the navigator. His position faced to port with a chart table in front of him. An instrument panel showing the airspeed, altitude, and other information required for navigation was mounted on the side of the fuselage above the chart table. The wireless operator's radios were mounted on the left-hand end of the chart table, facing the rear of the aircraft. Behind these and facing forwards the wireless operator sat on a seat at the front of the main spar. On his left was a window, and above him was the astrodome, used for visual signalling and by the navigator for celestial navigation.
Behind the wireless operator were the two spars for the wing, which created a major obstacle for crew members moving down the fuselage even on the ground. On reaching the end of the bomb bay the floor dropped down to the bottom of the fuselage, and the mid-upper gunner's turret was reached. His position allowed a 360° view over the top of the aircraft, with two Browning .303 Mark IIs to protect the aircraft from above and to the side. The mid-upper gunner sat on a rectangle of canvas that was slung beneath the turret and would stay in position throughout the flight. Ammunition for the turret was 1,000 rounds per gun.
To the rear of the turret was the side crew door, on the starboard side of the fuselage. This was the main entrance to the aircraft, and also could be used as an emergency exit. The Elsan chemical toilet, a type of aircraft lavatory, was located near the spars for the tailplane. At the extreme tail-end of the fuselage, the rear gunner sat in his exposed position in the tail turret, which was entered through a small hatch in the rear of the fuselage. Depending on the size of the rear gunner, the area was so cramped that the gunner would often hang his parachute on a hook inside the fuselage, near the turret doors. Neither the mid-upper nor the rear gunner's position was heated, and the gunners had to wear electrically heated suits to prevent hypothermia and frostbite.
The Avro Lancaster was initially equipped with four Nash & Thomson Frazer Nash hydraulically operated turrets mounted in the nose, tail, mid-upper and underside. The original tail turret was equipped with four Browning .303 Mark II machine guns and all other turrets with two such machine guns.
Late on in the war, as a result of statistical analysis, Freeman Dyson, put forward a case for the removal of the majority of the Lancaster's defensive armament. He argued that this would reduce the overall loss rate as it would have the benefit of increasing the Lancaster's cruise speed by up to 50 mph (80 km/h) (assuming the bomb load was not increased at the same time), and thus make the bomber harder to shoot down. He also considered that the modification would be justified regardless of the envisioned decreased loss rate as, by requiring fewer crew to serve as defensive air gunners, that would be a lower number of human losses incurred with each aircraft lost.
Only the FN-5A nose turret which was similar to the FN-5 used on the preceding Avro Manchester, the Vickers Wellington and the Short Stirling remained unchanged during the life of the design, except in instances where it was removed entirely.
The ventral (underside) FN-64 turret quickly proved to be dead weight, being both difficult to sight because it relied on a periscope which limited the gunner's view to a 20 degree arc, and too slow to keep a target within its sights.[Note 2] Aside from early B Is and the prototype B IIs, the FN-64 was almost never used. When the Luftwaffe began using Schräge Musik to make attacks from below in the winter of 1943/1944, modifications were made, including downward observation blisters mounted behind the bomb aimer's blister and official and unofficial mounts for .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns or even 20 mm cannon, firing through the ventral holes of the removed FN-64. The fitting of these guns was hampered as the same ventral position was used for mounting the H2S blister, which limited installations to those aircraft fitted with bulged bomb bays which interfered with the H2S.
The mid-upper (dorsal or top) turret was an FN-50 on early examples and the very similar FN-150 with improved sights and controls on later examples. On all but the earliest examples this turret was surrounded by a coaming which provided a track for a cam operated interruptor device which prevented the gunner from shooting the tail of his own aircraft. The Mk. VII and late Mk. X Lancasters used the heavier, electrically-controlled Martin 250 CE 23A turret equipped with two .50 inch machine guns which was mounted further forward to preserve the aircraft's longitudinal balance, and because it had an internal mechanism to prevent firing on the aircraft itself, it did not require a coaming.[Note 3] Other experimental turrets were tried out, including the FN-79 and the Boulton-Paul Type H barbette system.
