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About Lancaster Bombers

by Marshall of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur T. Harris,
wartime chief of Bomber Command

Windsor's Lancaster FM 212 on display in Jackson Park, Windsor
Photo by Spike Bell P.P.A. Certified, M. Photog. M.P.A.

During World War II the Lancaster was the most successful bomber used by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force. The Lanc had speed, ceiling, and lifting power that no other aircraft of the day could match. Weighing 36,900 pounds empty, the Lancaster was capable of taking off with an additional 33,100 pounds of fuel and bombs; in other words it could almost carry its own weight again. The Lancaster carried 64% of the tonnage dropped by the RAF and RCAF during the war. The “Grand Slam,” a 22,000 pound special purpose bomb designed to penetrate concrete and explode below the surface to create an earthquake effect, could only be delivered by the Lancaster and the Lancaster was thus chosen for special operations such as the “Dambusters” raid and the attack which sunk the German Battleship Tirpitz.

Lancasters were built to accomplish their specific purpose and crew comfort and security was clearly a secondary consideration. Generally flying under the cover of darkness, the Lancaster had virtually no defensive armour. The front, mid-upper, and rear gun turrets were hydraulically powered and carried a total of eight .303 calibre machine guns for defence against enemy aircraft.

Windsor’s own Lancaster as she looked while still in service.

The crew worked in cramped conditions, particularly the air gunners who remained at their posts for the entire flight. Some had to place their flight boots into the turrets before climbing in, and then put their boots on. At night and at 20,000 feet the temperature in the turrets frequently fell to minus forty degrees and frostbite was not uncommon. Air gunners manned the rear and mid-upper gun turrets. A pilot, flight engineer, navigator, wireless operator, and bomb aimer/front gunner completed the crew of seven.

The Lanc's massive bomb bay stretched for 33 feet and, unlike other bombers, was one continuous uninterrupted space. Partly for this reason, the Lanc had the versatility to undertake raids with large, specialized weapons. However, this meant that the main wing spars became obstacles to movement within the aircraft, particularly for airmen wearing heavy clothing and flight boots.

Of the total of 7377 Lancasters built (430 of them in Canada), 3932 were lost in action. During the war Lancasters flew a total of 156 308 sorties and dropped 608,612 tons of bombs, and placed over 12,000 mines in enemy waters.

Another view of the FM212 Lancaster taken by Ronald Blaine Fluhrer in 1965 shortly after she was installed in Jackson Park, Windsor, Ontario. Forty years later, she was moved to a hangar at Windsor Airport for restoration work and given the name "Bad Penny" in memory of Windsor Pilot Bob Upcott's heroic first flight.

Some of the aircraft's finest hours were in “non-offensive” operations as the war was about end and shortly after peace finally was in place. The first of these was during “Operation Manna.” Lancaster squadrons dispatched a total of 3,156 sorties to drop 6,684 tons of food supplies to the starving Dutch in May 1945. The second saw many of the Lancaster squadrons tasked to return Allied Prisoners of War from various locations throughout Europe back to England. In a period of 24 days a total of 2900 round trips were flown and 74,000 ex-POW's were returned.

With the end of hostilities on all war fronts, the Lancaster was by no means finished in its service. The RAF continued to use the aircraft in various roles including photographic and maritime duties until October 1956. The Royal Canadian Air Force, who flew back many of the surviving Mk.X's back to Canada, continued to use the aircraft in photographic and maritime reconnaissance roles until the early 1960s. The last three RCAF Lancasters were retired at a ceremony on April 1, 1964.

Lancaster Bombers

starAbout Lancaster Bombers
starWindsor’s Own Lancaster Bomber FM 212
starWindsor’s “Bad Penny” on the Move