Lancaster Street – The Avro Lancaster Bomber
The Avro Lancaster was a British four-engine Second World War bomber aircraft made initially by the A. V. Roe Company for the British Royal Air Force (RAF). It first saw active service in 1942, and together with the Handley-Page Halifax it was one of the main heavy bombers of the RAF, the RCAF and squadrons from other Commonwealth and European countries serving within RAF Bomber Command. The “Lanc” or “Lankie,” as it became affectionately known, became the most famous and most successful of the Second World War night bombers, “delivering 608,612 tons of bombs in 156,000 sorties.” Although the Lancaster was primarily a night bomber, it excelled in many other roles including daylight precision bombing, and gained worldwide renown as the “Dam Buster” used in the 1943 Operation Chastise raids on Germany’s Ruhr Valley dams.
The Lancaster was born with superb handling characteristics, relatively high speed and the capability of hauling a heavy load over a long distance. If empty of bombs it could fly on one engine, although losing height. On two engines it could maintain level flight. It could be handled like a fighter aircraft, being able to dive sharply to over 400 mph. These characteristics helped a lot of bomber crews reach their targets and get home again.
The majority of Lancasters built during the war years were manufactured by Avro at their factory at Chadderton near Manchester and test flown from Woodford Aerodrome in Cheshire. Other Lancasters were built by Metropolitan-Vickers, Armstrong Whitworth and Victory Aircraft. The aircraft was also produced at the Austin Motor Company works in Longbridge, Birmingham later in the Second World War and postwar at Chester by Vickers-Armstrongs.
Of later variants, only the Canadian-built Lancaster B X manufactured by Victory Aircraft in Malton, Ontario was produced in significant numbers. A total of 430 of this type were built, earlier examples differing little from their British-built predecessors, except for using Packard-built Merlin engines and American-style instrumentation and electrics. A total of 7,377 Lancasters of all marks were built throughout the duration of the war, each at a 1943 cost of £45-50,000 (approximately equivalent to $2.6 – 3.0 million in today’s Canadian currency).
The most famous use of the Lancaster was probably the 1943 mission, codenamed Operation Chastise, to destroy the dams of the Ruhr Valley. The mission was carried out by the 617 Squadron in modified Mk IIIs carrying special drum shaped bouncing bombs designed by Barnes Wallis. The story of the mission was later made into a film, The Dam Busters. Another famous action was a series of attacks using Tallboy bombs, including one carried out by No. 617 Squadron from a temporary base at Yagodnik in the Soviet Union sinking the German battleship Turpitz.
With the end of hostilities both in Europe and the Far East, the Lancaster was by no means finished in its service to the various Air Forces who operated them. The RAF continued to use the aircraft in various rolls including photographic and maritime reconnaissance up until October 1956. The Royal Canadian Air Force, who flew back many of the surviving Mk.X’s to Canada, also continued to use the aircraft again in photographic and maritime rolls until the late 1950’s.