|Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster B I PA474 of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.|
Austin Motor Company
Victory Aircraft (Canada)
|Designed by||Roy Chadwick|
|First flight||8 January 1941|
|Primary users||Royal Air Force |
Royal Canadian Air Force
|Developed from||Avro Manchester|
|Developed into||Avro Lincoln |
The Avro Lancaster is a British four-engined Second World War heavy bomber made initially by Avro for the Royal Air Force (RAF). It first saw active service in 1942, and together with the Handley Page Halifax it was one of the main heavy bombers of the RAF, the RCAF, and squadrons from other Commonwealth and European countries serving within RAF Bomber Command.
The "Lanc", as it was affectionately known, became the most famous and most successful of the Second World War night bombers, "delivering 608,612 tons of bombs in 156,000 sorties." Although the Lancaster was primarily a night bomber, it excelled in many other roles including daylight precision bombing, and gained worldwide renown as the "Dam Buster" used in the 1943 Operation Chastise raids on Germany's Ruhr Valley dams.
Design and development
The origins of the Lancaster stem from a twin-engined bomber design submitted to meet Specification P.13/36, which was for a new generation of twin-engined medium bombers for "worldwide use", the engine specified as the Rolls-Royce Vulture. The resulting aircraft was the Manchester, which, although a capable aircraft, was troubled by the unreliability of the Vulture engine. Only 200 Manchesters were built and they were withdrawn from service in 1942.
Avro's chief designer, Roy Chadwick, was already working on an improved Manchester design using four of the more reliable but less powerful Rolls-Royce Merlin engines on a larger wing. The aircraft was initially designated Avro Type 683 Manchester III, and later re-named the Lancaster. The prototype aircraft BT308 was assembled by Avro's experimental flight department at Manchester's Ringway Airport from where test pilot H.A. "Bill" Thorn took the controls for its first flight on Thursday, 9 January 1941. The aircraft proved to be a great improvement on its predecessor, being "one of the few warplanes in history to be 'right' from the start." Its initial three-finned tail layout, a result of the design being adapted from the Manchester I, was quickly changed on the second prototype DG595 and subsequent production aircraft to the familiar twin-finned specification also used on the later Manchesters (below).
Some of the later orders for Manchesters were changed in favour of Lancasters; the designs were very similar and both featured the same distinctive greenhouse cockpit, turret nose, and twin tail. The Lancaster discarded the stubby central third tail fin of the early Manchesters and used the wider span tailplane and larger elliptical twin fins from the later Manchester IA.
The Lancaster is a mid-wing cantilever monoplane with an oval all-metal fuselage. The wing was constructed in five main sections, the fuselage in five sections. All wing and fuselage sections were built separately and fitted with all the required equipment before final assembly. The tail unit had twin oval fins and rudders. The Lancaster was initially powered by four wing-mounted Rolls-Royce Merlin piston engines with three-bladed airscrews. It had retractable main landing gear and fixed tail-wheel, with the hydraulically operated main landing gear raising rearwards into the inner engine nacelles.
The majority of Lancasters built during the war years were manufactured by Avro at their factory at Chadderton near Oldham, Lancashire, and test flown from Woodford Aerodrome in Cheshire. Other Lancasters were built by Metropolitan-Vickers (1080, also tested at Woodford), and Armstrong Whitworth. The aircraft 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. Only 300 of the Lancaster B II fitted with Bristol Hercules engines were constructed; this was a stopgap modification caused by a shortage of Merlin engines as fighter production was of higher priority. Many BIIs were lost after running out of fuel. The Lancaster B III had Packard Merlin engines but was otherwise identical to contemporary B Is, with 3,030 B IIIs built, almost all at A.V. Roe's Newton Heath factory. The B I and B III were built concurrently, and minor modifications were made to both marks as new batches were ordered. Examples of these modifications were 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.
