Sepia photos © Wiki Commons all others © Willie Bodenstein
The role the four engine Lancaster played during WII can never be under estimated. As a night bomber she had no equal. She completely overshadowed her close contemporaries. The versatility of the mid-wing all-metal fuselage Lanc, as she was fondly known, was such that she excelled in many other roles including precision day time missions. Her long unobstructed bomb bay meant that she could carry a load of 22,000 lb (10,000 kg) of bombs off all types and sizes then on the inventory of the RAF (Royal Air Force).
Designed by Roy Chadwick and built by Avro in response to an Air Ministry Specification that called for a twin-engine medium bomber for use by the RAF and its allies the Lanc was an evolution of the twin engine Avro Manchester. Initially powered by four Rolls-Royce Merlin XX liquid-cooled V12 engines of 1,280 hp (954 kW) each she originally had the three-finned tail layout of the Manchester. This was changed to the twin fin that together with her long slender 69 ft 4 in (21.11 m) fuselage and the 'greenhouse' cockpit gave her her distinctive appearance. Although the specification called for a medium bomber the Lanc served as the RAF's heavy bomber for the duration of the war.
Almost half of the Lanc's fuselage is taken up by her 33 ft (10 m) long bomb bay.
Initially the heaviest bomb she could carry was the 4,000 lb (1,800 kg) high capacity HC 'Cookie', however bulged doors that added 30% to her capacity were added allowing her to carry 8,000 lb (3,600 kg) and later 12,000 lb (5,400 kg) bombs.
Besides the heavies she could be loaded with an astonishing variety of smaller lethal weapons of destruction including twenty four 30 lb (14 kg) incendiary and explosive incendiary bomblets, 1,000 lb (450 kg) General Purpose High Explosive (GP/HE) bombs, 2,000 lb (910 kg) armour-piercing (AP) bombs or 2,000 lb (910 kg) armour-piercing (AP) bombs.
Twenty three Lancs were modified to equip 617 Squadron, the famous Dam Busters, to carry the Upkeep "Bouncing bomb" designed by Barnes Wallis for the attack on Germany Ruhr Valley dams.
During her War service the Lanc delivered 608,612 long tons of bombs in 156,000 sorties.
The Lanc was designed before the introduction of the long range escort fighter and so, for defence against enemy fighters, she had to rely on her own armaments and in this department she was well equipped.
A nose turret with two Browning .303 Mark II machine guns each with 1,000 rounds of ammunition was placed directly above the bomb aimer's position.
The bomb aimer not only served as nose gunner but also assisted the navigator.
The upper turret, also similarly equipped, was situated halfway down the fuselage and had a 360 °view to guard against attacks from above and to the side.
The tail turret protruded behind the twin tail fins. This was not only the loneliest position in the Lanc but also the one that faced most of the attacks and it was therefore equipped with four Browning .303 Mark II machine guns each with 2,500 rounds.
Modern bombers seldom have a crew of more than three. The Lanc flew with seven, besides the three gunners a pilot and flight engineer/co-pilot that sat side under the canopy with a navigator behind them, screened by a curtain, whilst the wireless operator who sat to his right constituted the full crew compliment.
On Thursday, 9 January 1941 Avro Test pilot H.A. "Bill" Thorn took the controls for its first flight at Ringway and she performed exactly as expected and twelve months later entered service with the RAF.
The history of the Lancaster and its crews are the stuff legends are made of. More Victoria Crosses, the highest reward for bravery was awarded to her crews than all the other armed services combined.
After retirement from active service she took on the role of long range anti-submarine and was also used for photo-reconnaissance and aerial mapping patrol aircraft. For a while she served as a flying tanker for aerial refuelling for the Avro Lancastrian, a long-range, high-speed, transatlantic, passenger and postal delivery airliner.
The last Lancaster was retired from service from the Canadian Air Force during 1963. More than 7,400 that were built, sadly only seventeen largely intact examples survived of which only two are airworthy. 'Thumper' based in Coningsby in the UK, is operated by The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight whilst 'Vera', operated by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Mount Hope is based in Ontario, Canada.