Avro Lancaster B.I (PA474) - "The City of Lincoln"Avro Lancaster B.I (PA474) - "The City of Lincoln"Avro Lancaster B.I (PA474) - "The City of Lincoln"

Avro Lancaster B.I (PA474) - "The City of Lincoln" [@ RAF Waddington 2011]

Avro Lancaster B.I (PA474)

Avro Lancaster B.I (PA474) - "The City of Lincoln" [@ RAF Waddington 2001]

One of the famous aircraft of all time and the last of the three "heavies" to enter RAF service in WW2.  Like its very able partner, the Handley Page Halifax, the Lancaster can trace its origins back to a failed design tendered in 1936/37 against the RAF Specification P13/36.  The Specification called for a long-range medium-heavy bomber capable of cruising at 275mph at 15,000ft and defending itself with nose and tail-mounted powered gun positions.  A crew of four was specified (2 pilots (1 acting a navigator, bomb aimer and front gunner), wireless operator and rear gunner).  Avro, like Handley Page, were offering the Manchester against the same Specification, chose two Rolls Royce Vulture engines as the power-plant for the Manchester.  Handley Page foresaw problems with the supply of these engines, which had not yet been flown, and was allowed to alter the aircraft design to incorporate four Merlin engines.  The change of engines benefited the rival Halifax as the Vulture engines of the Manchester proved incredibly unreliable and only 200 of a planned 1500 entered service before Avro's hand was forced and the Manchester re-engined with four Merlins.

One of only two Lancaster's remaining in air worthy condition out of the 7377 that were built, the other being FM213, a Lancaster X, which is based in Canada.  Built in Chester in mid 1945 PA474 was earmarked for the "Tiger Force" in the Far East.  However, the war with Japan ended before it could take part in any hostilities.  PA474 was therefore assigned to Photographic Reconnaissance duties with 82 Squadron in East and South Africa.  While operating with 82 Squadron the turrets were removed. On return to the United Kingdom PA474 was loaned to Flight Refuelling Ltd at Tarrant Rushton to be used as a pilotless drone.  However, before the conversion started, the Air Ministry decided to use a Lincoln aircraft instead and so PA474 was transferred to the Royal College of Aeronautics to be used for trials on the Handley Page Laminar Flow wing.  The trial wings were mounted vertically on the upper rear fuselage.  In 1964 PA474 was adopted by the Air Historical Branch (AHB) for future display in the proposed RAF Museum at Hendon and was flown to RAF Wroughton to be painted in a camouflage paint scheme, though without squadron markings.  During this period the PA474 took part in two films, 'Operation Crossbow' and 'The Guns of Navarone'.  Later in 1964 PA474 was moved to RAF Henlow in preparation for display at the RAF Museum.  The first unit to be equipped with the Lancaster was 44 Squadron (Rhodesia) at RAF Waddington and in 1965 the Commanding Officer of this unit, which was now flying Avro Vulcans from RAF Waddington, sought permission from the AHB for PA474 to be transferred to the care of the Squadron.  An inspection found that the aircraft was structurally sound and permission was granted for PA474 to make a single flight from Henlow to Waddington. At Waddington PA474 was given the markings of R5508, coded 'KM-B', commemorating John Nettleton VC and the aircraft he flew on the famous daylight attack on the MAN diesel engine factory raid at Augsburg on the 17th April 1942.  A restoration programme then began that would take several years to complete.  By 1966 work was progressing well and both the front and rear turrets were in place.  Permission to fly the Lancaster regularly was granted in 1967, although restoration continued.  The aircraft eventually joined the BBMF in November 1973.  Restoration work on various parts of the aircraft has continued ever since.  A mid-upper turret was discovered in Argentina and was brought to Britain aboard HMS Hampshire and fitted in 1975, the same year that the aircraft was adopted by the City of Lincoln.  During the winter of 1995/96 PA474 received a brand new main spar which will extend the flying life well into the new millennium.

