You owe your freedom to the Avro Lancaster, a four-engined World War II aircraft, and the crews who flew it. Here we pay homage to the glorious dam-busting, Tirpitz-blasting, viaduct-smashing bomber
Jack, December 2003
Story by Lee Gale
If it weren’t for the Avro Lancaster, you might be reading the opening line to this story in German. It would start off, “Dank zur helligkeit von Ernst Heinkel und er seines He-111 mittelmäßiger bomber… and drift into a frightening, umlaut-rich diatribe of how superior German aircraft helped bring our nations together. Your attention would be broken as the front door of your hovel was kicked off its hinges, and your aged, ill grandfather dragged into the street for summary execution because he was no longer contributing satisfactorily to the German Empire. In fact, this magazine would probably be called Jackboot, or Ulrich.
Ernst Heinkel’s He-111 medium bomber devastated vast areas of British cities, but the Lancaster, with its huge payload capability, could hand it back with bells on. It stopped the Axis powers’ ability to evil-do by continually smashing its means of production. Arthur “Bomber” Harris’ policy of pulverising Germany into submission was a shocking measure, but his annihilation of urban-based factories swung the conflict in the Allies’ favour. And in order to carry out such a feat, a reliable four-engined aircraft was required, one which could lift extraordinarily heavy weights over long distances. For this, there was no better aircraft than the Avro Lancaster.
Avro’s chief designer during the war was Widnes-born Roy Chadwick, who wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Rovers Return in the Seventies supping mild next to Albert Tatlock. Chadwick had worked at AV Roe & Co Ltd since 1911 and been involved with the construction of a number of WWI biplanes, and more famously was chief designer in 1933 on the Avro 18, which was later converted for military use and named the Anson.
At the start of the war, Bomber Command was reliant on two shockingly obsolete aircraft, the Armstrong-Whitworth Whitley and Handley-Page Hampden, as exciting as an Austin Allegro and Morris Marina upon entering service in 1937 and 1938 respectively. Chadwick came up with the twin-engined Manchester, a Lancaster in shape but powered by the temperamental Rolls-Royce Vulture, a casual lazybones of an engine that would work perfectly one day but couldn’t be bothered the next.
The Manchester was a disaster, and detested by crews. Dam Busters hero Guy Gibson was soon aware of the Manchester’s shortcomings: “It was very heavy on the controls. The take-off seemed to take hours and turns were so slow that it felt almost unreal. But she was smooth enough at 180mph, so long as her engines kept turning.”
When the Manchester was still on the drawing board, Chadwick had taken six of his draftsmen to one side to work on a four-engined version, the Manchester Mk III. The Manchester already had a strong fuselage, but with an increased wing span and the enlargement of the tail section, on paper the Mk III and its four Rolls-Royce Merlin engines could easily outperform the Manchester, with a suggested bomb-lifting capacity of 12,000lbs. Compare this with the Heinkel He-111’s normal load of 5,000lbs, and it’s clear to see why the Air Ministry said, “Come on, let’s get cracking,” and scrapped plans to make the less-able Halifax the mainstay of Bomber Command.
The prototypes exceeded expectation. Re-titled the Lancaster – as the Manchester’s name was sullied – the four-engined aircraft we know and love came into service at Christmas 1941 with 44 Squadron, RAF Waddington.
In the early years of the war, Bomber Command sent small numbers of aircraft to smash specific targets. Losses were high. The Lancaster’s first operational raid over Germany was suicidal, a daylight attack with 12 aircraft against the MAN plant in Augsburg on April 17, 1942. Seven were shot down and five damaged. Tactics changed immediately after this attack. Bomber Command discovered that by using greater numbers of aircraft in raids, a smaller percentage would be shot down.
