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 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.
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.
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 maximize 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 inches by 26.5 inches (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 Fraser 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-5 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. 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. 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 realized. 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 standardized 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.
Left: “Abnormal” industrial demolition load of 14 1,000-pound MC (medium capacity) high-explosive bombs; Right: “Usual” area bombardment load – a 4,000-pound “Cookie” blast bomb with 12 Small Bomb Containers, each with 236 4-lb incendiary bombs
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. 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 main wheels, later used by the Avro Lincoln, were fitted.
Specific bomb loads were standardized and given code names by Bomber Command:
Left: Lancaster B I dropping 4 lb incendiaries followed by 30 lb incendiaries and finishing up with a 4,000 lb “cookie”; Right: Tallboy bombs displayed with a standard R5868 Lancaster at RAF Scampton.
Bombsights used on Lancasters included:
Mark IX Course Setting Bomb Sight (CSBS).
This was an early preset vector bombsight that involved squinting through wires that had to be manually set based on aircraft speed, altitude and bombload. This sight lacked tactical flexibility as it had to be manually adjusted if any of the parameters changed and was soon changed in favour of more advanced designs.
Mark XIV bombsight
A vector bombsight where the bomb aimer input details of the bombload, target altitude and wind direction and the analogue computer then continuously calculated the trajectory of the bombs and projected an inverted sword shape onto a sighting glass on the sighting head. Assuming the sight was set correctly, when the target was in the cross hairs of the sword shape, the bomb aimer would be able to accurately release the bombs.
A Mark XIV bombsight modified for mass production and produced in the USA. Some of the pneumatic gyro drives on the Mk XIV sight were replaced with electronic gyros and other minor modifications were made.
Stabilizing Automatic Bomb Sight
Also known as “SABS”, this was an advanced bombsight mainly used by 617 Squadron for precision raids. Like the American Norden bombsight it was a tachometric sight.
Radio, radar and countermeasures equipment
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.
3 GHz frequency, ground-looking navigation radar system – eventually, it could be homed in on by the German night fighters’ FuG 350 Naxos receiver and had to be used with discretion — a problem which the higher resolution, 10 GHz frequency American H2X radar never had to deal with. This is the large blister under the rear fuselage on later Lancasters.
An add-on to H2S that provided additional (aerial) coverage of the underside of the aircraft to display attacking fighters on an auxiliary screen in the radio operator’s position.
A rearward-looking radar to warn of night fighter approaches. However, it could not distinguish between attacking enemy fighters and nearby friendly bombers and served as a homing beacon for suitably equipped German night fighters. Once this was realized, it was removed altogether.
A receiver for a navigation system of synchronized pulses transmitted from the UK – aircraft calculated their position from the time delay between pulses. The range of GEE was 3–400 mi (483–644 km). GEE used a whip aerial mounted on the top of the fuselage ahead of the mid-upper turret.
Boozer (radar detector)
A system of lights mounted on the aircraft’s instrument panel that lit up when the aircraft was being tracked by the low-UHF band Würzburg-Riese ground radar and early model Lichtenstein B/C and C-1 airborne radar. In practice it was found to be more disconcerting than useful, as the lights were often triggered by false alerts in the radar-signal-infested skies over Germany.
A very accurate navigation system consisting of a receiver/transponder for two radar stations transmitting from widely separated locations in Southern England which, when used together, determined the aircraft’s position. The system could only handle one aircraft at a time, and was fitted to a Pathfinder aircraft, usually a fast and manoeuvrable Mosquito which marked the target for the main force rather than a Lancaster.
Similar to Oboe but with the transponder on the ground allowing more aircraft to use the system simultaneously. GEE-H aircraft were usually marked with two horizontal yellow stripes on the fins.
“Village Inn” Automatic Gun-Laying Turret
A radar-aimed and ranged gun turret fitted to some Lancaster rear turrets in 1944. Identifiable by a radome mounted below the turret.
Airborne Cigar (ABC)
This was fitted only to the Lancasters of 101 Squadron. It had three 7-foot (2.1 m) aerials, two on the top of the fuselage and one under the bomb aimer’s position. These aircraft carried a German-speaking crew member and were used to jam ground-to-air communications to German night fighters. The extra equipment and extra crewman added around 600 pounds (272 kg) to the bomber’s weight so the bomb load was reduced by 1,000 pounds (454 kg). Due to the nature of the equipment, the enemy was able to track the aircraft and 101 Squadron suffered the highest casualty rate of any squadron. Fitted from about mid-1943, they remained until the end of the war.
