Tag Archives: Grand Slam

The Avro Lancaster at Duxford, January 28th 2009

A few years ago, when I was still a teacher, along with four other teachers and more than a hundred members of Year 9, we all went in two coaches to Duxford near Cambridge to see the Imperial War Museum.  Look for the orange arrow:

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None of you will be surprised that the very first plane I rushed to see was the Avro Lancaster. The planes are rather crowded together, but there it was:

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There were trolleys and a little tractor to transport the bombs to the bomb-bay:

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The bomb-bay is enormous, and eventually would be capable of taking a ten ton bomb, the “Grand Slam”:

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The green cylindrical bomb in  the background in the below photograph is a blockbuster bomb or “cookie” and weighs 4,000 pounds which is around two tons. Quite often two of them were strapped together to make an 8,000 pound bomb. On occasion three of them would be bolted together to make things go with a real bang:

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This is the mid-upper turret, armed with two .303 Browning machine guns. The gunners were seldom particularly happy that a target was provided underneath for the Luftwaffe night fighters to aim at:

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This is the radome, behind the cockpit canopy. On more than one occasion my Dad would stand there. looking out, as the bombers all taxied out to the end of the runway for the take-off. My Dad was abundantly aware of the enormous casualty rates in Bomber Command, and more than once he wondered to himself how many of the aircraft he could see slowly making their way to the runway to take off would be coming back in the morning:

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Overall, Bomber Command lost 8,325 aircraft to enemy action. A total of 55,573 young men, all of them volunteers, were killed, a casualty rate of 44.4%. Of every hundred airmen, 55 were killed, three were injured on active service, 12 became prisoners of war, two were shot down and made their way back to England and 27 survived. One of the two reasons my Dad was one of those 27 fortunate young men was the fact that he flew in Lancasters. “A Lanc will always get you back” he told me on more than one occasion. I owe my own existence, therefore, to the excellence of the Avro Lancaster.

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Sooooo….when the moment was right, a fat old man quickly jumped over the rope, walked up to KB889, gave it a good pat and said “Thank you for my life”.
There will, however, always be some idiot child who is seduced by the flighty, undependable glamour of fighter aircraft and who will stand there taking photographs of Spitfires until the bus leaves. Just look at him in this photograph here:

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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:

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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”:
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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:
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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:
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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:

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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:
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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:

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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:

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Personal

“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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