The Lancaster not only performed well, but looked wonderful too, rather like a hungry Herefordshire butcher on his way home with a string of sausages. In fact, all British aircraft in the war looked like they were fighting on the side of good, whereas Luftwaffe planes had been designed with evil in mind. As evil is inherently wrong, you have to wonder if this affected the psyche of German pilots. The He-111 resembled a greedy maggot, while the Dornier Do-17 and Junkers Ju-88 had the appearance of stick insects: hardly designs to capture the heart.
In 1935, Rolls-Royce faced a problem. The company couldn’t find a good enough aircraft to test the new PV12 (Private Venture, 12-cylinder) engine to its limit. RAF fighters at this time were biplanes with fixed undercarriages such as the Bristol Bulldog and Hawker Fury. But Rolls-Royce, in an act of utter cunning, blagged a Heinkel He-70 from Germany, a cutting-edge, all-metal passenger and freight monoplane, used to great effect in the swift mail service between Stuttgart and Seville. Out came the BMW VId engine, to be replaced by the PV12, later named Merlin.
The He-70 was streamlined, had an enclosed cockpit, retractable undercarriage and could carry four flight observers. Without the use of this aircraft, the Merlin wouldn’t have been ready in time for the Battle of Britain. The Hurricane and Spitfire both carried the engine, as did the Lancaster. It’s funny how things turn out.
Richard Haigh, Head of Corporate Heritage for Rolls-Royce plc and Chief Executive of the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust, is one of Britain’s chief experts on the Merlin. We asked who was the real genius behind the engine: “I suppose the person we should thank is Henry Royce himself, who saw the need for a powerful fighter aircraft engine. The PV12 used R25R and Kestrel technology, which was originally of Royce design. But became the Merlin after it was refined by a number of chief engineers including Elliot, Rubbra and Stanley Hooker, all brilliant engineers.”
The Lancaster was the foremost bomber of its day, but to enable it to have been so successful, its weapons needed to be earth-shattering as well. Barnes Wallis was an original thinker. At the outbreak of war, Wallis was 53. His genius had already shown at Vickers where he’d designed the R100 airship, and the Wellesley and Wellington bombers.
In 1939, the RAF’s heaviest bomb weighed 500lbs, and most stock dated back to 1919. Only a quarter of the weight of these bombs was the explosive substance amatol – in itself a poor material for the job (RDX, hugely superior, was used from 1942). Before the war, Wallis suggested using bigger bombs with more explosive potential, 1,000-pounders, but this would mean building bigger aircraft. The Treasury shook its head – the country couldn’t afford the expense. But as the war progressed, it was clear that larger bombs were essential to smash such targets as U-boat pens, canals, railways, subterranean weapons, dams and battleships. Small bombs were as affective as grandma smacks.
For specialist bombing, 617 Squadron was formed, packed to the gunwales with Bomber Command’s finest pilots – the “Old Lags’ Squadron” as Bomber Harris lovingly referred to them. Some of the RAF’s most famous missions were carried out by 617’s Lancasters, using Barnes Wallis’ three devastatingly destructive devices: the bouncing bomb, Tallboy and Grand Slam.
The Ruhr dams supplied the industrial heartland of German with water for its steel works, and added to this, the Moehne, Eder and Sorpe dams controlled water levels for the movement of barges along canals. But how to topple such huge structures? A 9,250lb backwards-spinning bouncing bomb was the unlikely answer, to be dropped from 60ft, at a speed of 230mph, in the dark.
Night flight training was conducted around the clock – by day through “synthetic night training”, where the cockpit perspex was covered with amber screens while the crew wore blue glasses. The scene must have resembled a Black Grape video. A number of Lancaster B IIIs were hastily converted by Avro and arrived at RAF Scampton early in late April 1943. Mick Martin of 617 couldn’t believe his eyes when the aircraft first landed. “What a monstrosity!” he shouted. The bomb doors had been ripped away, as had the mid-upper gun turret, while underneath the aircraft were calliper arms to hold the cylindrical mine.
