The Hendon Lancaster 137 not out

A few years ago, I drove down with the family to the RAF Museum at Hendon, just to the north of London. I made an immediate bee-line to the Bomber Command section to see their Avro Lancaster. Most of the aircraft here have their original coat of paint from World War II, so, to prevent it fading away completely under the onslaught of bright, harmful sunshine, the lighting is very subdued. That made it rather difficult for me to take photographs of a decent standard. Indeed, for the general view of the aircraft, I have had to use a photograph from the Internet. Here it is, with its capacity to carry up to 14,000 lbs of bombs into Nazi Germany:

HendonLancaster GOOGLE
Here is the front of this mighty bomber. Its huge black tyres are not far short of the height of a man. The yellow tips of the propellers are a safety feature and the yellow letter “S” is the aircraft’s squadron letter as “S-Sugar”:

This is the rear of the bomber. It has twin tails to give the mid-upper gunner a greater field of fire. You can see the door for the crew, which kept them well away from the four propellers, but it meant a very long and difficult crawl to the front of the aircraft. Its squadron letters are PO-S and its serial number is R5868:P1320297XXX

This particular plane is the oldest surviving Lancaster and the first RAF heavy bomber to complete 100 operations. It eventually went on to fly 137 sorties. R5868 was originally “Q-Queenie” with No. 83 Squadron at RAF Scampton and then became “S-Sugar” with No. 463 and No. 467 Squadrons of the Royal Australian Air Force at RAF Waddington. Its very last job came in May 1945, when it was used to transport liberated Allied prisoners of war back home to England.
The four Merlin engines have on them the names of the crew who received decorations. This is the starboard inner engine:

Here is another name, this time on the port inner engine. You can also see what looks to me to be an 8,000lb bomb underneath the enormous bomb-bay. Such a large bomb was made by merely bolting together two ordinary 4,000lb “Cookies” or Blockbuster bombs:

I couldn’t resist showing you for a second time, in this second blogpost, the front of “S-Sugar”, which is adorned with the vain boast of Hermann Göring, “No enemy plane will fly over the Reich Territory”.

It is deliberately painted next to the symbols which represent the huge number of raids carried out over Germany by this one particular aircraft. All of the Avro Lancasters added together flew 156,000 missions over Europe as a whole and they dropped 608,612 tons of bombs on the Third Reich. So much for Hermann Müller and his pathetic promises, detailed in that previous post:


This is a “Grand Slam” bomb. It was designed by Barnes Wallis and weighed 22,000lb, ten tons, more or less, and the specially adapted Lancasters of 617 Squadron who carried it were at their physical limits:

My Dad said their wings were shaped like giant crescents as they took off. When they were dropped, the bombs broke the sound barrier. At that time they must have been among the fastest objects made by Man. They penetrated deep underground and, when they exploded, they easily proved their nickname of the “Earthquake Bomb”. Unlike the majority of bombs dropped by the Allied Air Forces, they were always used on military sites such as U-Boat pens, gun-batteries or railway bridges.
Here is one being dropped by YZ-C of 617 Squadron:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I found two films about dropping a “Grand Slam” bomb. In both cases they are being used to destroy railway viaducts, in order to prevent the Nazis from moving troop reinforcements around their fast diminishing country. In this way, these spectacular bombs must have saved the lives of a lot of good men:


Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Personal

21 responses to “The Hendon Lancaster 137 not out

  1. That is totally amazing.

    • Thank you. You are very kind. I’m sure that a great many Aussies would have been involved in flying all those missions!

      • My first boss was a pathfinder pilot. The only damage he ever suffered was a loss of a finger when a German Fighter shot at him. It went right through the cockpit and hit the joystick and blew his finger off. He was the best boss I ever had in 50 years of working. I don’t know his full name. I just knew him as Mr Cook of Russell, Kennedy & Cook Solicitors, 401 Collins Street Melbourne

  2. I would like to visit that museum some day. We will be visiting the U.S. Air and Space Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, this summer. We have been there before and it is amazing just like the RAF Museum.

    • You are absolutely right. It must be a fantastic museum.Make sure you take plenty of memory cards!

      • I have a 64GB in the camera and a 32GB spare. That gets me about 9000 images. It will be close! My bigger problem is batteries, my camera is a hog. I will probably take three and have a charger ready in the car!

  3. Not only a great post, John, but i think it’s terrific they put names on the engines!

  4. atcDave

    Thanks for this post! Some excellent pictures of a true classic.

  5. The aircraft was used as gate guard at Scampton for a while and
    Sat with a live cookie. It was only realised when they came to move it. The error went unnoticed for a long time. It’s a great museum and a beautiful aircraft.

    • Wow! A bomb like that going off would have certainly caught people’s attention. Apparently a Lancaster with a full bomb load blew up at Elsham once, and they heard it in Grimsby some 22 miles ,away.

  6. Wow, amazing pictures. They look like a work of art and how sad that they used for destruction.

    • Nobody has ever said that before to my knowledge but, of course, you are absolutely right. On the other hand, the enemy it was fighting was a particularly horrible and vindictive one, so I suppose that that terrible beauty was being used for a good purpose.

  7. Chris Waller

    One thing that has always puzzled me. Did a bomber (and for that matter a fighter) carry the battery for starting the engine? It seemed to me that the battery necessary to turn over a 27-litre Merlin would be enormously heavy and not what one would want on board an aircraft, where weight was at a premium. That said, if the engine cut out in flight, how was it restarted? Or was the force of the air acting on the propeller sufficient to turn the engine over?

    • Hi Chris! When we went to East Kirkby to see Just Jane, a Lancaster that can taxi rather than fly, they started the engines more or less like a car. A mechanic stood in front of the aircraft and signalled to the pilot, who then presumably pressed a button inside the cockpit and started the engines. There was a fixed sequence to it, but I’ve forgotten exactly what it was. There certainly was nothing special to the process that we saw, except the unbelievable power of the backwash which blew branches on trees fifty and a hundred yards away quite noticeably. If the engine cut in flight, I believe the first thing they did was to “feather” it, which means to position the blades so that they didn’t windmill round and cause excessive drag. I suppose if they thought that they could restart the engine, they would unfeather it and press the starting button.

  8. Hendon is a wonderful place to visit. Enjoyed your detail on the Lanc!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.