The British Lancaster Bomber


TheBritish Avro Lancaster was a  4-engined  heavy bomber of World War II.  The “Lanc” was powered by 4 Rolls Royce Merlin piston engines and a 13 foot de Havilland Hydromatic propeller.

The Lancaster could carry  up to 12,000 lbs of various types of bombs.  It first saw service with the RAF (Royal Air Force) Bomber Command in 1942 as part of the Allied Strategic Bombing offensive.

It was used primarily for night time bombing campaigns over Europe and became one of the more famous and successful night-time bombers during World War II.

It delivered 608,612 tons of bombs to the enemy flying 156,000 sorites (missions).  Modified Lancasters  could carry the giant 22,000 lb Grand Slam earthquake bomb the largest of any conventional bomb in World War II.

Avro produced 7,377 “Lancs” for the RAF, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), and Royal Australian Air Force.  It’s first flight was 09 January 1941 and was retired by the last user  theRCAF in 1965.

Design and Development

In the 1930’s the RAF was primarily  interested in twin-engine bombers.  However to be effective these twin engined aircraft had to have powerful engines which were at the time still in the development stage.

A power plant of 2,000 hp was still on the drawing boards.  During the late 1930’s none of the big engine designs were ready for production.

Both the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) and the Soviet  Air Force were working on bombers with 4 smaller engines.   In 1936, the RAF also decided to into the feasibility of the four engined bomber.

The origins of the Lancaster stemmed from to requests from the RAF Air Ministry for designs for twin-engine bomber and a four engine bomber.

Most of the responses came from such companies of the mid-thirties as Fairey, Boulton Paul,Handley Page,  Shorts and several smaller companies.

However these focused on the 2 engine aircraft.  It was Aero, British aviation company that submitted a design for an four-engined bomber.  Avro Aircrafts design was selected with Handley Page as a ‘back-up”.

The new bomber was a built as a prototype  and a contract was given to Avro to built 200 of the new “Manchester” bombers.  In 1940, when the first of the Manchesters came out, they were underpowered and the engines unreliable.  The contract was quickly withdrawn.

Chief design engineer Roy Chadwick was not to be deterred.    Later in the year a new and improved design came out called the Lancaster.  It had a larger fuselage and used the new Rolls Royce Merlin engines, although smaller then the Vulture engine on the Manchester,  the new engine was more reliable.

On 09 January 1941, the Lancaster prototype flrw for the first time.  It seemed the prototype was “right” from the git-go .  This prototype had a three fin tail, which did provide some minor instability and a few other various minor problems  that all new aircraft have.

The second prototype provided a new, and more  familiar,  twin tail assembly.  The change provides more stability and a grater areas for the dorsal gunner vision in the rear of the aircraft.  A new Rolls Royce Merlin XX engine which was more powerful than it’s predecessor.   In October, the first production Lancaster rolled off the assembly line with the new Merlin XX engines.

The RAF Air Ministry issued an production order for 1,070 “Lancs”.  As with so many wartime equipment by the military, Aero could not produce fast enough the required product.  Thus, affiliate manufacturing companies were brought into the “family”, each company building separate parts to be assembled at a  designed location.

In 1942, the Lancaster began production in Malton, Ontario, Canada as 430 Lancs were built there.  These model  became the Lancaster B I versions and were so “right” that very little changes in their productions through 1946.

Operational History

The Lancaster’s  first wartime operational mission  was on 02 March 1942 and was a rather routine one of in laying mines near a British port..  The first bombing mission occured on 10 March 1942 over Essen Germany.

Although the Lancaster had been designed to conduct nighttime bombing operations, on 17 April 1942, two squadrons  conducted a daytime raid on an enemy engine factory in Bavaria.  Due to the high loss of men and aircraft, daytime raids by the Lancaster were sparingly flown.

During 1942, the Lancaster supply was short and training was done by individual squadrons.  It is interesting to note that the Lancaster did not provide a co-pilot’s station.

When training a new pilot, the instructor did not have direct access to the controls thus the pilot’ first flight was “hands off” from the instructor.

A particularly famous raid on the Ruhr Valley dams with “bouncing bombs” was conducted 17-18 May 1943.  Later a movie was made called The Dam Busters all about the “Bouncing Bombs”.

In July of 1943, there were a large number of Lancaster raids on Hamburg as part of the 24 hour continuous raids on that city.

On another famous raid by Lancasters was the sinking of the famous  German Battleship Tirpitz.  Using the “Tallboy” bomb of 12,000 lbs, 3 squadrons damaged and sunk the Tirpitz  in a fjord in Occupied Norway.

In early 1945 the 22,000 lbs Grand Slam, was the largest conventional weapon developed during World War II.  It was used in key German cities that had built heavy reinforced concrete military facilities  such as underground command posts or bunkers.

In the final days of the war, Lancasters destroyed Eagle Nest , the mountain retreat of German leader  Adolf Hitler.  By then Hitler was in an underground bunker in Berlin.

The Lancaster flew 156,000 sorties between 1942 and 1945 dropping 618,378 toms of bombs.  The Lancaster losses during those times was 3,429 lost in action.

Adolf Galland, Commandeer of the Luftwaffe Fighters considered the Lancaster to be the best night bomber of the war.

The achievements of the Lancaster and the men who flew it have been widely acclaimed and largely exaggerated as the ” greatest single factor of winning the war. ”  But it certainly was a large contributing factor.  We salute their bravery!

Where you can see the Avro Lancaster


FM104 City of Toronto Museums and Heritages Services Toronto, Ontario

FM136 The Hangar Flight Museum Calgary, Alberta

FM159 Bomber Command Museum of Canada Nanton, Alberta

FM212 Canadian Historical Aircraft Association Windsor, Ontario

FM213* Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, Hamilton Ontario                    *(Airworthy )

KB839 Greenwood Military Aviation Museum Greenwood, Nova Scotia

KB882 National Air Force Museum of Canada, Trenton, Ontario

KB944 Canada Aviation and Space Museum Ottawa, Ontario

This is Just a Partial List of the Avro Lancaster, Check With Your Local Air Museum for More Information 


Wingspan:     102 ft 0 in 

Length:           69 ft 4 in 

Height:           20 ft 6 in 

Weight:           36,900 lbs (empty) 68,000 (*MGTOW)

Max Speed:     282 mph

Ceiling:            21,400 ft 

Range:             2,530 mi  

Engine:           4/Rolls Royce Merlin Inline XX liquid cooled V-12 engines @                               1,280 hp each                            

Crew:               7


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