On the evening of May 16, with perfect moonlight, 19 Lancasters embarked from Scampton to collapse the Ruhr dams, with the Moehne, Eder and Sorpe dams as their primary targets. Wing Commander Guy Gibson’s own recollections from his brilliant autobiography Enemy Coast Ahead (1944) give us a taste of what it was like to have been involved in the attack on the Moehne Dam.
“The Lancaster was really moving and I began looking through the special sight on my windscreen. A special mechanism on board had already begun to work so that the mine would drop, we hoped, in the right spot. Terry was still checking the height. Joe and Trev began to raise their guns. The flak could see us quite clearly now. It was not exactly an inferno. I have been through far worse flak fire than that; but we were very low. My aircraft was so small and the dam was so large; it was thick and solid, and now it was angry. We skimmed along the surface of the lake, and as we went my gunner was firing into the defences, and the defences were firing back with vigour, their shells whistling past us. For some reason we were not being hit. Spam said, ‘Left – little more left – steady – steady – steady – coming up.’ Of the next few seconds I remember only a series of kaleidoscopic incidents. The chatter from Joe’s front guns pushing out tracers which bounced off the left-hand flak tower. Pulford crouching beside me. The smell of burnt cordite. The cold sweat underneath my oxygen mask. The tracers flashing past the windows – they all seemed the same colour now – and the inaccuracy of the gun positions near the power station; they were firing in the wrong direction. The closeness of the dam wall. Spam’s exultant, ‘Mine’s gone.’ Hutch’s red Very lights to blind the flak-gunners. The speed of the whole thing. Someone saying over the RT, ‘Good show, leader. Nice work.’”
The Moehne and Eder were breached, but at a cost – only 11 of the 19 Lancasters returned. Guy Gibson died on September 19, 1944, after begging to be allowed one more mission. He crashed in flames in Holland flying a Mosquito, returning from Rheydt in Germany. The story of the dams attack was later nicked wholesale by George Lucas and used in the Star Wars movie’s Death Star sequence. Lucas loved The Dam Busters film as a kid.
Why a feature film hasn’t been made about 617 and 9 Squadrons’ three raids on the Nazi battleship Tirpitz between September and November 1944 is a mystery. What an amazing story this is. It’s the first, unsuccessful raid, that is the most spectacular and highlights the extreme professionalism of RAF bomber crews during the war.
After ten attacks by the RAF and Royal Navy on the Tirpitz, the German Kriegsmarine arrogantly declared the ship “unsinkable” – always a foolish act, even if you fight for the closest regime to the devil the world has ever known. The Tirpitz was anchored in Alten Fjord, northern Norway, 3,000 miles from Britain and out of range of the Lancaster. So the decision was made by Churchill and Harris to attack from Yagodnik, a small base in northern Russia, 600 miles from Alten Fjord.
Wallis’ 12,000lb Tallboy was the weapon of choice, a 21-foot-long bugger of a bomb looking like a frozen great white shark. In total, 27 Lancasters from 617 and 9 Squadrons, with two Liberators carrying supplies, set off in evening sunshine northwards on September 10. As the aircraft neared the pole, their magnetic compasses started to flick from side to side, but the short night remained clear and navigators were able to plot courses by recognising fjords. Across the Gulf of Finland the aircraft flew, coming under light flack from trigger-happy reindeer-diners, but as morning grimly broke, the gaggle steered east for Yagodnik.
After ten hours flying, the Lancasters had separated. Fearing he was lost, Wing Commander Tait of 617 Squadron dropped the nose of his bomber to 500ft but was still in cloud. At 400ft, treetops were spotted, surrounded by mist. With fuel perilously low, Tait began to sweat, especially as his wireless operator had no luck picking up a radio signal from the air base. None of the other aircraft would either – the Soviet and RAF equipment were incompatible. With less than an hour’s fuel left, Tait’s bomb aimer spotted a river through the mist, a position was estimated, and Yagodnik sighted. Tait could make out three dots in the distance – a Lancaster landing and two others circling.