The tail turret was the most important defensive position and carried the heaviest armament. Despite this, the turrets used, starting with the FN-20, were never entirely satisfactory and numerous designs were tried. The FN-20 was replaced by the very similar FN-120 which used an improved gyroscopic gun sight (GGS). Many rear gunners insisted on having the centre section of perspex removed from the turret to improve visibility. The transparencies were difficult to see through at night, particularly when trying to keep watch for enemy night fighters that appeared without notice astern and below the aircraft when getting into position to open fire. This removal of perspex from the turret was called the "Gransden Lodge" modification. Ammunition for the tail turret was 2,500 rounds-per-gun. Due to the weight, the ammunition was stored in tanks situated near the mid-upper turret's position and fed rearward in runways down the back of the fuselage to the turret.
Gunners using both the FN-20 and 120 removed perspex and armour from the turret to improve visibility, but trials by the RAF showed that a Mosquito night fighter was still able to get within a very short distance of the tail gunner without being spotted, confirming what the Luftwaffe had already realised. The Rose turret attempted to improve on the FN turrets by being completely open to the rear (improving visibility and allowing easier emergency egress) and by being fitted with two .50 inch machine guns and was installed in a small number of Lancasters but never became common.
Ultimately radar, rather than improved visibility, made the turret more effective. The FN-121 was the Automatic Gun Laying Turret (AGLT), an FN-120 fitted with Village Inn gun-laying radar. Aircraft fitted with Village Inn were used as bait, flying behind the main formations to confront the night fighters that followed the formations and shot down stragglers. This significantly reduced operational losses; and gun-laying radar was added to the last versions of the turret. Before the end of the war Lancasters built in the UK standardised on the FN-82 fitted with two .50 inch machine guns and fitted with gun-laying radar as production allowed, which was also used on early models of the Avro Lincoln. The disadvantage of all radar and radio transmitting systems is that attacking forces can locate aircraft by picking up transmissions.
An important feature of the Lancaster was its unobstructed 33 ft (10 m) long bomb bay. At first, the heaviest bomb carried was the 4,000 lb (1,800 kg) high capacity HC "Cookie". Bulged doors were added to 30 per cent of B Is to allow the aircraft to carry 8,000 lb (3,600 kg) and later 12,000 lb (5,400 kg) "Cookies". The Lancaster also carried a variety of smaller weapons, including the Small Bomb Container (SBC) which held 236 4 lb (1.8 kg) or 24 30 lb (14 kg) incendiary and explosive incendiary bomblets; 500 lb (230 kg) and 1,000 lb (450 kg) General Purpose High Explosive (GP/HE) bombs (these came in a variety of designs); 1,850 lb (840 kg) parachute deployed magnetic or acoustic mines, or 2,000 lb (910 kg) armour-piercing (AP) bombs; 250 lb (110 kg) Semi-Armour-Piercing (SAP) bombs, used up to 1942 against submarines; post 1942: 250 lb (110 kg) or 500 lb (230 kg) anti-submarine depth charges.
In 1943, 617 Squadron was created to carry out Operation Chastise, the raid against the Ruhr dams. This unit was equipped with B.III (Specials), officially designated the "Type 464 (Provisioning)", modified to carry the 9,250 lb (4,200 kg) "Upkeep" bouncing bomb.[Note 4] The bomb bay doors were removed and the ends of the bomb bay were covered with fairings. "Upkeep" was suspended on laterally pivoted, vee-shaped struts which sprang apart beamwise when the bomb-release button was pressed. A drive belt and pulley to rotate the bomb at 500 rpm was mounted on the starboard strut and driven by a hydraulic motor housed in the forward fairing. The mid-upper turret was removed and a more bulbous bomb aimer's blister was fitted; this, as "Mod. 780", later becoming standard on all Lancasters, while the bombsight was replaced by a simple aiming device. Two Aldis lights were fitted in the rear bomb bay fairing; the optimum height for dropping "Upkeep" was 60 ft and, when shone on the relatively smooth waters of the dam's reservoirs, the light beams converged into a single spot when the Lancaster was flying at the correct height.
