Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Avro Lancaster - Britain's Greatest Wartime Bomber

BEING new boys after our arrival at No. 100 Squadron at RAF Waltham near Grimsby in late May 1943, we were surprised to be assigned a brand new Lancaster Mk.III. She was a good example of the type, and someone had pencilled on the back of the armour plate behind the pilots seat 'May good luck follow you always'. The Lancaster was pleasant to fly, being light on the controls, but could be a bit skittish landing on the main wheels instead of a three-pointer after any slight misjudgement. We had a week of local flying before our first operation to Diisseldorf. Entering the briefing room, I saw that I was bottom of the list of captains on the Battle Order. When one of them was erased, the rest of us moved up a notch. Of course sometimes the bottom one was rubbed out, but it was idle to speculate about one s progress up the list. Loaded as we were with H.E., incendiaries, ammunition and 1,600 gallons of fuel, it was our first heavy weight take-off and we needed most of the runway. We left the assembly point at Mablethorpe on the coast at 22,000 feet and darkness soon fell as we headed away from the sun. An unexpected experience was the occasional lurch as we flew into the slipstream of unseen Lancasters ahead with no navigation lights on. Night fighters usually came in from behind and below and we relied on Geoff Green in the rear turret to spot them. It was much easier for them to see us with our flaming exhausts, than it was for us to pick out the small shapes in the starlight. In moonlight it was easier for everybody! From a distance the flak barrage over the target was like a bunch of firework sparklers, along with the probing searchlights and gun flashes. Doug Wheeler, our bomb aimer, had the best view of the inferno below and was it was up to me to keep the aircraft steady on the bombing run. After he called 'Bombs Gone', the Lane became much livelier and we turned away for home.