At the crucial moment where fuel would run out, Tait was horrified to hear that 13 Lancasters were missing. But it wasn’t long before messages began to be received from airfields and observers hundreds of miles around. All were safe.
Tony Iveson, now 83 and living in Surrey, was one of the missing 13. “In the end we thought about making a forced landing and saw a big field near a town that turned out to be Onega on the White Sea,” he remembers. “After striking off in two or three directions while we still had fuel, we went back there and landed. It was a disused airfield, with no runways. Then another Lancaster arrived flown by our American, Nicky Knilans. There was a Russian major who was the boss of the town. He wanted to know where we’d come from. When we said Lincolnshire, he couldn’t believe it. He had a contact number and discovered that we were authentic.”
Both Lancasters were brought supplies and their fuel tanks replenished. Take-off with a six-ton Tallboy rarely affected the Lancaster’s performance, but on this occasion Knilans didn’t use enough flap and shaved a hundred-yard length of woodland with his propellers. A branch smashed an icy hole in the bomb aimer’s position and Knilans flew the leg to Yagodnik with his hand over his face.
On September 15, the weather cleared and the Lancs lifted off, heading for that irritating 42,000-ton battleship. Tait had a dicky engine which shook his plane throughout the journey, but he climbed to 11,000 feet, scraping snow-covered peaks, until there, in the distance, could be seen the skulking shape of the dreaded Tirpitz. The squadrons were spotted by eagle-eyed watchmen on deck and a smoke screen hastily deployed.
“I saw the battleship over the nose of the Lanc and the smoke pots start up,” Iveson recalls. “By the time we got to bombing position, my bomber said, ‘I’m looking down at low cloud.’” In fact, smoke covered the ship and valley floor in seconds. Knilans bombed on the last spot seen, Iveson from the flash of Tirpitz’s guns. Nobody could be sure if Tirpitz was hit. The two squadrons doubled-back to the Soviet Union, refuelled and headed home, dejected. Six badly damaged Lancasters were left behind, one of which was repaired, given a glass nose dome and operated until 1946 by the Soviets, red stars crudely covering the RAF roundels.
Tirpitz was towed to Tromso – a site within reach of the RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland if Lancasters could be fitted with an additional 250-gallon fuel tank. The RAF couldn’t believe its luck. Two tons over maximum weight, with uprated Merlin 24 engines and a great deal of armament removed to save weight, a second attack was carried out. “But by the time we got there,” Iveson says, “there was thick cloud. I remember going down and down, as all the others did, but we were beaten by the weather.” Would this ship never die?
A third attack was scheduled for the next clear night and this arrived on November 12. Unknown to the Allies, Tirpitz was already beyond repair and being used as an “unsinkable fortress”, moored in a very sinkable 50ft of water. With seven tons of fuel and a six-ton bomb each, the Lancs took off at 3am for another crack. This time, conditions were ideal. Tirpitz, in the middle of protective torpedo nets, could be seen from 20 miles off. The great vessel quivered as a salvo rocketed towards the oncoming pack. The Tirpitz captain radioed for Luftwaffe assistance, but the Messerschmitts didn’t show. Her last line of defence, the smoke pots, hadn’t been primed. One by one, Tallboys screamed down, dropped using the latest bombsight equipment. Two crews scored direct hits, another hit the shore, and one bomb exploded five feet from her bow. Tirpitz rolled over, and the job was done.
Bomber Harris’ firm faves, the lads of 617, were once again required for a literally ground-breaking mission. By 1945, the Germans had been repelled on all fronts, and raids of 600-plus bombers shook the Fatherland to its troubled core. But there was a bigger surprise waiting, as on March 14, 1945, the 22,000lb Grand Slam, Barnes Wallis’ colossal “earthquake weapon”, was ready to greet Adolf Hitler and his demoralised nation.