Towards the end of the war, attacking special and hardened targets, other variants of B I Specials were modified to carry the 21 ft (6.4 m) long 12,000 lb (5,400 kg) "Tallboy" or 25.5 ft (7.8 m) long 22,000 lb (10,000 kg) "Grand Slam" "earthquake" bombs. Aircraft intended to carry the "Grand Slam" required extensive modifications. These included the removal of the dorsal turret and of two guns from the rear turret, removal of the cockpit armour plating (the pilot's seatback), and installation of Rolls-Royce Merlin Mk 24 engines for better take-off performance. The bomb bay doors were removed and the rear end of the bomb bay cut away to clear the tail of the bomb. Later the nose turret was also removed to further improve performance. A strengthened undercarriage and stronger mainwheels, later used by the Avro Lincoln, were fitted.[Note 5]
Specific bomb loads were standardised and given code names by Bomber Command:
|Codename||Type of raid or target||Bomb load|
|"Arson"||incendiary area bombing||14 SBC, each with 236 x 4 lb Incendiary and Explosive Incendiary bomblets, total 3,304.|
|"Abnormal"||factories, railway yards, dockyards||14 x 1,000 lb GP/HE bombs using both impact and long delay (up to 144 hours) fuses.|
|"Cookie"—or—"Plumduff"||Blast, demolition and fire||1 x 4,000 lb impact-fused HC bomb. 3 x 1,000 lb GP/HE bombs, and up to 6 SBCs with 1,416 incendiary bomblets.|
|"Gardening"||Mining of ports, canals, rivers and seaways||6 x 1,850 lb parachute mines.|
|"No-Ball"||V-1 flying bomb launch sites||1 x 4,000 lb impact fused HC and up to 18 x 500 lb GP bombs, with both impact and delay fusing.|
|"Piece"||Docks, fortifications and ships||6 x 2,000 lb short-delay fused AP bombs, plus other GP/HE bombs based on local needs or availability.|
|"Plumduff-Plus"||Heavy industry||1 x 8,000 lb impact or barometric fused HC and up to 6 x 500 lbs impact or delay fused GP/HE bombs.|
|"Usual"||Blast and incendiary area bombing||1 x 4,000 lb impact-fused HC bomb, and 12 SBCs with a total of 2,832 incendiary bomblets.|
|no code name given||Medium-range low altitude tactical raids||6 x 1,000 lb short and long delay fused GP/HE bombs, additional 250 lb GP/HE bombs sometimes added.|
|no code name given||Submarines||(up to 1942): 5 x 250 lb short delay fuse SAP bombs for surfaced U-boats; (post-1942): 6 x 500 lb and 3 x 250 lb anti-submarine depth charge bombs.|
|Special purpose weapons and codenames||Type of target||Weapon|
|"Grand Slam"||Underground or armoured facilities||1 x 22,000 lb short-delay fused "Grand Slam" bomb.|
|"Tallboy"||Very strong or durable structures (e.g.: submarine pens); battleship Tirpitz||1 x 12,000 lb short-delay fused "Tallboy" bomb.|
|"Upkeep"||Dams||1 x 9,250 lb, hydrostatic-fused "Upkeep" mine.|
Bombsights used on Lancasters included:
The Lancaster had a very advanced communications system for its time. Most British-built Lancasters were fitted with the R1155 receiver and T1154 transmitter, whereas the Canadian-built aircraft and those built for service in the Far East had American radios. These provided radio direction-finding, as well as voice and Morse capabilities.