Of later variants, only the Canadian-built Lancaster B X, manufactured by Victory Aircraft in Malton, Ontario, 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 instrumentation and electrics. Late-series models replaced the Frazer Nash mid-upper turret with a differently configured Martin turret, mounted slightly further forward for weight balance. A total of 7,377 Lancasters of all marks were built throughout the duration of the war, each at a 1943 cost of £45-50,000 (approximately £1.5 million-£1.67 million today).
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 controls for the bombsight head in front, with the bombsight computer on his left and bomb release selectors on the right. He would also use 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 simply had to stand up and he would be in position behind the triggers of his twin .303 in (7.7 mm) guns. The bomb aimer's position contained the nose parachute exit in the floor.
Moving back, 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. 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.
Behind these crew members, and behind a curtain fitted to allow him to use light to work, sat the navigator. His position faced to port with a large chart table in front of him. An instrument panel showing the airspeed, altitude, and other details required for navigation was mounted on the side of the fuselage above the chart table.
The radios for the wireless operator were mounted on the left-hand end of the chart table, facing towards the rear of the aircraft. Behind these radios, facing forwards, on a seat at the front of the main spar sat the wireless operator. To his left was a window, and above him was the astrodome, used for visual signalling and also 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 Frazer Nash FN50 or FN150 turret was reached. His position allowed a 360° view over the top of the aircraft, with two .303 in (7.7 mm) M1919 Browning machine guns to protect the aircraft from above and to the side. The mid-upper gunner had perhaps the most uncomfortable ride of all the crew, as he was seated on a rectangle of canvas that was slung beneath the turret once the gunner had occupied his position. He could be required to occupy this seat for up to eight hours at a time.
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 a parachute exit. At the extreme rear of the aircraft, over the spars for the tailplane, the rear gunner sat in his exposed position in the FN20, FN120 or Rose Rice turret, entered through a small hatch in the rear of the fuselage, and 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. In the FN20 and FN120 turrets, he had four .303 in (7.7 mm) Brownings, and in the Rose Rice turret he had two .50 in (12.7 mm) Brownings. Neither the mid upper or rear gunner's positions were heated, and the gunners had to wear electrically heated suits to prevent hypothermia and frostbite. Many rear gunners insisted on having the centre section of perspex removed from the turret to give a completely unobstructed view.
While eight .303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns were the most common Lancaster armament, twin .50 in (12.7 mm) turrets were later available in both the tail and dorsal positions. A Nash & Thomson FN-64 periscope-sighted twin .303 in machine gun ventral turret was fitted to early aircraft, but fitting was soon discontinued and the turret often removed as it was hard to sight, especially at night. (Similar problems afflicted the ventral turret in the North American B-25C and other bombers).
When the threat of attacks from below began to be appreciated 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 ventral holes of various designs. The fitting of these guns was hampered as the same ventral position was used for mounting the H2S blister.
An important feature of the Lancaster was its extensive bomb bay, at 33 ft (10.05 m) long. Initially, the heaviest bombs carried were 4,000 lb (1,820 kg) "Cookies". Bulged doors were added to 30% of B-MkIs to allow the aircraft to carry 8,000 lb (3,600 kg) and later 12,000 lb (5,450 kg) "Cookies". Towards the end of the war, attacking special and hardened targets, the B I Specials could carry the 21 ft (6.4 m) long 12,000 lb (5,450 kg) "Tallboy" or 25.5 ft (7.77 m) long 22,000 lb (9,980 kg) "Grand Slam" "earthquake" bombs: the Lancaster was able to deliver the heaviest bombs made. To carry the "Grand Slam" extensive modifications to the aircraft were required which led to them being named B I (Specials). The modifications included removal of the mid-upper turret, two guns from the rear turret, removal of all of the cockpit armour plating and installation of Rolls-Royce Merlin Mk 24 Engines which had 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.
Bombsights used on Lancasters included:
- Mark IX Course-Setting Bombsight (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 the bombsights below.
- 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.
