“The Lancaster: Britain’s Flying Past”

Last night, I watched the superb BBC documentary “The Lancaster: Britain’s Flying Past”

The ranks of those who flew Lancasters with Bomber Command in the Second World War have, with the inevitable passage of time, thinned out somewhat, but the BBC has managed to put together the requisite crew of seven combat veterans. There were, therefore, a pilot, a flight engineer, a navigator, a bomb aimer, a wireless operator, a mid-upper gunner and a rear gunner…”tail-end Charlie”.
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Every single man in Bomber Command was a proud volunteer. During the course of the war, they were to suffer 55,573 casualties from a total of 125,000 aircrew (a 44.4% death rate). The average bomber usually lasted for fewer than ten sorties. Life expectancy for crew members could be as low as two weeks, the same as a soldier in the Battle of the Somme in the First World War. Of every hundred airmen who joined Bomber Command, forty five were to be killed outright, six would be badly wounded, eight were captured by the enemy, and only forty survived physically unscathed. From the men who were serving in Bomber Command on September 3rd 1939, only 10% made it through to the end of the war some six years later.
There was no knighthood for Bomber Command’s leader  though, and no campaign medal for his “old lags”. In 1945, Roosevelt and Churchill had been asked by Stalin to destroy Dresden for him, and the two Western leaders were only too eager to demonstrate their ability to slaughter the enemy, be it German, or perhaps, even, one day, Russian. But when Bomber Command, as the best area bombers in the world, carried out this ghastly task, as they had been ordered to do , they then found themselves ostracised by those very same politicians, who now wanted to be popular as humanitarians, and to win elections after the end of the war.
It was eventually public subscription that finally paid for Bomber Command’s well-deserved memorial, fifty years or so too late, perhaps…
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The “Lanc” was the greatest bomber ever made. It could fly at 300 m.p.h. and carry an enormous weight of bombs, with the more usual 4,000 pound “cookies” often bolted together to form either 8,000 or 12,000 pound “blockbuster”bombs. A Lancaster might carry hundreds of incendiaries, and some specially adapted aircraft could carry the 22,000 pound, ten ton “Grand Slam” bomb designed by Barnes Wallis.

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What an enormous bomb bay….
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The aircraft’s immense power came from four magicians, well, four Merlin engines to be more precise…
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The Lancaster is a very large bomber; museums often struggle to fit them in, as here at Duxford

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Best of all is the Lancaster in the RAF Museum at Hendon in north London (very easy to reach off the motorway)

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Don’t miss the vain boast of Hermann Göring, painted on the nose of the bomber(with his name misspelt!).

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The Reichsmarschall was also foolish enough to say that if any enemy plane did fly over the Reich, then , as the man in charge of the Luftwaffe, people could call him “Herr Müller”, a common Jewish name. Well, guess who had the last laugh?
Göring‘s medals too, are in the museum…
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A couple of years ago, I really enjoyed visiting East Kirkby in Lincolnshire to see their Lancaster.  The aircraft does not fly but is taxied around the airfield every day.
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What a beautiful machine, painted here as “Just Jane”, a fictional character in the wartime newspaper, the Daily Mirror.

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The force of the engines being warmed up is amazing…

Then it sets off around the very large field…

Before returning, eventually, back to its rightful place…

It’s just such a pity that there are so few Avro Lancasters left for us all to enjoy!

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5 Comments

Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Film & TV, History

5 responses to ““The Lancaster: Britain’s Flying Past”

  1. A really interesting post.

  2. Excellent history indeed. The British had a few memorable planes like the Lancaster: the beautiful Spitfire and the incredible Mosquito.

    As you sadly report, the death rate was appalling. What possibly contributed to the death rate was that it was incredibly difficult to bail out, it was so cramped inside… I recall they didn’t have enough room to fly at station with their parachutes on?

    • Thanks a lot for you r kind words of encouragement. You Are absolutely right that Bomber Command crew did not have enough room to wear their parachutes as they flew along. Usually, they were kept, I believe, under their seats but I am sure that I read somewhere that the rear gunner had to hang his up in the rear part of the fuselage. This extract will be in one of my blogposts one day….”From the seven man crew of a Lancaster, the average rate of escape was a mere 1.3, a clear indication of the difficulties of trying to get through a hatch which measured only twenty two inches wide, while wearing full flying gear and a parachute. The Handley Page Halifax, with a better situated and more easily accessed hatch of an extra wide twenty four inches, had an escape rate of a rather splendid 2.45.” Best way out apparently, was through the open bomb bay! Have a lovely Christmas!

  3. Pierre Lagacé

    Reblogged this on Lest We Forget II and commented:
    Great post about a great airplane

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