|The Mighty lancaster.
Side views of 49 & 576 Squadron lancasters, courtesy of Malcolm Barrass, Air of Authority.
This was the aircraft used by the crews of 49 and 576 squadrons whilst operating from Fiskerton. Designed by Roy Chadwick and built by Avro, this superbly robust and reliable aircraft was developed from the disasterous two-engined Manchester and was introduced into service in 1942. It was calculated at the time that this aircraft could inflict more damage on the enemy that any other weapon produced by the same expenditure of man-hours and materials. With a crew of seven comprising: Pilot, Flight Engineer, Navigator, Radio Operator,Bomb Aimer/Front Gunner, Mid-upper Gunner and Rear Gunner it was powered by four of the equally superb and proven Merlin engines this 'plane was able to carry heavy bombloads over great distances to targets deep in Germany at a very respectable speed.Flights could last a nerveracking eight-hours. This aircraft, together with its highly trained and professional young crews, was the ideal tool for carrying the fight to the enemy at a time when the war was not going well for us anywhere else.
Of flying the Lancaster, Flt./Lt. H.H.M. Cave, a pilot with 419 Sqn in 1944-45 said the following: "The Lancaster was the finest aircraft I have ever flown. It was like flying a Tiger Moth except that it had four engines. It just floated like a bird and it didn't want to land! It was as if it just loved to fly. It was responsive to the controls-just a little touch to bank, climb or dive. just a slight movement and it performed beautifully and smoothly. The pilot has fantastic visibility, you could see everything. It was like being in a greenhouse. I could look around and if I adjusted my seat to its highest and shortened the rudder pedals to their fullest extent I could see through 360 degrees.I could see right through the astro-dome and the mid-upper turret.I had never flown this aircraft before so I went out with another pilot from the Squadron. He did one circuit and landing, stepped out of the aircraft and I took it from there. (Many thanks to Jim Cave for allowing me to use this text.)
A total of 7,377 were built, both here in the UK and in Canada. The Castle Bromwich factory alone employed 12,000 people on Lancaster production. Fifty-nine squadrons operated the aircraft, flying some 156,000 sorties. This was not without its price and losses were high. Facing nightly, appalling dangers and hardships which we today would not even contemplate taking and facing the prospect of a horrible death trapped in a burning Lancaster or falling thousands of feet, not having had time to don a parachute as their lancaster broke up in mid-air. Many more would die in accidents, training accidents on obsolete aircraft alone accounted for 15% of Bomber Command's losses.Many died returning to their bases tired, after a long flight or with damaged aircraft and wounded crew. Mid-air collisions, bad weather, crash landings in fog or simply by becoming lost,eventually running out of fuel and drowning in the dark freezing waters of the North Sea would all take their toll. A lancaster and its crew were only expected to survive on ops for just three-weeks and the odds against completing the mandatory tour of 30 operations over enemy territory were very slim. A crew would fly one night, return home safely and then be lost the next night. Lancasters returned nightly with dead crew members aboard. Luck played a huge part. It was said, that whilst waiting in the crew rooms for the transport out to the aircraft, a person could have a certain look about him as if he knew somwhow he might not get back. Very often, that person failed to return and had got the "Chop". Some of these raids, specially the long-distance targets like Berlin, seem almost suicidal but the courageous young men who made up the crews, undertook these raids with great determination. Of the total number of Lancs built, just under half had been lost by the end of the war. In just one month alone, during the campaign, when the losses were at their highest, of 16 crews based at Fiskerton, 3 completed their tours of 30 operations, 1 crew were listed as Prisoners of War, another crew were listed as Killed in Action and the remainder, a staggering 10 crews were listed as "Failed to Return." A loss rate of over 80%. For all the Lancaster's good points, it had one fatal flaw- it was extremely difficult to escape from in an emergency. Confined spaces and bulky cold-weather flying gear made it almost impossible to get out of a plummeting Lanc.
If operational flying was bad, life on the ground wasn't much better. The ever-present thought that tomorrow you might be gone. Also, living condtions on the built-for-war airfields were almost intolerable. Tin-hut accommodation, freezing cold in winter, baking hot in summer and sometimes miles from the mess and the washrooms. The aircrew took pills to keep them awake and pills to make them sleep.
And when it was all over, some stayed in the R.A.F. Some distinguished themselves outside of the R.A.F but most went back to the routine of civilian life. How strange it must have been for former aircrew after their wartime life. Many would suffer physical and emotional pain for the rest of their lives. Over the years, many would re-visit their former bases but some would not. A veteran I spoke to, said that even after all these years he still went outside at night and stood looking up into the night sky thinking about what happened all those years ago.