- T1 bombsight
- 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.
- Ground-looking navigation radar system - eventually, it could be homed in on by the German night fighters' NAXOS receiver and had to be used with discretion.
- 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 realised, 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).
- Boozer (radar detector)
- A system of lights mounted on the aircraft's instrument panel that lit up when the aircraft was being tracked by Würzburg ground radar and Lichtenstein 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 together determined the range and the bearing on the range. The system could only handle one aircraft at a time, and was fitted to a Pathfinder aircraft, usually a fast and manoeuvrable Mosquito rather than a heavy Lancaster, which marked the target for the main force.
- 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
- A radar-aimed radar fitted to some Lancaster rear turrets in 1944.
- Airborne Cigar (ABC)
- This was only fitted to the Lancasters of 101 Squadron. It was three aerials, two sticking out of the top of the fuselage and one under the bomb aimer's position. These aircraft carried a German speaking crew member on board and were used to jam radio to German night fighters and feed false information on allied bomber positions to them. Due to the nature of the equipment, the enemy was able to track the aircraft and due to this, 101 suffered the highest casualty rate of any squadron. Fitted from about mid-1943, they remained until the end of the war.
Second World War
The first RAF squadron to convert to the Lancaster was No. 44 Squadron RAF in early 1942.
Lancasters flew 156,000 sorties and dropped 608,612 long tons (618,378 tonnes) of bombs between 1942 and 1945. Just 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 scrapped in 1947.
Lancs took part in the devastating round-the-clock raids on Hamburg during Air Chief Marshal Harris' "Operation Gomorrah" in July 1943. A famous Lancaster bombing raid was the 1943 mission, 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 designed by Barnes Wallis. The story of the operation was later made into a film, The Dam Busters. Also famous was a series of Lancaster attacks using Tallboy bombs against the German battleship Tirpitz, which first disabled and later sank the ship.
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, from bases on Okinawa; the invasion was made unnecessary by the Japanese surrender.
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 Mosquitoes 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 her cargo.
A development of the Lancaster 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, the Lancastrian. Other developments were the York, a square-bodied transport and, via the Lincoln, the Shackleton which continued in airborne early warning service up to 1992.
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 in France and New Caledonia in the maritime reconnaissance and search-and-rescue roles.
Civil conversions continued postwar. 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 the two tanker aircraft were joined by another converted Lancaster and were used in the Berlin Airlift, achieving 757 tanker sorties.
There are 17 known largely complete Avro Lancasters remaining in the world with two airworthy. One of them is based in the UK, operated by The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the other is in Canada, operated by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. Lancaster FM-136 was purchased by Lynn Garrison, in 1961, and displayed in Calgary, Alberta as a memorial to those who trained under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. It is now being returned to flying condition.
Noted Lancaster 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:
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 Lancaster also plays a central role in Bomber, the 1970 novel by Len Deighton about a night raid on a fictional German town by a formation of RAF bombers. It also featured in a 1989 British commercial for Carling Black Label lager which reused footage in a Dam Busters parody sequence in which a German soldier on top of a dam was catching the bombs in the manner of a football goalkeeper. The pilot of the attacking Lancaster then delivers the brand slogan: "I bet he drinks Carling Black Label!" The commercial ran for many years, frequently appearing in commercial breaks in both the 1955 film and documentaries about Operation Chastise. The Avro Lancaster was also the star of the UK TV series Pathfinders. This series airing in 1972 and released on DVD in 2006, concentrated on the lives of the aircrew of a fictional pathfinder squadron and the operations carried out during the Second World War. Other films in which the Lancaster appeared include Appointment in London (1952) and The Guns of Navarone (1961).
- A.P. 22062A-P.N.: Pilot's and Flight Engineer's Notes for Lancaster. Mark I - Four Merlin XX, 22 or 24 Engines. Mark III - Four Merlin 28 or 38 Engines. London: Air Ministry, May 1944. No ISBN.
