Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Avro Lancaster

Thumper and Vera, The Last Canadian and English Lancasters Flying
Under the cover of darkness, on May 17,1943, nineteen Lancaster heavy bombers of Royal Air Force Bomber Command, flew over the coast of occupied Europe on a most secret mission. The crews were specially trained and the aircraft specially prepared to carry barrel shaped bombs designed by Barnes Wallis. As the targets loomed closer, the designated aircraft initiated their attack runs at very low altitude. The first Lancaster released its bomb, followed by the other aircraft in its group, and as each pulled away the crew could see the bomb bouncing along the surface of the lake towards its concrete target, striking it and finally sinking and exploding. Back at base the news broke—Lancasters of 617 Squadron had breached the Moehne, Eder and Sorpe dams in northwest Germany, and had caused major flooding of the vital Ruhr Valley industrial area. The floods had drowned some 1,200 German workers, but the cost was high with the loss of eight RAF Lancaster bombers and their crews. This daring venture, and the sinking of the German battleship Tirpitz in a Norwegian fjord in 1944, are the best known of all the exploits of the Lancaster, yet it was as the ceaseless night-time destroyer of German industrial centers and cities that it did most to bring the war to a close. 

Night Flight - Photo Chris Lord
The Lancaster bomber holds a special place of affection mingled with a great deal of pride in the hearts of British and Commonwealth citizens—feelings which perhaps find their parallel in the hearts of Americans toward the B-17 Flying Fortress. Just as the Spitfire epitomized the Commonwealth's supreme spirit of defiance in the face of seemingly irresistible defeat, so the evening sight and sound of streams of Lancasters "heading out" toward the heartland of the German Reich was the ultimate translation of a war weary people's will to see the Nazi military and industrial machine—the source of colossal suffering for so much of the world—battered into oblivion. 

The Lancaster flew for the first time on January 9,1941 as a four-engined development of the Avro Manchester. The RAF began to equip with Mk Is in early 1942, and used them first on March 10th against targets in Essen. Altogether, more than 7,300 Lancasters were produced in Britain as Mks I to VII and Canada as Mk Xs, and they dropped more than 608,000 tons of bombs on 156,000 wartime missions. Some Lancasters were still flying with the RAF in the early 1950s as maritime-reconnaissance, photo-reconnaissance and rescue aircraft.

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