A microphone installed in the nacelle of one of the engines that allowed the wireless operator to transmit engine noise on the German night fighter control voice frequencies.
Second World War
Avro Lancaster over Hamburg; Avro Lancasters of No. 50 Squadron fitted with exhaust shrouds intended to conceal exhaust flames from night fighters; Crewman with homing pigeons, 1942. Pigeons were customarily carried aboard Lancasters as a means of communications in the event of a crash, ditching or radio failure.
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.
B.I: the original Lancasters were produced with Rolls-Royce Merlin XX engines and SU carburettors. Minor details were changed throughout the production series – for example the pitot head design was changed from being on a long mast at the front of the nose to a short fairing mounted on the side of the fuselage under the cockpit. Later production Lancasters had Merlin 22 and 24 engines. No designation change was made to denote these alterations.
32 aircraft were adapted to take first the super-heavy “Tallboy” and then “Grand Slam” bombs. Up-rated engines with paddle-bladed propellers gave more power, and the removal of gun turrets reduced weight and gave smoother lines. For the Tallboy, the bomb bay doors were bulged; for the Grand Slam, they were removed completely and the area faired over. For some Tallboy raids, the mid-upper turret was removed. This modification was retained for the Grand Slam aircraft, and in addition the nose turret was later removed. Two airframes (HK541 and SW244) were modified to carry a dorsal “saddle tank” with 1,200 gal (5,455 L) mounted aft of a modified canopy for increasing range. No. 1577 SD Flight tested the aircraft in India and Australia in 1945 for possible use in the Pacific, but the tank adversely affected handling characteristics when full and an early type of in-flight refuelling designed in the late 1930s for commercial flying boats was later used instead.
Bristol Hercules (Hercules VI or XVI engines) powered variant, of which 300 were produced by Armstrong Whitworth. One difference between the two engine versions was that the VI had manual mixture control, requiring an extra lever on the throttle pedestal. Very early examples were fitted with an FN.64 ventral turret; however, these were quickly removed due to problems with aiming the turret through its periscope (which prevented the gunner from seeing a target he was not already aiming at), and inadequate traverse speed.
Due to the Luftwaffe Schräge Musik attacks, a variety of unofficial field modifications were made, including fitting of 20 mm cannon or a .50 inch machine gun in the open hole where the FN.64 had been installed, before an official modification (Mod 925) fitted with a .303 inch machine gun was authorised for the same location, though not in all aircraft. These were rarely installed on other variants as the H2S radar that was not used on the B II was mounted there. Three types of bulged bomb bay were used on the B II, the prototype having a narrow bulge running from just aft of the cockpit to the end of the bomb bay, while early production examples had a full width bulge that ran the same length and on late production examples the bomb bay doors were prominently bulged throughout their length.
The chain was driven by a hydraulic motor and gave the bomb its backspin.
Known at the time of modification as the “Type 464 Provisioning” Lancaster, 23 aircraft of this type were built to carry the “Upkeep” bouncing bomb for the dam busting raids. The bomb bay doors were removed and Vickers-built struts to carry the bomb were fitted in their place at Woodford Aerodrome near Stockport where the workers worked day and night. A hydraulic motor, driven by the pump previously used for the mid-upper turret was fitted to spin the bomb. Lamps were fitted in the bomb bay and nose for the simple height measurement system which enabled the accurate control of low-flying altitude at night. The mid-upper turret was removed to save weight and the gunner moved to the front turret to relieve the bomb aimer from having to man the front guns so that he could assist with map reading.
B.III modified for air-sea rescue, with three dipole ventral antennas fitted aft of the radome and carrying an airborne lifeboat in an adapted bomb bay. The armament was often removed and the mid-upper turret faired-over, especially in postwar use. Observation windows were added to both sides of the rear fuselage, a port window just forward of the tailplane and a starboard window into the rear access door. A number of ASR 3 conversions were fitted with Lincoln-style rudders.