In a book i have, called:"Lancaster The Story of A Famous Bomber" the serial numbers of every Lancaster produced is listed together with its fate. Many are listed as lost with the target and date. Many others are simply listed as missing. Another seven young men who vanished without trace. At the end of hostilities,most of the Lancasters which has survived the war were simply, without thought or regret broken up for scrap. See also this link for Lancaster fates as listed by serial number. http://lancaster-archive.com/lanc_main_page.htm
Lancasters operating from this airfield were involved in many important raids during the bombing campaign. These include: the shuttle raids, targets in the heavily defended Rhur valley, the Battle of Berlin, the daring 49 Squadron-led raid on the Schneider works at Le Creusot, the vitally important and top secret raid on the V rocket development site at Peenemunde and the last raid of the war: the SS barracks at the die-hard Nazi stronghold- Bertchesgarden. Immediately following the end of hostilities, 576 Squadron was involved in repatriating former alies P.O.W's and Operation Manna- the arial supply of food to starving Dutch and other civilians in war-ravaged Europe.
THE ROLL of THE GROUNDCREWS.
Each Lancaster had a ground crew. This was made up of skilled craftsmen who serviced and repaired the lancasters. Given the nature of the tasks the Lancasters were having to perform, this must have been an incredibly difficult job. Working around the clock at the lonely dispersal points, in all weathers, perched high above the ground toiling to get their Lancaster ready for the night's operation and doing everything possible to ensure that no fault could occur which would endanger the safety of their flight crew. But hardest of all, how they must have felt after waiting for hours for "their" Lanc to return and then the sad realisation that it would not be coming back to the now lonely dispersal. Another seven faces which would never be seen again but also never forgotten.
For anyone interested in learning about the Lancaster and the bombing campaign, there is a wealth of information on the subject which can be found on the internet. (See Links page on this website for a growing number of links to similar sites.) Another equally good way is through books on the subject. Local libraries stock many books. One such series of books is called: "The Lancaster At War" series. This excellent collection of books has thousands of images taken at the time on operational airfields, Fiskerton included, together with detailed accounts and stories by the persons who actually took part at the time.
Of the personal and factual/historical stories of Bomber Command, there are thousands. Stories of astonishing selfless bravery, pilots remaining at the controls of burning aircraft to give their crews a chance to bail out, knowing they themselves would not survive. Stories of incredible devotion to duty, of veteran crews who had completed their tour of ops but volunteered,(all aircrew were volunteers,) for a second.Individuals who offered to help with a crew shortage-many paying the ultimate price for their heroism. Senior officers who led by example and flew when not always required to. And the tragic stories: crews who were lost on their final mission of the tour. Crews who were lost on their first mission of the tour, some crews did not even had time to unpack their kit before being posted as missing. And stories of incredible luck: crews who flew their tour and never even saw a night fighter, never fired a shot in anger and every op was routine and uneventful.
It is impossible for post-war generations like mine to fully understand what it must have been like flying on operations all those years ago. All we have to look at are old black and white photos of war-weary planes and young men who were in their early twenties but looked twice their age. But if you read of the stories, visit the airfields and the heritage centres and study enough, I believe it is possible to get a small insight, a feel even of how these young men lived during those dark years.
June 2008. A must-read book about the bombing offensive is the recently written: "Bomber Boys-Fighting back. 1940 to 1945". Written by Patrick Bishop, this superb book gives the facts, the statistics, the reasons why and the perspectives- from both the aircrews who took the war to the enemy and the same enemy who knew what the sound of approaching aero engines meant.
An excellent film produced at the time, is the documentary “Night Bombers.”
Filmed mostly in colour, sometime late in the war at the number 1 group airfield at Hemswell in Lincolnshire.This superb film records all the events relating to a night bombing raid and highlights the incredible planning and logistics that went into mounting a raid.
Starting at the planning stage, all aspects relating to the raid are covered: weather, intelligence relating to the route to and from the target. Bomb loads, fuel, number of aircraft required and the crews who would fly that night.
The film shows the Lancasters being fuelled and bombed -up and follows the crews’ preparations from the briefing through to the post-op de-briefing. There is excellent colour footage of take-offs and landings and of the raid itself-Berlin being the target.
This film, together with the book “Bomber Boys” will give anyone an excellent insight into the bombing campaign of W.W 2.
THE REASON WHY.
Since the war, questions have been raised about the ethics and the effectiveness of the bombing campaign.
1940. The Germans were in France enjoying the spoils of war. Most of Europe was under their control and we were next. This country stood on the brink of defeat. Had the Germans invaded, our country and our way of life would have been lost for ever.
