Avro Lancaster

IMAGE © 2014 JOHN M DIBBS



The Avro Lancaster is the most famous and successful RAF heavy bomber of World War Two. It is a legend that lives on today and the contribution made by the aircraft and its crews to the freedom of our nation will, hopefully, never be forgotten.

The prototype Lancaster took to the air for its first flight from Woodford, Manchester, on 9th January 1941; the first production Lancaster flew later that year on 31st October. The first RAF unit to receive the new aircraft for operations (on Christmas Eve 1941) was No 44 Squadron at Waddington, quickly followed by 97 Squadron at Woodhall Spa. The performance of the Lancaster was simply outstanding. It could carry a maximum bomb load of 22,000 lb, its maximum level speed with a full load at 15,000 feet was 275 mph and it could cruise routinely at altitudes above 20,000ft at a range speed of 200 mph. With a full bomb load the aircraft had a range in excess of 1,500 miles. The Lancaster’s performance, its ruggedness, reliability and to many its sheer charisma, endeared it to its crews who were proud to fly this famous thoroughbred.

An impressive total of 7,377 Lancasters were built between 1941 and early 1946. Of these, some 3,500 were lost on operations and another 200 or so were destroyed or written off in crashes. The vast majority of those Lancasters that did survive the war were simply scrapped when their services were no longer required, as the reverence in which the aircraft is now held had yet to develop to the point where their preservation seemed important.

Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster

The RAF BBMF Lancaster, PA474, is currently painted to represent an aircraft which served with No 617 Squadron after the Dams Raid. Some of the specially-modified Type 464 Lancasters, which survived the Dams Raid, remained in service with No 617 Squadron afterwards. However, these aircraft were not suitable for all operations and the Squadron needed replacement, standard Lancasters, as well as replacement crews to make up losses. One of the brand-new aircraft delivered to the unit to meet this need was Lancaster B1 DV385.

Lancaster DV385 was built by Metropolitan-Vickers Ltd at Trafford Park, Manchester, at a stage of the war when the average build time for a Lancaster was 8 weeks. DV385 rolled off the production line in October 1943. It was delivered to No 617 Squadron at RAF Coningsby (by a quirk of fate now the home to the RAF BBMF Lancaster PA474) in November 1943 and given the squadron codes ‘KC-A’. The aircraft was retro-fitted with bulged bomb-bay doors enabling it to carry one of the huge 12,000-lb HC ‘thin-case’ ‘blockbuster’ blast bombs or a 12,000-lb ‘Tallboy’ bomb internally. DV385’s first bombing mission was flown on 16th December 1943; this was the first of four ‘ops’ it flew from Coningsby, three of them captained by Flight Lieutenant Tom O’Shaughnessy to drop 12,000-lb HC bombs against V-weapon sites in France. On 9th January 1944, 617 Squadron moved the few miles north to Woodhall Spa, taking DV385 with them.