I woke up this morning to see the exciting news on the New Zealand Bomber Command Facebook page, that the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland has announced their Lancaster will be repainted in the markings and nose art of 75(NZ) Squadron RAF NE181 JN-Mike – ‘The Captains Fancy’.
The Lancaster on display at MOTAT was built in June 1945. NX665 was destined for service in the Pacific as part of the proposed Allied invasion of Japan. However, Japanese surrender in September 1945 made the deployment unnecessary. The aircraft instead went into storage at Llandow until sold to the French navy in 1951.
Following acquisition by the French, NX665 was given the military registration WU13, and deployed first in France, then Morocco and Algeria on anti-submarine patrol, maritime reconnaissance, and air-sea rescue operations. After service in North Africa, WU13 returned to France in preparation for deployment in the Pacific with Escardrille 9S based in Noumea, New Caledonia. This was the aircraft’s last period of active service before being gifted to MOTAT as a good will gesture to New Zealand by the French Government.
‘The Captains Fancy’ holds a special fascination with 75(NZ) Squadron as it was the only aircraft in the Squadron to pass its ‘century’ of completed Operations. Perhaps inevitably because of this ‘fame’ there is a degree of ‘fogginess’ that exists around the aircraft, regarding the exact number of Ops credited to it and even in some quarters, what crew and what date the magic figure of 100 Ops final was recorded. The mystery is compounded by the fact that ‘Mike’ never carried more that 101 bombs (indicating Ops completed), even though research strongly suggests this figure is possibly 104 – after leaving Mepal for maintenance, it returned, but the ORB’s seem to contain inaccuracies regarding ‘Mike’s’ further flights and in some cases it is a matter of vigorous conjecture as to whether the aircraft listed are others or in fact NE181. What we do know of course is that ‘Mike’ DID complete at least 101 Ops whilst with the Squadron – so I am very interested to see how MOTAT will present and try to communicate the disparity between the ‘official’, painted total and the higher figure that many, including myself, think she reached.
The bittersweet irony of this aircraft’s presence in the Museum is that the officers in 75(NZ) Squadron lobbied hard to have NE181 bought home (some believe the maintenance break towards the end of the war was as much to prepare ‘Mike’ for the flight back home as it was to simply overhaul her for further Ops). Despite the desire of the Squadron to bring the old girl back home with them, it would appear that the New Zealand government baulked at the fuel bill for the homeward flight……..
See a past post by Ian and Chris regarding the mystery of the final Ops and in fact whereabouts of NE181 here.