They began by bombing our cities as a prelude to invasion. London, Hull,Coventry,Swansea and many more. Prime Minister Churchill visited these devastated cities,saw the damage and the suffering and was furious-ordering immediate raids in retaliation. After the heavy raid in November 1940 on Coventry, he was further enraged to learn the Nazis had created the term to "Coventrate" a British city. We learned from this well-planed and effective raid how to "Covertrate" ourselves.
Fighter Command saved the day, now the men of Bomber Command began to take the war to the enemy.
The main reason for our raids were given by the Secretary of State for air as "The progressive dislocation of the German military,industrial and economic system." and the timing of the commencement of the bombing campaign was one of the most important tactical factors in our eventual victory.
The Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command at the time, Air Marshall Arthur "Bomber" Harris had spent the years between the wars developing the theory of bombing. Now it was his chance to try them out. A wartime pilot himself, he had personally seen the horror and slaughter of trench warfare in the First World War . He believed he could prevent a re-occurance of this through the systematic bombing of the enemy. He believed through this, the will to continue the fight would collapse and if an enemy could be bombed enough and if their moral could be destroyed, they would rebel against their leaders, in this case the Nazis. This would bring an early end to the war without the need of a D-day landing and the loss of Allied lives that this would incur. Unfortunately,this did not happen as Harris, along with everyone else, had seriously underestimated just how enduring and fanatical the Nazis and the German people were.
By bombing German targets, us by night and later the Americans by day kept the Nazis on the defensive for over four-years. It destroyed and disrupted their war- manufacturing facilities and forced the enemy to use up precious resources that would have been used offensively against us, on and after D-Day. There can be little doubt that the bombing campaign helped to bring about our eventual victory in W.W.2.
Later, after D Day, the Nazi military leaders knew they could not possibly win the war. They could have put an end to the bombing at any time by simply giving up the fight. But instead, they did everything possible to prolong the war and were busy planning counter attacks and developing weapons of mass destruction. The V1 & 2's were already raining down on London. The race was on to develop atomic capability. Rockets and atomic energy: this combination would have been the end of this country and it would have been used against us without any hesitation or mercy. It was only a matter of when the atomic bombs would start raining down on us. Who knows how close this came to being reality. The Nazis elected to start a total war and we were forced to do the same. They chose to prolong the war and fight to the very end and the bombing campaign continued to the very end. Because of this, many thousands of innocent civilians, on sides of the North Sea and allied servicemen lost their lives unnecessarily.
In the closing stages of the war our bombing, together with the Allied and Soviet ground force advance on Berlin, had devestating effects on the German civil population. Dragged into a war that they did not want, wishing like us only to live their lives in peace. Bombing targets were selected for their industrial, military and stratigic values. Unfortunately, these targets were often situated close to heavily populated urban area and casualties were high. Others raids, such as the ones mounted against the eastern cities of Chemnitz, Dresden and Leipzig which were attacked late in the war, were carried out using Soviet army intelligence and were designed to cause as much disruption and chaos as possible-therefore assisting the Russian forces which were advancing from the east in the face of stiff resistance and suffering heavy casualties. THESE ARE THE FACTS.
Today, there are only 26 Lancasters known to exist world wide and only two flying examples. One is in Canada, and one in Lincolnshire. We actually have two Lancs here in Lincolnshire. PA474 is part of the Battle of Britain Mamorial Flight which is based at RAF Coningsby and can be visited daily. This Lanc can also be seen flying most weekends whilst on its way to a display somewhere.It is customery for the pilot to fly low over Lincoln and the unmistakable sound of four perfectly sycronised Merlins can be heard for miles. It is a very strange sensation when walking around an old bomber airfield and suddenly, you hear the first sounds of the Merlins which get louder and then eventually, you see the Lanc itself.