During early 1942, No. 44 Squadron, based at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire, became the first RAF squadron to convert to the Lancaster; it was quickly followed by No. 97 Squadron, which was also based at Waddington. On 2 March 1942, the first operational mission of the Lancaster, deploying naval mines in the vicinity of Heligoland Bight, was performed by aircraft of No. 44 Sqn. On 10 March 1942, the first bombing mission was conducted over the German city of Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia.
While the Lancaster had been designed to conduct nighttime operations, daylight raids were occasionally performed by the type as well. The existence of the Lancaster was revealed after a daytime raid upon an engine factory located in Augsburg, Swabia, Bavaria conducted by Nos. 44 and 97 Sqns on 17 April 1942. Due to the high loss rates typically involved in such operations, daytime bombing missions were performed sparingly until the Allies had achieved a level of aerial supremacy over the Axis powers.
On 17 October 1942, another audacious daytime raid was performed by 90 Lancasters of No. 5 Group, bombing the Schneider Works at Le Creusot, France; only one aircraft was lost during the course of the mission. During 1942, the Lancaster remained in relatively short supply, which meant that training and crew conversion courses typically had to be performed by the squadrons themselves; there were no aircraft furnished with dual controls at this time, thus pilots would have to perform their first flight without the instructor being capable of directly acting on the controls themselves.
Throughout July 1943, large numbers of Lancasters participated in the devastating round-the-clock raids on the city of Hamburg during Air Chief Marshal Harris's "Operation Gomorrah". A particularly famous mission performed by the Lancaster was the mission flown on 17–18 May 1943, codenamed Operation Chastise, to destroy the dams of the Ruhr Valley. The operation was carried out by 617 Squadron in modified Mk IIIs carrying special drum-shaped bouncing bombs, which had been designed by British engineer Barnes Wallis. The story of the operation was later made into a film, The Dam Busters.
During the latter half of 1944, a series of high-profile bombing missions were performed by the Lancaster against the German battleship Tirpitz. Executed by Nos. 617 and 9 Sqns, a combination of Lancaster B I and B III bombers were armed with 12,000 lb 'Tallboy' bombs and were adapted with enlarged bomb bay doors in order to accommodate their special payloads and additional fuel tanks to provide the necessary endurance. A total of three attacks, individually codenamed Operation Paravane, Operation Obviate and Operation Catechism, were conducted against Tirpitz, which was anchored in a fjord in Occupied Norway. The first of these attacks disabled the vessel while the third mission was responsible for sinking the ship. As a result of actions such as Operation Chastise and the sinking of Tirpitz, No. 617 Sqn was perhaps the most famous of all Lancaster squadrons.
During early 1945, a total of 33 Lancaster B Is were modified so that they could deploy the 22,000 lb Grand Slam bomb; the Grand Slam, considered to be the ultimate conventional bomb to be used during the conflict, was so heavy that the bomb and the Lancaster itself weighed roughly the same. On 13 March 1945, the first operational use of the Grand Slam was performed by a Lancaster of No. 617 Sqn against the Schildesche viaduct at Bielefeld, North Rhine-Westphalia. Amongst the final wartime operations performed by the Lancaster was the destruction of Eagle's Nest, the extensive holiday home complex used by German leader Adolf Hitler.
RAF Lancasters dropped food into the Holland region of the occupied Netherlands, with the acquiescence of the occupying German forces, to feed people who were in danger of starvation. The mission was named 'Operation Manna' after the food manna which is said to have miraculously appeared for the Israelites in the Book of Exodus. The aircraft involved were from 1, 3, and 8 Groups, and consisted of 145 Mosquitos and 3,156 Lancasters, flying between them a total of 3,298 sorties. The first of the two RAF Lancasters chosen for the test flight was nicknamed "Bad Penny" from the old expression: "a bad penny always turns up." This bomber, with a crew of seven men (five Canadians including pilot Robert Upcott of Windsor, Ontario), took off in bad weather on the morning of 29 April 1945 without a ceasefire agreement from the German forces, and successfully dropped its cargo.