The 26ft 6in Grand Slam had been dropped for the first time only the previous morning, creating a 130-feet wide crater in the New Forest, scattering wild ponies upwards, downwards, hither and thither. Grand Slam was too bulky to fit into the Lancaster’s bomb doors, so the doors were taken off and the bomb strapped to the belly. Bielefeld Viaduct in the Ruhr was the target for the new weapon, across which Wehrmacht and SS troops were passing without hindrance, going about their dreadful deeds. For the Germans, it was a vital rail link, but from 18,000ft up, hitting a rail line was said to be like aiming for a piece of string with a dart, which explains why the grand Bielefeld Viaduct had survived 7,000 standard bombs.
Some 32 Lancs, two Grand Slam’d up, the rest carrying Tallboys, groaned across the North Sea. Lawrence “Benny” Goodman, now 83, was one of the pilots on the mission, carrying a Tallboy. “It was a daylight raid, not at all bad,” he informs. “The idea was to cut lines of communication and that included things like viaducts. When you were at 18,000ft, a railway was very narrow, but we’d started using the SABS [bomb-aiming equipment]. Theoretically you could score a direct hit every time. Up to the initial point of the run in, the bomb aimer gave instructions. You had to fly at the correct height, the correct speed, straight and level, and you couldn’t take any avoiding action if you were shot at. The SABS did the rest.”
Close to the target, Squadron Leader Calder let his Grand Slam go. It fell for 35 seconds, there was seen “a squirt of mud” and the bomb cut 100ft deep into marshland mere feet away from an arch. The Grand Slam didn’t require a direct hit, as it would simply shake the vicinity to pieces. All was still as the delayed fuse counted a terrifying 11 seconds, before the marsh split in two, sending rocks and brickwork 500ft high. The bomb had created a gargantuan underground cavity, and whatever was on the surface simply fell into the hole. In a trick that would have enthralled supermodel-mesmerising illusionist David Copperfield, seven arches vanished. An enormous crater was later photographed by a reconnaissance aircraft. Wallis said the hole was “exquisite”.
Benny Goodman of 617 dropped a Grand Slam on Arnsberg Viaduct only five days after the Bielefeld raid. “I remember when we released the Grand Slam the aircraft jolted suddenly up in the air, rather like you might with a spring. My flight engineer insists that as the thing went off there was a large bang, as the bomb went through the air [it was breaking the sound barrier], but the Merlins were too noisy for me notice anything.”
In total, only 41 Grand Slams were dropped, compared to 854 Tallboys. After the viaduct attacks, the end of the war was only weeks away.
Deep in the Surrey countryside, 617 hero Tony Iveson opens the door to his home. With white hair in a side parting and a dapper accent, it’s easy to spot that Tony is from a military background. He’s 83 now. In Iveson’s dining room are pieces of Lancaster memorabilia, but most impressive is an original painting of a Lanc flying across snow-covered peaks. The mountains are in Norway, and the Lancaster – Iveson’s – is attacking the Tirpitz.
“The Lancaster was a very easy aeroplane to fly,” Iveson extols. “It was a pilot’s aeroplane – well I thought it was until that recent programme where they simulated the attack on the dams. Those jockeys found it heavy.”
Prior to joining Bomber Command, Iveson had flown Spitfires in the Battle of Britain and spent time as an instructor in Rhodesia. Due to his exceptional skills as a flight teacher, at Lancaster finishing school the 24-year-old was asked if he’d like to join the legendary 617 Squadron. “We all knew about 617,” he affirms. “I think we had it in our minds that it was a bit of a suicide squadron. We knew there were special duties.”
Iveson was involved with all three missions against the Tirpitz. “It could have been dangerous on the third run because the Germans had moved a fighter squadron to an airfield about 40 miles south of Tromso,” he shakes his head. “And I’ve since met one of their Me-109 pilots, and we were damn lucky. We got away with it by minutes. They made a cock of it. They missed us. The day was clear as a bell – you could see hundreds of miles.”
Each week, 617’s crews would take part in two or three life-threatening missions, filling in the remaining days with practice, which could be equally perilous.