There is an amazing story of patience, determination and hard work behind the second Lincolnshire Lancaster. She is NX611,"Just Jane" which is based at the old bomber airfield at East Kirkby. This aircraft, which looks in as good a condition as she was the day she rolled off the production line, forms part of the East Kirkby Heritage Centre which is owned by two brothers,Fred & Harold Panton who lost their older brother during the war whilst flying on ops and the heritage centre is a tribute to him and the other 55,000 aircrew lost on operations during the bombing campaign. The centre, together with the Lanc, has a fully restored control tower, dimly lit with mannequins dressed in authentic RAF uniform complete with authentic background sound effects. A NAAFI/shop which provides excellent catering at a reasonable cost and the shop which sells paintings,books,prints and East Kirkby/Lancaster memorabilia including the incredible story behind Jane. There is a hanger full of photographs and other exibits plus other restored buildings. The centre also has an airworthy two-seater Spitfire which flies from East Kirkby and performs displays. Maintained by their own full time engineers Ian Hickling & Mark Fletcher, Jane does not fly (at the moment) but perform engine starts and taxi runs and was used for the tv series Night Flight. The displays are incredible. Everybody gathers round the Lanc and the ground and flight crews start the engines. The engines are syncronised and Jane taxies away for a short distance and returns, then performs an engine run-up to about 50% power. The sounds from the Merlins is wonderful. When the engines are shut down, peace decends over the airfield and you cannot help but think what it must have been like all those years ago on so many airfields when up to 36 Lancs would have started up prior to take off. Taxi rides on Jane can be booked. East Kirkby is an amazing, unique experience and for anyone wanting an insite into what it must have been like on a wartime should see it. Is a tribute to all who have worked so hard to achieve this unique centre of the Lancaster world.
Update to above. Today Just Jane, for the first time in public, performed two tail up runs on a grass strip at East Kirkby airfield. After start up, she taxied past the crowd, which lined both sides of the hardstanding leading out onto the old airfield, turned right and taxied off into the distance. Following a 360 degree turn, she lined up for the run and her engined were run up and she began to roll. When level with the spectators her tail lifted off and she roared past. The engines were throttled back and Jane eventually came to a halt in the distance, turned again and taxied past us to the end where she started her run. A full repeat was performed. Following this, she taxied back towards us and her engines were shut down. When the flight crew got off the aircraft, a huge cheer and a massive round of applause greeted them. The whole event was a moment in history to be remembered forever and a fitting tribute to 55,000 aircrew lost during the bombing campaign. After the display, both the flight crew and the owners were wandering around chatting to everyone and were interviewed by the media. The atmosphere for the whole occasion was incredible and because, as always, we were allowed so close to Jane before,during and after the runs, those of us that were there felt we were a part of the occasion. It was a privilage to be a part of an important and awesome piece of aviation history in the making.
In addition to the three lancs mentioned above, the other twenty-three part or complete lancasters are: one each at Hendon,Duxford,Imperial War museums. One each France, Sweden, New Zealand and America.(This one undergoing refurbishment to flying condition.) Australia has two and the remaining fourteen in Canada, one of which lies in a lake in shallow water.
Bomber Command aircrew, as were all our armed forces during World War 2, were made up of many nationalities. Men came from all over the world to help us in our hour of need, Australia,New Zealand, America,Canada and many others. In addition to aircrew, Canada provided a safe environment for aircrew training and was a major contributer to Lancaster production. Built to a very high standard, these Canadian-built Lancs were flown across the Atlantic by ferry pilots, often Female, to join the battle to save Britain and the free world.
RUNNING COSTS OF A LANCASTER BOMBER ON OPERATIONS.
Select this link for a breakdown of the cost,to the taxpayer of a typical Lancaster sortie.(Article courtesy of Larry Wright.) Also, select this link for Larry's superb website on all things relating to the Lancaster, including photos,information etc.
Note: today, 28th December 2006. Article in British newspapers announcing that this country has finally made the last payment to America for the debt owed for the cost of World War 11. (It took us sixty-one years to pay for the war)
Lancaster B mk.1 Specifications.
|Length: ||69ft 4in (21.08m) |
|Wingspan: ||102ft 0in (31.00m) |
|Height: ||20ft 6in (6.23m) |
|Maximum Speed: ||287mph (462km/h) |
|Cruising Speed: ||200mph (322km/h) |
|Ceiling: ||19,000ft (5,793m) |
|Range: ||2,530 miles (4,072km) with 7,000lb (3,178kg) bomb load. |
|Powerplant: ||Four Rolls Royce Merlin XX, 22 or 24 of 1,280hp each. |
|Payload: ||Up to 22,000lb bombs carried internally. Later versions modified to carry a variety of single high explosive bombs of 8,000lb (3,632kg), 12,000lb (5,448kg) or 22,000lb (9,988kg) for special missions. |
|Defensive Armament: ||2 x .303 Browning machine guns in nose turret, 2 x .303 Browning machine guns in mid-upper turret and 4 x .303 Browning machine guns in tail turret. Early models also had ventral turret with a single .303 machine gun |
FOR A DETAILED LIST OF LANCASTER LOSSES FROM FISKERTON, PLEASE GO TO LINKS TO SIMILAR SITES PAGE 2. THIS DATABASE WAS CREATED AND KINDLY SUPPLIED BY WILLI WEISS FROM OBERAUSSEM, GERMANY.