Rolls Royce Merlin XX  Rolls Royce Merlin 22

The first prototype Lancaster, BT308, designated a "four engine Manchester" or "Manchester III" and fitted with four Rolls Royce Merlin XX engines [photograph - above left] and SU carburettors first flew on 9th January 1941 with triple fins [later replaced on the second prototype, DG595, by the familiar two fins on an extended tailplane to improve flight characteristics] and without ventral or dorsal turrets.  The defensive armament consisted of  four Nash & Thomson Frazer Nash hydraulically operated turrets mounted of a nose (2 Browning 0.303 Mark II machine guns), mid-upper (2 Browning 0.303 Mark II machine guns) and tail (4 Browning 0.303 Mark II machine guns) gun turrets.  A ventral turret was to have been a installed in the type, but was eliminated to provide extra bomb bay space since it difficult to sight because it relied on a periscope which limited the gunner's view to a 20 degree arc and too slow to keep a target within its sightsThe FN-5A nose turret remained unchanged during the life of the Lancaster and was similar to the FN-5 which was used on the preceding Avro Manchester, the Vickers Wellington and the Short Stirling while the mid-upper was an FN-50 and very similar to the FN-150, which had improved sights and controls, and was fitted to later variants The original FN-20 tail turret was replaced by the very similar FN-120 which used an improved gyroscopic gun sight and was fitted on later variants.  For both types the tail gunners tended to removed Perspex and armour from the turret in an attempt to improve visibility, however later trials by the RAF showed it had very little effect.

The first Lancaster B.I was delivered to 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire, for familiarization in September 1941 and the first operational sortie involved four Lancasters laying mines in the Heligoland Bight on 3rd March 1942.  The Lancaster went on to be the main delivery platform for Bomber Command [at its peak strength in August 1944 no fewer that 42 squadrons were armed with Lancasters] and was involved in many daring exploits e.g. the Dam Buster raid and the daylight Augsburg raid.  Later production Lancaster B.1s had Merlin 22 [photograph - above right] or Merlin 24 engines fitted.

Avro Lancaster B.I (R5868)Avro Lancaster B.I (R5868)Avro Lancaster B.I (R5868)

Avro Lancaster B.I (R5868)  [@ RAF Hendon]

An adaptation to the B.1 was the B.1 Special.  A total of 32 Lancaster’s were adapted to carry Barnes Wallis's  "Tallboy" and later “Grand Slam" bombs. Both bombs were designed to penetrate deep into the ground before exploding.  The shock waves generated would destroy the target by shaking it to pieces in a similar way to an earthquake.  For the 5440 Kg (12,000 lb) Tallboy, the bomb bay doors were bulged and for some Tallboy raids the mid-upper turret was removed.  For the 9980 Kg (22,000 lb) Grand Slam the bomb bay doors were removed completely and the area faired over and, in addition to the removal of the mid-upper turret, the nose turret was later removed.  The first Tallboy was used operationally on the Saumur rail tunnel.  Nineteen Tallboy-equipped and six conventionally equipped Lancasters of 617 Squadron attacked on the night of the 8/9th  June 1944 and were  guided on to the target by 83 Pathfinder Squadron.  One Tallboy bomb bored through the hillside and exploded in the tunnel about 18 m  (60 ft) below, completely blocking it.  The first Grand Slam was dropped on the 13th March 1945 and it produced a crater 38 m (124 ft) and 9 m (30 ft) deep.  The following day the bomb was used operationally against the Bielefeld Railway viaduct, which connected Berlin to the Ruhr over the River Werre.  A Lancaster from 617 Squadron supported by the rest of the Squadron of 28 aircraft, all carrying tallboy bombs, finally destroyed the structure.  In total 41 Grand Slams were dropped operationally before the end of the war.  In addition two Specials (HK541 and SW244) were also modified to carry a 1,200 gal dorsal "saddle tank" to increase range but it affected the performance and so it was replaced by an early type of flight refueling, which had been designed for commercial flying boats in the late 1930s.  1577 SD Flight tested these aircraft in India and Australia in 1945 for possible use in the Pacific.

