Since writing this original post, I have reflected on what was perhaps an overly harsh appraisal of my inability to access the ‘Phantom’ owing to an Aston Martin Owners club event. Perhaps my original comments were based purely on my disappointment at not being able to get up close to the old girl. The circumstances of the meet event were not known to me at the time and as they have now been explained, I was unfair to describe the attendees as a ‘bunch of idiots’, after all, they have a passion and a hobby through their ownership of Aston Martins, much as I do over the history of 75(NZ) Squadron – each to their own, live and let live………..
Obviously, I now stand in a difficult editorial position, by leaving my original comments, I potentially stand to offend other Aston Martin owners, by removal I can be accused of running away from an original comment and being accused ‘airbrushing’ the past comment…….
For the sake of diplomacy I have gone with the latter option.
2 days since I was stood looking up at ‘Just Jane’ at East Kirkby and I am once again stood staring at another Lancaster – this time at RAF Coningsby, at the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. It’s wonderful to see another Lancaster, but its a slight shame that an arranged visit by the Aston Martin Owners club means that we can’t get onto the tarmac to see her up close.
PA474 is one of only two Lancaster aircraft remaining in airworthy condition out of the 7,377 that were built (the other is in Canada with the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum at Hamilton, Ontario). PA474 rolled off the production line at the Vickers Armstrong Broughton factory at Hawarden Airfield, Chester on 31 May 1945 (ironically not far from where I now live), just after the war in Europe came to an end, so she was prepared for use against the Japanese as part of the ‘Tiger Force’. However, the war in the Far East also ended before she was deployed and she did not take part in any hostilities.
At the time of my visit she still carried the nose art and markings of the ‘Phantom of the Ruhr’ EE139 who flew with 100 and 550 Squadron between May 1943 and November 1944. EE139 was one of only 35 of the 7,377 Lancasters built that searched a total of 100+ operations. Sadly in hindsight, after 121 ops completed EE139 was scrapped in February 1946.
Not to be outdone, I should mention that NE181, JN-M of 75 (NZ) Squadron is believed to be first RNZAF aircraft to complete over 100 operations (estimated to be approx. 101). She was named “The Captain’s Fancy”, the usual mount of ”C Flight Commander, Squadron Leader Jack Bailey. Despite the urging of the RNZAF aircrews and commanders, the New Zealand Government refused to pay for her to be shipped back to New Zealand and she, like EE139 was scrapped.
From the BBMF’s website:
The Avro Lancaster is the most famous and successful RAF heavy bomber of World War Two. It is a legend that lives on today and the contribution made by the aircraft and its crews to the freedom of our nation will, hopefully, never be forgotten. The prototype Lancaster took to the air for its first flight from Woodford, Manchester, on 9th January 1941; the first production Lancaster flew later that year on 31st October. The first RAF unit to receive the new aircraft for operations (on Christmas Eve 1941) was No44 Squadron at Waddington, quickly followed by 97 Squadron at Woodhall Spa. The performance of the Lancaster was simply outstanding. It could carry a maximum bomb load of 22,000 lb, its maximum level speed with a full load at 15,000 feet was 275 mph and it could cruise routinely at altitudes above 20,000ft at a range speed of 200 mph. With a full bomb load the aircraft had a range in excess of 1,500 miles. The Lancaster’s performance, its ruggedness, reliability and to many its sheer charisma, endeared it to its crews who were proud to fly this famous thoroughbred.
An impressive total of 7,377 Lancasters were built between 1941 and early 1946. Of these, some 3,500 were lost on operations and another 200 or so were destroyed or written off in crashes. The vast majority of those Lancasters that did survive the war were simply scrapped when their services were no longer required, as the reverence in which the aircraft is now held had yet to develop to the point where their preservation seemed important.
The Lancaster did not carry the weight of the night bombing offensive against Nazi Germany on its own but was supported by other earlier twin-engine bombers such as the Wellington and the other four-engine RAF heavy bombers – the Stirling and the Halifax – as well as medium bomber versions of the twin-engine De Havilland Mosquito. In total some 125,000 aircrew served in Bomber Command during World War Two; over 73,700 of them became casualties, either killed, wounded or shot down and made PoWs.
In a letter to the head of Avro after the war, Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Harris, the Commander in Chief of Bomber Command, said of the Lancaster:
“I would say this to those who placed that shining sword in our hands: Without your genius and efforts we could not have prevailed, for I believe that the Lancaster was the greatest single factor in winning the war.”
Visit the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight webpage here