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THE AVRO LANCASTER
IMAGE COPYRIGHT GARRY R FENTON, AVIATION DESIGN STUDIO.
This is the aircraft used by the aircrews that flew from Fiskerton. Designed by Roy Chadwick, the Avro Lancaster was developed from the disastrous Manchester. The Lancaster entered operational service in 1942.They had a crew of seven: Pilot, Flight Engineer, Radio Operator, Bomb Aimer/front Gunner, Navigator, Mid Upper Gunner and Rear Gunner. It was powered by four superbly British engineered Rolls Royce Merlin engines and was able to carry heavy bomb loads over long distances during flights lasting up to eight hours and at very reasonable airspeeds.
A total of 7,377 were built in the UK and Canada. The Castle Bromwich factory alone employed 12,000 persons on Lancaster production. The Canadian built Lancasters being ferried over via Iceland using Female ferry pilots. Fifty nine squadrons operated the Lancaster, flying some 156,000 sorties. Flying mostly at night, losses to aircraft and crews was very high. Facing appalling dangers and hardships, the crews took off not knowing if they would ever see their bases again.
Many more would die in training accidents. 15% of aircrew losses occurred in training accidents. Many would die returning to their bases after a long and terrifying sortie with battle damaged aircraft and dead or injured men at the controls. Bad weather and the dreaded fog would take its toll on tired crews many becoming lost and crashing into the freezing wastes of the North Sea.
A Lancaster crew was expected to survive for three weeks only. A crew could fly one night and be lost on the next night. Luck played a huge part. Of the total number of Lancasters built, half were lost by the end of the war. In one month alone-when the losses were at their highest, of sixteen 49 Squadron crews based at Fiskerton, 3 completed their tour of 30 operations, 1 crew were listed as prisoners of war, 1 crew was listed as killed in action and 10 crews were listed as failing to return, a staggering loss rate of 80%. Confined crew positions and bulky flying gear made it almost impossible to escape a crashing Lancaster.
If operational life was bad-life on the ground wasn't much better. Tin hut accommodation on hastily built airfields was freezing cold in winter and baking hot in summer. The accommodation sites could be miles from the messes and dining halls. Never enough food, he crews took pills to keep them awake when on ops and pills to make them sleep if they returned.
And when it was all over, some of those who survived stayed in the RAF. Most went back to the routine of civilian life. How strange it must have been for former aircrew after their wartime life. Over the years, some would revisit their former wartime homes but many would not. A veteran told me that he still looks up into the night sky and checks the weather forecast even after all these years bad weather meant an even more hellish night than usual.
The serial number of every Lancaster produced is available and is listed together with its eventual fate. Many are listed as lost with the date and target. Many are listed as simply missing. At the end of hostilities, the Lancasters which survived were simply broken up for scrap.
Lancasters operating from Fiskerton were involved in many important operations during the bombing campaign. These include: the "Shuttle" raids, targets in the heavily defended Ruhr valley, the heart of Nazi Germany's war production, the long cold dangerous flights to Berlin in the winter of 1943/4 when the losses to aircraft and crews was the highest of the war, the daring raid on the Schneider factory at Le Creusot when 49 Squadron were given the honor of leading the attack , the vitally important and top-secret raid on the Nazi rocket development facility at Peenemunde and the last raid of the war on the die hard SS stronghold at Berchtesgaden. Immediately after the end of hostilities, 576 Squadron began Operation Manna the Arial supply of food to starving Dutch civilians and the repatriation of allied Prisoners of war.
For anyone interested in learning about the Lancaster and the bombing campaign, there is a wealth another equally good way is through books on the subject. Local libraries stock many books. One such series of books is called: "The Lancaster at War" series. This excellent collection of books has thousands of images taken at the time on operational airfields, Fiskerton included, together with detailed accounts and stories by the persons who actually took part at the time.
Of the personal and factual/historical stories of Bomber Command, there are thousands. Stories of astonishing selfless bravery, pilots remaining at the controls of burning aircraft to give their crews a chance to bail out, knowing they themselves would not survive. Stories of incredible devotion to duty, of veteran crews who had completed their tour of ops but volunteered (all aircrew were volunteers) for a second tour of 20 operations. Individuals who offered to help with a crew shortage-many paying the ultimate price for their heroism.
Senior officers who led by example and flew when not always required to. And the tragic stories, crew members like P/O Mynarski, a Canadian who was attempting to free a trapped crew mate when his clothes and parachute caught fire forcing to jump to his death his name lives on with the Canadian flying Lancaster being named after him, Crews who were lost on their final mission of the tour. Crews who were lost on their first mission of the tour, some crews did not even had time to unpack their kit before being posted as missing and the crews who were lost in the final days of the war. And the stories of incredible luck: crews who flew their tour and never encountered a night fighter or fired a shot in anger and every op was routine and uneventful.
It is not easy for post war generations like mine to understand what it must have been like all those years ago. All we have to look at are old black and white photos of war weary planes and young men who were about 19 but looked much older. But if you read of the stories, visit the airfields and the heritage centre and study enough, I believe it is possible to get a small insight, a feel even of how these young men lived during those dark years.