The “Grand Slam" bombThe “Grand Slam" bomb

The “Grand Slam" bomb  [@ RAF Hendon]

Another variant of the B.1 was the PR.1 which was modified for the photographic reconnaissance role.  All armament and turrets were removed, the nose reconfigured and a camera mounted in the bomb bay.  The variant was operated in RAF service by 82 and 541 Squadrons and later by 683 Squadron at RAF Fayid, Egypt  from the 1st November 1950, then  in January 1952 from RAF Khormaksar, Aden, and later from RAF Habbaniya, Iraq.  Tasked with the surveying and mapping of Arabia and East Africa, Aden and Somaliland and finally the Persian Gulf the Squadron was disbanded on the 30th November 1953 on the completion of its task.   Finally the B.I (FE) was a tropicalized variant based on late production B.1s and was modified to cater for the needs of the Tiger Force which was intended to operate against the Japanese in the Far East.  This variant had modified radio, radar, navigational aids and an extra 400 gal (1,818 L) fuel tank which was installed in the bomb bay.

Built by Metropolitan Vickers at Manchester, R5868 was order originally as a Manchester, and entered RAF service with 83 Squadron based at RAF Scampton on the 29th June 1942.  R5868 flew 137 operational sorties, more than any other RAF Bomber, except ED888 (Mike Squared) a Lancaster III.  ED888 (unofficially nicknamed "The Mother of Them All") was built at Manchester in early 1943 and after completing all 140 sorties, plus 2 Luftwaffe fighters shot down, with 103 Squadron and later 576 Squadron was struck of charge on the 8th January 1947 and scrapped.  The first operational sortie of R5868 ("Q" for Queenie) was to Wilhelmshaven on the 8th/9th July.  Later operational sorties included a dusk raid on the submarine yards at Danzig on the 11th July, mine dropping sortie to Bordeaux on the 14th/15th July and daylight raid on the Krupps Works at Essen on the 18th July.  On this occasion R5868 was one of only 3 to reach the target and by taking evasive action against the attacking FW190s R5868 managed to return home with no damage.   During the remainder of 1942 R5868 was involved in many operational sorties including trips to Hamburg, a mine-laying sortie over the Gironde River, Mainz, Frankfurt, Bremen, Wilhelmshaven, Kiel, Munich and Genoa and Turin in Italy.  The sorties continued into 1943 with the first of R5868 eight trips to Berlin on the 16th/17th January.  This was followed by numerous other sorties including trips to Lorient, Milan, Nuremburg, Cologne.  St.  Nazaire, Nuremberg, Stuttgart, Essen, Dusseldorf, Turin and Hamburg.  A return trip to Milan on the 14th/15th August became the last sortie that R5868 made with 83 Squadron.  After 450 hours, nearly 368 of them operational, R5868 was transferred to 467 Squadron RAAF at RAF Bottesford, Leicestershire, to become  "S" for Sugar.  The transfer was due to the conversion of 83 Squadron to Lancaster IIIs.  A sortie to Hanover on the 27th/28th September became the first operational sortie of R5868 with 467 Squadron and further sorties included trips to Munich, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Dusseldorf and Berlin.  Following repairs the first sortie of R5858 in 1944 was again to Berlin on the 15th/16th February.  The following sorties include trips to Leipzig, Stuttgart, Schweinfurt, Augsburg, Munich and targets in France as D Day approached.  During this period R5868 completed 100 operational sorties, the first heavy bomber to do so.  Following a raid on the railway yards at Revigny in Northern France on the 18th/19th July R5868 was severely damaged.  Following dismantling and subsequent repair by A V Roe R5868 returned to 467 Squadron on the 3rd December 1944.  The first operational sortie was a daylight raid on the Urft Dam on the 8th December and further sorties in 1945 included raids on Munich, Gdynia, Politz, Rheydt, the Gravenhorst - Mittelland Canal, Brux, Wurzburg, Nordhausen and the last operational sortie on the 23rd April to Flensburg.  During May R5868 was involved in the repatriation flights for POWs from Germany.  On the 7th May R5868 became the first Lancaster to land on an “enemy” airfield.  Officially declared a museum piece on the 9th August 1945 R5868 was allocated 15MU, RAF Wroughton, as an exhibition aircraft.  Struck off charge on the 16th March 1956 and placed into storage R5868 was allocated to RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire, in April 1959 for safekeeping.  In 1960 R5868, in 467 Squadron markings, became the gate guardian but latter was painted in 83 Squadron markings when the squadron, now operating Avro Vulcans, returned to RAF Scampton.  Interestingly some the internal items were removed for use in PA474, the “City of Lincoln”.  Dismantled in November 1970 and moved to 71MU at Bicester for refurbishment R5868 entered the museum on the 12th March 1972.  In the photograph R5868 is in the livery of “S-Sugar” of 467 Squadron as R5868 was at the end of the European war.