“For the first few weeks at 617 I didn’t really enjoy my operational meal,’ Iveson recalls, “but when you got in the aircraft and were busy, doing a job, you were fine, but again one had time to contemplate on the way to a target. For instance, on the way to Tirpitz, one was wondering, ‘Where are these fighters?’ because we knew they were there. And when I actually got into trouble, as I did with Focke Wulf 190s over Bergen when I had an engine fire, I found that my training helped me. Whenever we were on a non-operational flight, when it was sensible on a take-off, I’d ask my flight engineer when it got to 200 or 300ft to shut down an engine. I’d say, ‘Don’t tell me which one,’ and then we would go through the drill. My feeling was, if we got practice, if it ever came about, particularly on a filthy night with a full load, you wouldn’t be thinking, ‘What do I do next?’ You just did it.”
Being under continual stress had an inevitable affect on the mental state of service pilots – Guy Gibson developed skin problems, and many suffered with nervous tics. For Iveson, following the war, he’d be revisited by the same two recurring nightmares. “One was that I was with two or three of my crew on the ground in a German city, in the moonlight, and we were crouching in a little lane, and over a wall I saw a woman in a window, pointing, as if to say, ‘There they are,’ and that came about from that fear that one day you might be shot down. The other was I’d be holding onto the stick of the Lancaster and nothing was happening – it was still going down, and I’d wake up shouting. My wife got fed up with this after a while, but it passed.”
At the war’s end, Iveson took advice from his father and left the RAF, embarking on a media career, finding employment with Granada TV, before moving into corporate financial PR. He retired in 1990. But Iveson is still in contact with his remaining crew, and as Chairman of Bomber Command Association, based at the RAF Museum in Hendon, he still comes across familiar faces from his past. “Oh there’s a few of us still around,” he smiles.
From over 7,000 Lancasters built, 16 survive, and of these, two are airworthy – there’s a Mk X owned by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Ontario, Canada, while in the UK, the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) operates PA474, a Mk I.
The BBMF Lancaster was built in mid-1945 for use in the Far East but was never needed. With the war over, PA474 was converted for photo reconnaissance and used in Africa. Semi-retirement came with a stretch at Handley Page as a test plane, but salvation was secured in 1964 when the Historical Air Branch took control of the bomber for restoration. In 1973, PA474 passed to the BBMF and has flown regularly at British air shows ever since.
The BBMF Lanc’s usual pilot is Flight Lieutenant Ed Straw, who has been a fan of the type since his schooldays. “I only fly the Lancaster as a voluntary weekend duty,” he says. “You still have to do your normal job. I fly an AWACS E-3D Sentry out of RAF Waddington. The Lancaster is an extra. It’s a delight – it’s solid, stable and relatively easy to fly.”
The Lancaster continues to be a firm favourite at air shows each year. “We get an amazing response,” Straw agrees. “We keep flying to honour the 55,000 Bomber Command aircrew who lost their lives. We feel that by keeping the aircraft flying, they won’t be forgotten. Nearly half of all Bomber Command men were lost in operations. Only U-boat crews lost a higher percentage of men than that, so these guys, their level of bravery and sacrifice can never be underestimated. We make a fuss of the veterans.”
It’s decided for the story that we need to witness PA474 in flight with our own eyes. So on a murky Friday, with a pal bribed with petrol money, we rip down the M4 to visit the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford. We’ve been told the aircraft will be arriving at 9.30am, and will then form a long line of static exhibits. But as the Law of Sod decrees, we become stuck down a narrow country lane at exactly the time we said we’d meet up with Flt Lt Straw. A rickety old lady laboriously directs her cows across our path. After ten minutes we turn the engine off. Then we recognise the familiar moan of the Merlins, and there, flying no higher than 300ft, a few fields away, is spotted the Lancaster, just for a few seconds, showing its rich brown and green camouflage. We spill from the car and fill with pride – you wonderful, wonderful machine. The old lady with cows turns and smiles, teeth long since departed. “It’s a Lancaster,” she excitedly points out.