The B.X was a Canadian-built B.III with Canadian- and US-made instruments and electrics. On later batches the heavier Martin 250CE was substituted for the Nash & Thomson FN-50 mid-upper turret, mounted further forward to maintain centre of gravity balance. Canada was a long term operator of the Lancaster, using modified aircraft after the war for maritime patrol, search and rescue and photo-reconnaissance until 1964. The last flight by the RCAF was by F/L Lynn Garrison in KB-976, on 4 July 1964 at the Calgary International Air Show.
During the Second World War, Canada’s Victory Aircraft (what later became Avro Canada) was responsible for the development of the Lancastrian, which was duly designated the XPP for Mark 10 Passenger Plane. Six were built for Trans Canada Airlines. Postwar the RCAF modified the B X (as the Lancaster Mk 10) to fill a variety of roles, with specific designations for each role.
As per Lancaster B.IV/Lincoln B.1 but built in Canada and renamed Avro Lincoln XV. One example built before order cancelled when war ended.
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 vandalized state and is now a main tourist attraction.
In August 2014, the Canadian aircraft arrived in the UK for a series of joint displays with the BBMF aircraft.
- Role Heavy bomber
- Manufacturer Avro
- Designer Roy Chadwick
- First flight 9 January 1941
- Introduction February 1942
- Retired 1963 (Canada)
- Status Retired
- Royal Air Force
- Royal Canadian Air Force
- Royal Australian Air Force
Number built 7,377
Unit cost £45–50,000
Developed from Avro York, Avro Manchester
Specifications (Lancaster I)
Diagram comparing the Lancaster (blue) with its RAF contemporaries; the Short Stirling (yellow) and the Handley Page Halifax (pink).
Crew: 7: pilot, flight engineer, navigator, bomb aimer/nose gunner, wireless operator, mid-upper and rear gunners
Length: 69 ft 4 in (21.11 m)
Wingspan: 102 ft 0 in (31.09 m)
Height: 20 ft 6 in (6.25 m)
Wing area: 1,297 sq ft (120.5 m²)
Empty weight: 36,900 lb (16,738 kg)
Loaded weight: 55,000 lb (24,948 kg)
Max. takeoff weight: 68,000 lb (30,844 kg)
Powerplant: 4 × Rolls-Royce Merlin XX liquid-cooled V12 engines, 1,280 hp(954 kW) each
Maximum speed: 282 mph (246 knots, 454 km/h) at 63,000 lb (29,000 kg) and 13,000 ft (4,000 m) altitude
Cruise speed: 200 mph (174 knots, 322 km/h)
Range: 2,530 mi (2,200 nmi, 4,073 km)
Service ceiling: 21,400 ft (6,500 m) at 63,000 lb (29,000 kg)
Rate of climb: 720 ft/min (3.7 m/s) at 63,000 lb (29,000 kg) and 9,200 ft (2,800 m) altitude
Guns: Two 0.303 inch (7.62 mm) Browning Mark II machine guns in nose turret, two 0.303 inch Browning Mark II machine guns in upper turret, and four 0.303 inch Browning Mark II machine guns in the rear turret.
Bombs: Maximum normal bomb load of 14,000 lb (6,400 kg) of bombs or single 22,000 lb (10,000 kg) Grand Slam (with modifications to bomb bay).
Notable pilots and crew members
Victoria Cross awards
Many Lancaster crew members were highly decorated for actions while flying the aircraft. Amongst those who received the Victoria Cross were:
- Squadron Leader Ian Willoughby Bazalgette
- Wing Commander Guy Gibson
- Warrant Officer Norman Cyril Jackson
- Pilot Officer Andrew Mynarski
- Squadron Leader John Dering Nettleton
- Squadron Leader Robert Anthony Maurice Palmer
- Flight Lieutenant William Reid
- Flight Sergeant George Thompson
- Group Captain Leonard Cheshire – most unusually he did not receive the VC for any particular act, instead it was awarded for sustained courage on over 100 bombing missions. (N.B some flown in other aircraft including the Mosquito and Mustang).
- Captain (acting Major) Edwin Swales
- James Brian Tait, recommended for VC for similar reasons as Cheshire but received 3rd Bar to DSO.
- Erik Nielsen DFC, Deputy Prime Minister of Canada and Minister of National Defence, served as a Lancaster pilot with 101 Sqn during the Second World War.
By courtesy: Wikipedia.org