Avro Lancaster B.I (DV373)  [@ Imperial War Museum]

Little modification was made during its life to the basic Lancaster B.1 airframe, a testimonial to its sturdiness, reliability and flight characteristics.  Concerns over the possible interruption of Merlin XX led to the fitting of four 1650 hp Bristol Hercules  radial engines, these aircraft becoming the Lancaster B.II.  This variant was built by Armstrong Whitworth (300 built) and was fitted with either Hercules the VI or XVI power plants.  The VI variant differed by having a manual mixture control which required an extra lever on the throttle pedestal.  Due to the "Schrge Musik" attacks very early examples of the variant were fitted with an FN.64 ventral turret, however, these were quickly removed due to difficulties in aiming the turret through its periscope and an inadequate traverse speed.  Unofficial modifications were made including the fitting of either a 20 mm cannon or a 0.50 inch machine gun in the open hole where the FN.64 had been installed.  Eventually an official modification (Mod 925) allowed the fitting of a 0.303 inch machine gun in the same location though the fitting was not universal.  These were rarely installed on other variants as the H2S radar, which had not been installed on the B.II, was mounted in this position. Early production B.IIs had a full width bulged bomb bay that ran from just aft of the cockpit to the end of the bomb bay but later production B.IIs had the bomb bay doors prominently bulged throughout their length.

Built by Metropolitan Vickers at Manchester DV372 was one of the third production batch of 200 aircraft.  91 Lancasters were completed as B.I's whilst the remainder was completed as B.III's. Delivered to 467 Squadron (RAAF) in early 1943, the first mission of DV372 was to Berlin on the 18th November 1943.  Over the next seven months DV373 would fly on 50 raids, including the entire Battle of Berlin period, the infamous Nuremberg Raid and the Transportation Plan operations on French railway targets in the lead-up to D-Day.  DV373 flew alongside R5868 between 5th November 1943 and the 12th June 1944.  Transferred to 1651 HCU (Heavy Conversion Unit) during November 1944, DV373 was Struck off Charge on the 4th October 1945 and placed on display at the Imperial War Museum from the 19th November 1946 following donation by the Air Ministry.

Later the B.I, with very little change, was "superseded" with the Lancaster B.III (3030 built).  Built concurrently with the B.I, this variant was externally indistinguishable from the B.1.  These aircraft were fitted with the American Packard built Merlin engines and the variant used Bendix - Stromberg pressure-injection carburettors which required the addition of slow-running cut-off switches in the cockpit.  Twenty-three B.IIIs were modified for 617 Squadron to carry the "Upkeep"  [photograph - below] bouncing bombs on the famous dam busting raids.  In this variant, the Lancaster B.III (Special), the bomb bay doors were removed and struts to carry "Upkeep " were fitted in their place by Avro at Woodford Aerodrome near Stockport.  A hydraulic motor, driven by the pump previously used to drive the mid-upper turret, was fitted to drive a chain that gave the bomb its backspin.  Lamps were fitted in the bomb bay and nose for the simple height measurement system which enabled the accurate control of low-flying altitude at night.  The mid-upper turret gunner moved to the front turret to relieve the bomb aimer from having to man the front guns so that he could assist with map reading.