On-site, an F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter, a pair of F-15E Strike Eagles and, worryingly, the Polish aerobatics team, in seemingly reconditioned FSO Polonez with wings, defy the intermittent sunshine and rain. Although there are frequent heavy downpours, a crowd of fans young and old, but mostly young, roll up in their thousands to soak in the history of the parked-up Lancaster.
Flt Lt Ed Straw is about to scarper for Coningsby and his AWACS, but we sneak in a question as he strolls to an awaiting car. Why do we love the Avro Lancaster so much – you must know? He shakes his head because he can’t quite pinpoint what it is: “We get crowds wherever we go,” he shrugs. “Sky News asked me the other day why kids are so interested in the Lancaster. The thing is, I don’t know why. I can only give you my own reasons. I thought they were unique. The way it looks, the way it sounds – I just think it’s a very powerful, emotive aircraft.”
The Lancaster family
Manchester – Two-engined precursor to the Lancaster. A disaster.
Lancaster – The Mk I and III were Bomber Command’s wartime workhorses. The Mk II was powered by Bristol Hercules engines in case the Merlin went tits up.
York – Wartime transport version of the Lancaster, used in the Berlin Airlift.
Lancastrian – Post-war civilian and freight version of the Lancaster, carrying a maximum of 19 passengers.
Lincoln – Originally designated Lancaster Mk IV and V for war in the Far East. Never needed. In service until 1955.
Shackleton – First delivered to Coastal Command in 1951. The “Growler” lasted in RAF service until 1991, a lengthy stay due to the ill-fated, billion-quid flop, the Nimrod AEW 3.
You’re pulling my Lanc
* Lancasters made up 60 per cent of the RAF’s sorties during the war – 156,308 missions, dropping 608,612 tons of bombs.
* Total production of the Lancaster was 7,377, including 430 made in Canada. During the war, 3,345 were reported missing.
* The last Lancasters in RAF service were used in a maritime role and were withdrawn in 1954.
* The Royal Canadian Air Force flew Mark X Lancasters until 1964.
* The crew of a Lancaster suffered through cold, and the chilliest person was the rear gunner. The radio operator, meanwhile, was sat close to hot air outlets from the wings and often too hot.
* In The Dam Busters movie, the bouncing bomb is seen as a misshapen ball. Still top secret in 1954 when the film was made, the bomb was in fact cylindrical.
* While breaching small model dams in the Midlands prior to the Dam Busters raid, an Air Ministry press release records, “Allotment holders were bewildered and annoyed when a sudden onrush of water swept down and inundated their plots.”
* The Lancaster credited with the most ops was ED888, which flew 139 missions with 103 and 576 Squadrons. It survived the war but was scrapped in January 1947.
* Today, thousands of British holidaymakers taunt Germans in the Mediterranean by raising their arms and singing the theme from The Dam Busters film. Spanish DJs are happy to mix up the tension.
* Carling Black Label’s 1989 Dam Busters advert had a German guard saving Barnes Wallis’s bouncing bombs with the ease of Sepp Maier.
The Friendly Skies
Lawrence “Benny” Goodman’s most amazing moment in a 617 Squadron Lancaster
“We were coming back from a daylight raid, from Hamburg, and suddenly my flight engineer, sat next to me in the jump seat, nudged me. He’s still the same, he won’t use one word if half will do. He nudged me, and I looked across, and I thought there was something wrong with one of the engines.
“I couldn’t see anything wrong, so I looked back, and a few seconds later he nudged me again and I looked out of the window and there, in formation with me, was a Messerschmitt 262, the twin-jet fighter aircraft, in formation with me. It flew with us for a few minutes, and a minute’s a long time, and we thought afterwards that he must have run out of ammunition.
“We didn’t wave to each other as happens in the films. But he was looking at us, into the cockpit. I think I was too surprised to do anything so we flew together for a while. I had no armament, and it was quite obvious that he would have shot us down if he could.”