The Lancaster conducted a total of 156,000 sorties and dropped 608,612 long tons (618,378 tonnes) of bombs between 1942 and 1945. Only 35 Lancasters completed more than 100 successful operations each, and 3,249 were lost in action. The most successful survivor completed 139 operations, and was ultimately retired from service and scrapped in 1947. From 1942 onwards, the Lancaster became the mainstay of the British heavy bomber fleet; by the end of the war in Europe, there were roughly 50 squadrons equipped with the Lancaster, the majority of these being the Lancaster B I model. From its entry into service, the original model of the Lancaster was operated in almost every major bombing raid of the European conflict.
Adolf Galland (commander of the Luftwaffe fighters) considered the Lancaster to be "the best night bomber of the war", as did his adversary, Arthur "Bomber" Harris, who referred to it as the RAF Bomber Command's "shining sword". Goulding and Garbett wrote that: "The achievements of the Lancaster and the men who flew it have been widely acclaimed, and the aircraft has been described as the greatest single factor in winning WWII, an exaggeration but a pardonable one".
Lancasters from Bomber Command were to have formed the main strength of Tiger Force, the Commonwealth bomber contingent scheduled to take part in Operation Downfall, the codename for the planned invasion of Japan in late 1945. Aircraft allocated to the Tiger Force were painted in white with black undersides and outfitted with additional radio units and navigational aids to facilitate their use in the Pacific theatre. The addition of large saddle-type external fuel tanks was considered and trialled in Australia and India, but this was discontinued due to their perceived vulnerability to attack. Together with the new Avro Lincoln and Liberators, the bombers would have operated from bases on Okinawa; the envisioned invasion did not happen when such action was made unnecessary by the surrender of Japan.
As a byproduct of its sound design and operational success, various developments and derivatives of the Lancaster were produced for both military and civilian purposes. One of these was the Avro Lincoln bomber, initially known as the Lancaster IV and Lancaster V. These two marks became the Lincoln B1 and B2 respectively. A civilian airliner was based on the Lancaster, known as the Lancastrian. Other developments were the York, a square-bodied transport and, via the Lincoln, the Shackleton which continued in RAF service as an airborne early warning (AEW) system, being in used until its retirement in 1992.
In the post-war climate, the Lancaster continued to see use for several more years, during which a number of high-profile operations were conducted. Immediately following the end of hostilities, the Lancaster was used as a crude transport aircraft, being used to ferry thousands of prisoners of war (POWs) back to the British Isles from across the continent. Aerial tours of the devastated German cities were also performed using the type. Repatriation flights returning POWs and ordinary troops alike continued until November 1945. During the summer of 1946, Lancasters of No. 35 Squadron performed a tour of the United States. These aircraft were autographed by various American movie stars during the tour, and continued to bear these up to their retirements. A pair of Lancasters, PD328 and PB873, performed several ground-breaking long distance flights, including round-the-world and trans-polar trips.
In RAF service, the Lancaster remained at the forefront of Bomber Command; the Lancaster B I was gradually replaced by the improved Lancaster B I (F/E) models. During 1947–1948, No. 82 Squadron received new dedicated photo-reconnaissance models of the Lancaster B.1; these aircraft were painted silver and lacked any defensive turrets. Photo-reconnaissance Lancasters with used to aerially survey Central and East Africa and at least one was later operated by the Ministry of Aviation. Coastal Command received a small quantity of Lancasters, which were normally based at RAF Kinloss, Moray Firth.
The Lancaster continued to be operated in significant numbers until the introduction of the new Avro Lincoln, being itself a derivative of the Lancaster; the Lincoln was not available in quantity for several years following the end of the conflict. In December 1953, the final Lancaster in service with Bomber Command was retired. In late 1954, the last Lancaster in active service with the RAF, an aircraft which had been used for aerial reconnaissance missions, is believed to have been retired.