The ASR.3 variant, a modified B.III, was used in the air-sea rescue role during and after the WW2.  The armament was often removed and the mid-upper turret faired-over, especially in the postwar years.  Observation windows were added to both sides of the rear fuselage, a port window just forward of the tail plane and a starboard window into the rear access door.  Three dipole ventral antennas were fitted aft of the radome and the variant carried an airborne lifeboat in an adapted bomb bay.  A number of ASR.3 conversions were fitted with Avro Lincoln style rudders.  Similarly the B.III was modified for the maritime reconnaissance role as the GR.3/MR.3.

A much modified Lancaster B.IV and Lancaster B.V became the Lincoln B.I and the Lincoln B.II respectively.  The first variant featured an increased wingspan and lengthened fuselage and a Boulton Paul F turret (with two 0.5 inch Browning machine guns). Three prototypes PW925, PW929 and PW932 were built while the the latter variant featured an increased wingspan and lengthened fuselage.   The Lancaster VI, nine of which were converted Lancaster Is and IIIs, was equipped for electronic countermeasures and powered by two-stage Merlin 85/87s.  Unfortunately the engines proved troublesome in service and were disliked by ground maintenance staff for their rough running and tendency to 'surge and hunt' hence making synchronization intolerable.  It was caused by variations in the fuel/air mixture and over time would damage the engine.  All but two (retained by Rolls Royce for installation and flight testing) of the variant were used by 7, 83, 635 RAF Pathfinder Squadrons and 405 RCAF Pathfinder Squadron.  Withdrawn from operational service in November 1944 the surviving aircraft were used by Rolls Royce, the Royal Aircraft Establishment and the Bomb Ballistics Unit for various testing and experimental duties.

The last production Lancaster was the Lancaster B.VII of which 230 were built by Austin Motors at Longbridge.  In this variant the mid-upper turret was replaced by the heavier electrically-controlled Martin 250 CE 23A turret equipped with two 0.50 inch machine guns and was mounted further forward to preserve the variant’s longitudinal balance while the Nash and Thomson FN-82 tail turret with twin 0.50 inch Browning machine guns was mounted in the tail.  However, the Martin turrets arrived too late for inclusion in the first 50 aircraft built by Austin and these were therefore referred to as the B.VII (Interim).   Two sub-variants of the B.VII existed, the "Far East" (B.VII FE) for use in tropical climates and the B.VII "Western Union" which went to France. 

Avro Lancaster B.VII (NX611) - "Just Jane"Avro Lancaster B.VII (NX611) - "Just Jane"Avro Lancaster B.VII (NX611) - "Just Jane"Avro Lancaster B.VII (NX611) - "Just Jane"

Avro Lancaster B.VII (NX611) - "Just Jane"  [@ Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre 2003]

The Lancaster remained in service with the RAF for some time after the end of the war until replaced by the Avro Lincoln.  RAF Coastal Command used the GR.3 maritime patrol version until replaced by the Avro Shackleton.

NX611 one of the first 150 B.VII Avro Lancasters destined as part of the RAF's Tiger Force in the Far East and was one of the last wartime aircraft to be built by Austin Motors at Longbridge, Birmingham.  However Japan's early surrender meant that NX611was now surplus to requirements and so NX611 was sent to 38 MU at RAF Llandow, South Wales, and placed into storage from 1945 to 1952.  NX611 was one of 22 Lancaster’s sold to the French Aeronavale Air Force as WU-15 and was delivered in June 1952 to operate in the maritime patrol role and later in the air sea rescue and cartography role.  In 1964 NX611 was donated to the Historic Aircraft Museum, Sydney, Australia, flown to Australia and overhauled before being flown back to Britain.  It took nine days (seventy flying hours) to complete the 12,000-mile journey.  Registered as G-ASXX NX611 landed at RAF Biggin Hill on the 13th May 1965.  Grounded, due to the expiry of permitted flying hours, it was 1967 before NX611 flew again.  In 1972 NX611 was put up for auction at 'Squires Gate', Blackpool.  Following the removal of R5868 NX611 now became the gate guardian at RAF Scampton.  In September 1983 NX611 was sold to the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre at the former RAF East Kirkby.  Finally in 1993 restoration was begun and NX611 is now at a fully operational taxiing standard with the intention of full restoration to flying standard.

