The Long Return

Bob Porter's Story of the War Years...

The Lancaster


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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.

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.

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.


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Of the total of 7377 Lancasters built, 3932 were lost in action. During the war Lancasters flew a total of 156,000 sorties and dropped 608,612 tons of bombs. 55,000 aircrew, including 10,000 Canadians, were killed serving in Bomber Command. During much of the war 5% of the bombers which set out each night failed to return making service in bombers the most dangerous field in the allied military.


What is probably the finest tribute to the aircraft was written by Marshall of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur T. Harris, wartime chief of Bomber Command:


"The finest bomber of the war! Its efficiency was almost incredible, both in performance and in the way it could be saddled with ever-increasing loads without breaking the camel's back. The Lancaster far surpassed all the other types of heavy bombers. Not only could it take heavier bomb loads, not only was it easier to handle, and not only were there fewer accidents than with other types, the casualty rate was also consistently below those of other types."


"The Lancaster took the major part in winning the war with its attacks on Germany. On land it forced the Germans to retrieve from their armies half their sorely needed anti-tank guns for use by over a million soldiers who would otherwise have been serving in the field. The Lancaster won the naval war by destroying over one-third of the German submarines in their ports, together with hundreds of small naval craft and six of their largest warships. Above all, the Lancaster won the air war by taking the major part in forcing Germany to concentrate on building and using fighters to defend the Fatherland, thereby depriving their armies of essential air and particularly bomber support."