- Chant, Christopher. Lancaster: The History of Britain's Most Famous World War II Bomber. Bath, UK: Parragon, 2003. ISBN 0-7525-8769-2.
- Cotter, Jarrod. Living Lancasters: Keeping the Legend Alive. Thrupp, Stroud, UK: Sutton Publishing, 2005. ISBN 0-7509-4192-8.
- Franks, Norman. Claims to Fame: The Lancaster. London: Arms & Armour Press, 1995. ISBN 1-85409-220-0.
- Franks, Richard A. The Avro Lancaster, Manchester and Lincoln: A Comprehensive Guide for the Modeller. London: SAM Publications, 2000. ISBN 0-9533465-3-6.
- Holmes, Harry. Avro Lancaster (Combat Legend series). Shrewsbury, UK: Airlife Publishing Ltd., 2002. ISBN 1-84037-376-8.
- Holmes, Harry. Avro Lancaster. The Definitive Record 2nd Edition. Shrewsbury, UK: Airlife Publishing Ltd, 2001. ISBN 1-84037-288-5.
- "The Immortal Lanc". Wings Volume 1, Part 8, 1977. London, UK: Orbis Publishing Ltd.
- Jackson, A.J. Avro Aircraft since 1908, 2nd edition. London: Putnam Aeronautical Books, 1990. ISBN 0-85177-834-8.
- Jacobs, Peter. The Lancaster Story. London: Arms & Armour Press, 1996. ISBN 1-85409-288-8.
- Mackay, R.S.G. Lancaster in action. Carrollton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications Inc., 1982. ISBN 0-89747-130-X.
- Mason, Francis K. The British Bomber since 1914. London:Putnam, 1994. ISBN 0-85177-861-5.
- McKinstry, Leo. Lancaster: the Second World War's Greatest Bomber. London: John Murray, 2009. ISBN 978-0-7195-2353-3.
- Moyes, Philip J.R. Avro Lancaster I & II. Kidlington, Oxford, UK: Vintage Aviation Publications Ltd., 1979. ISBN 0-905469-65-8.
- Page, Bette. Mynarski's Lanc: The Story of Two Famous Canadian Lancaster Bombers KB726 & FM213. Erin, Ontario: Boston Mills Press, 1989. ISBN 1-55046-006-4.
- Richards, Denis. The Hardest Victory: RAF Bomber Command in the Second World War. London: Coronet, 1995. ISBN 0-340-61720-9.
- Robertson, Bruce. Lancaster: The Story of a Famous Bomber. Watford, Hertfordshire, UK: Argus Books Ltd., Fifth impression 1977, First impression 1964. ISBN 0-900435-10-0.
- Sweetman, Bill. Avro Lancaster. London: Jane's Publishing Company Ltd., 1982. ISBN 0-7106-0132-8.
- Taylor, John W. R. "Avro Lancaster". Combat Aircraft of the World from 1909 to the present. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1969. ISBN 0-425-03633-2.
- Winchester, Jim. "Avro Lancaster". Aircraft of World War II: The Aviation Factfile. Kent, UK: Grange Books plc, 2004. ISBN 1-84013-639-1.
- The Lancaster Archive
- Austin & Longbridge Aircraft Production
- RAF Avro Lancaster 60th Anniversary article
- The Longest Lancaster Operation - 10 Hours 25 Minutes
- The Avro History
- Surviving Birmingham and Manchester made Avro Lancasters
- Lancaster Drawings online
- Lancaster Bomber Crews and Their Experiences
- The Lancaster's electronic equipment
- "8 Tons", October 1944, Popular Science article with a color cutaway illustration
- Avro 683 Lancaster
- Avro Lancaster profile, technical details and photos
Video of Avro Lancasters
- Video of a flight in the Lancaster cockpit Oct 2010
- Video of Lancaster Just Jane engine start
- Video from a Lancaster flying over dams to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the Dambusters raid.
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