The B.X (430 built) was a Canadian built B.III with Canadian and US made instruments and electrics by Canada's Victory Aircraft (later Avro Canada) at Malton, Ontario.  On later builds the Martin 250 CE 23A gun turret was substituted for the Nash & Thomson FN-50 mid-upper turret.  After the war Canada continued to use the Lancaster in the maritime patrol, search and rescue and photo-reconnaissance roles until July 1964.   In all, 7374 aircraft (of all variants) were built of which 3,431 aircraft were lost in action and a further 246 being destroyed in operational accidents.  The last Lancaster raid of the war was made against the SS barracks at Berchtesgaden on 25th April 1945.

Avro Lancaster X (KB889)Avro Lancaster X (KB889)Avro Lancaster X (KB889)

Avro Lancaster X (KB889)  [@ RAF Duxford]

KB889 is one of over 400 Lancaster X's that were built by Victory Aircraft Company in Canada during 1944 and it arrived in the UK later that year.  Serving with 428 RCAF Squadron at Middleton St. George it later returned to Canada to be used for maritime patrol and spent some time at the Age of Flight Museum at Niagara Falls.  Acquired by the Imperial War Museum in 1986 it was subject to a complete rebuild between May 1987 and November 1994 to return it to its wartime condition.  It is displayed in 428 Squadron colours with which it served.

In 1943 Victory Aircraft converted a Lancaster X bomber for civil transport duties with Trans-Canada Airlines (TCA) and was designated the XPP for Mk 10 Passenger Plane.  The Lancastrian contained no armor or armament and the gun turrets were replaced by streamlined metal fairings, including a new nose section.  The original conversion powered by Packard built Merlin 38 engines was a success resulting in eight additional Lancaster Xs being converted but later batches were new builds.  Range was increased by two 400 gal long-range fuel tanks fitted as standard in the bomb bay.  The variant was used by TCA on its Montreal–Prestwick route.  Later the Halifax bomber was similarly converted into the Handley Page Halton.  The Lancastrian was fast, had a long range, and was capable of carrying a heavy load.  Unfortunately passenger space was at a premium but the type was suitable for carrying mail and a small number of VIP passengers.  From 1945 Avro undertook production of British built Lancastrians and deliveries were made to BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) and BSAAC (British South American Airways Corporation).  On a demonstration flight on the 23rd April 1945 a BOAC Lancastrian flew from England to Auckland, New Zealand, in three days and 14 hours at an average speed of 220 mph.  BOAC used the type for flights between England and Australia from 31st May 1945.   On 1st January 1946 BSAAC Lancastrian undertook a demonstration flight from the then newly opened London Heathrow Airport to South America with the first commercial flights following on during March 1946.  Originally named British Latin American Air Lines the renamed BSAAC started services in 1946.  BSAAC operated mostly Avro aircraft, Yorks, Lancastrians and Tudors, and flew to Bermuda, the West Indies, Mexico and the western coast of South America.  After two high-profile aircraft disappearances it was merged into BOAC at the end of 1949.  Initially Avro built the thirteen-seat Lancastrian 3 transport variant for BSAAC but of the eighteen that were eventually built most went to BOAC.  The type also served with the RAF as the nine-seat C.1 transport variant (23 built but all but two were subsequently operated by BOAC) and the C.2 variant (33 built), which was similar to the C.1 transport.  Later the C.4 (8 built) was a 10 to thirteen-seat transport variant.  Lancastrians was also used during the Berlin Airlift to transport petrol, in total 15 aircraft made over 5,000 trips.