A total of 59 Lancaster B.Is and B.VIIs were overhauled by Avro at Woodford and Langar and delivered to the Aeronavale (France) during 1952/53. These were flown until the mid-1960s by four squadrons stationed in France and New Caledonia in the maritime reconnaissance and search-and-rescue roles.
Between 1948 and 1949, a total of 15 former RAF Lancasters were overhauled at Langar for use by the Argentine Air Force. During its Argentine service, Lancasters were used offensively in suppressing and supporting military coups.
Beginning in 1946, Lancaster Mk Xs were modified for service with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). Fourteen aircraft were modified to perform aerial and photo-reconnaissance missions; these would go on to perform much of the mapping of northern Canada until as late as 1962. Throughout the 1950s, the RCAF operated seventy modified Lancasters, designated Lancaster 10MR/MPs, as Maritime Reconnaissance and Patrol aircraft in an anti-submarine role. Modifications involved the installation of radar and sonobuoy operators' positions, removal of the rear and mid-upper gun turrets, installation of a 400-gallon fuel tank in the bomb bay to increase the patrol range, upgraded electronics, radar, and instrumentation, and a cooking stove in the centre section. They served throughout the 1950s, when they were replaced by the Lockheed Neptune and Canadair Argus.
Civil conversions of the type continued during the initial postwar years. In 1946, four Lancasters were converted by Avro at Bracebridge Heath, Lincolnshire as freighters for use by British South American Airways, but proved to be uneconomical, and were withdrawn after a year in service. In addition, four Lancaster IIIs were converted by Flight Refuelling Limited as two pairs of tanker and receiver aircraft for development of in-flight refuelling. In 1947, one aircraft was flown non-stop 3,459 mi (5,567 km) from London to Bermuda. Later on, these two tanker aircraft were joined by another converted Lancaster; these saw use during the Berlin Airlift, achieving 757 tanker sorties.
From 1943 to 1947, the Canadian Government Trans-Atlantic Air Service (CGTAS) provided a trans-Atlantic military passenger and postal delivery service using a modified long-distance transport version of the Lancaster Mark X. Nine of these aircraft were produced, referred to as Lancaster XPPs (for Lancaster Mk.X Passenger Planes), and each was equipped with rudimentary passenger facilities. The inaugural flight from Dorval (Montreal) to Prestwick, Scotland on 22 July 1943, was completed non-stop in a record 12:26 hours; the average crossing time was about 13:25 hours. By the end of the war, these aircraft had completed hundreds of trips across the Atlantic. CGTAS ushered in the era of commercial air travel across the North Atlantic, and in 1947 the service became part of Trans-Canada Air Lines, which carried paying civilian passengers in the Lancaster XPPs until they were replaced by Douglas DC-4s in 1947.
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Of the 17 surviving and largely intact Lancasters known to exist, two are airworthy; one, PA474, based in Coningsby, the UK, is operated by The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, and the other, called Vera (coded VR-A, FM213), is in Canada, operated by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Mount Hope, a suburb of Hamilton, Ontario. Another Lancaster, Just Jane, based in East Kirkby Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre is able to taxi but is not currently airworthy, though there are plans to return her to flight in the future. The fourth Lancaster with working engines and able to taxi is Bazalgette FM159 based at the Bomber Command Museum of Canada in Nanton, Alberta. It has been carefully restored from a vandalised state and is now a main tourist attraction.
In 2014, the Canadian aircraft toured the UK in a series of joint displays with the BBMF aircraft.
Many Lancaster crew members were highly decorated for actions while flying the aircraft. Amongst those who received the Victoria Cross were:
The Avro Lancaster featured prominently in the 1955 film The Dam Busters, and a number of B VII Lancasters in storage were modified to the original configuration of the B III (Special) for use on screen.
The 2018 film, Our Shining Sword, follows an Avro Lancaster bomber crew during the aerial war over Berlin in 1944. Filming was conducted at the former RAF airfield at East Kirkby. Lancaster NX611 (Just Jane) was used in the filming.
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