Deadly nocturnal encounter over Germany
Part Two: The Avro Lancaster bomber
by Bjørn Jacobsen
The Avro Lancaster was the most famous and successful main heavy bomber used by the RAF Bomber Command in WWII.
It first saw active service in 1942 and, as the
strategic bombing offensive over Europe
gathered momentum and the Lancaster was
the central implement for the night-time
bombing campaigns that followed.
The "Lanc", as it was affectionately known,
flew more than 156,000 sorties in WWII and
dropped a total of 608,000 tons of high
explosive bombs and more than 51 million
A long, unobstructed bomb bay meant that the Lancaster could take the largest bombs used by the RAF, including the 12,000 lb (5,400 kg) blockbusters. However, the loads, especially for the night bombing of German cities, consisted often of many smaller bombs or/and incendiaries.
Total of 7.377 Lancasters was built. Of these,
some 3,500 were lost on operations
There is no doubt that flying in a British bomber
during WWII was one of the most dangerous
Before the Lancaster arrived at the battlefield, much
of the RAF bombing was hit-and-miss stuff.
The Lancaster took the war to Germany.
In daylight and without any fighter escort, the British
bombers were easy prey for the German fighters.
The losses were so high that the British stopped
daylight bombing and started night-time
bombing, hoping this would give better odds.
The problem, however, was that Germany was
increasingly better defended by radar-equipped
night-fighters and radar-directed anti-aircraft
Not only a thousand German night fighters were
hunting for the Lancasters every night, but the
world’s largest AA force was also ready for the
night bombers: In September 1943, no fewer
than 9000 88mm cannons and 25.000
20mm/37mm light flak guns were waiting for
the bombers. And the number of German AA increased every night...
The chance of survival in a Lancaster was considerably worse than in the trenches of WWI.
Indeed, Russian roulette would have been safer.
More than half of men in the Bomber Command — 55,573 men — did not survive the war.
Less than 30 per cent made it through without being killed, injured or captured.
On average, of every 100 aircrew serving
with Bomber Command:
56 were killed or died of their wounds
3 were injured on operations
12 were taken prisoner
2 were shot down, but escaped
27 survived a compete tour of operations
The Lancaster was the most important British
bomber, but did not carry the weight of the night
bombing offensive against Germany on its own.
It was supported by other bombers such as
the Wellington, the Stirling and the Halifax.
Unlike its American brethren, the Lancaster lacked a belly turret and waist gunners for
additional defence. Besides, it had only eight small calibre machineguns (0.303 / 7,7mm) which were less effective than the 0.5 (12,7mm) which the American used. In comparison, the B-17 had thirteen 0.5 machineguns for defence.
This made the Lancaster very vulnerable every
time a German night fighter crept up in
complete darkness and unleashed a deadly
barrage of 20 or 30mm grenades.
Besides the infamous night bombing of German
cities, the Lancasters took part in many raids
on Germany. They were used in specific raids
such as the one on the ‘Tirpitz’ (November
1944) holed up in a Norwegian fjord, but the
most famous bombing raid by Lancasters was
the ‘Dambuster Raids’. Nineteen Lancasters
took part in this raid on May 17th 1943, with
eight planes being lost.
Crew: 7: pilot, flight engineer, navigator, bomb
aimer/nose gunner, wireless operator, mid-upper
and rear gunners
Length: 69 ft 4 in (21.11 m)
Wingspan: 102 ft 0 in (31.09 m)
Height: 20 ft 6 in (6.25 m)
Power plant: 4 × Rolls-Royce Merlin V12 engine
Maximum speed: 282 mph (454 km/h)
Cruise speed: 200 mph (322 km/h)
Range: 2,530 mi (4,073 km)
Service ceiling: 21,400 ft (6,500 m)
Guns: 2 Browning .303 Mark II machine guns in nose turret, 2 Browning .303 Mark II machine guns in upper turret, and 4 Browning .303 Mark II machine guns in the rear turret.
Bombs: Maximum normal bomb load of 14,000 lb (6,350 kg) or 22,000 lb (9,979 kg) Grand Slam with modifications to bomb bay
There is no doubt that flying in a British bomber during WWII was one of the most dangerous jobs imaginable.
Six in ten British bomber aircrew were killed, one of the highest casualty rates of any service in the war. Only the German U-Boat (Submarine) Force suffered a higher casualty rate (70%) in WWII
Building the Lancaster
I used Tamiya's 1/48 scale Lancaster for this build. A very nice kit and above all, a big kit.
As usual, things start with the interior, which in this case was not the best I have seen.
The lack of details was obvious, but that was not important because there would be limited view to the interior, especially when the pilot and the radio operator was put in place (nice figures by the way)
The interior was painted dark grey.
The finished Lanc would be photographed in different situations (on the ground, the take-off, the flight over Germany and the encounter with the bf110 night fighter, resulting in the demise of the Lancaster).
I therefore build the model with closed bomb doors.
The flight control surfaces on the kit was all molded in neutral position.
I wanted to pose the flaps in down position, which meant a little surgery and the Eduard PE aftermarket flaps.
I had to cut off the under-wings flaps and part of the inner nacelles from the kit.
I saved the cut-off because I intended to put it all back on as soon as the Lanc was in the air.
Next, the fuselage halves were closed, the bomb doors glued on, and the wings and nacelles were built.
Because I intend to photograph the model in the air, I had to organize spinning propellers.
The only way a propeller would look like its spinning is to let it spin and since I had no intention in putting four electric motors in the Lanc, I had to spin the propellers by other means.
I placed a brass tube in each nacelle, leading forward to the propeller.
Then I glued a brass rod (which would fit into the tube) to the propeller.
To make it spin easily, I added some graphite to the rod.
Now, it was just a question of blowing (I used a hair-dryer) at the propellers – and they would spin without any problem.
The clear parts
One of the very nice surprises in this kit was the pre-painted clear parts: The Cockpit dome, the gun-towers and the nose cone.
For once, it was just to glue the clear parts on the model without a time-consuming and frustrating painting process.
Painting and decals
The model was first primed with grey (on top) and black (the lower parts).
The fuselage lower part and under wings was all matt black and the camouflage on the upper part was the ordinary RAF dark green and brown.
To get the colours as authentic as possible, I added about 10% white.
Then everything was sealed with Johnson Future, then the decals was put in place, and last a layer of matt/satin vanish.
Then the weathering, for which I used a wash made of artist black oil paint and artist turpentine.
I used the marking QB-F on the Lancaster.
This is a marking which probably belonged to RAF 424 Squadron, but I have not found any information of this plane, so I hope I am not offending anyone using this marking.
The exhaust stains
On the upper sides of each wing, there are six exhaust stains: two from each inner engine and only one from the outer engine, due to the raised outer parts of the wings.
The stains had a distinctive look of a mix of dark and light (grey) colours.
(See picture at the top of the intro)
The stains were made by dry-brushing. First with black colour and then with grey
The reason for the colours are that the fuel used in the British heavy bombers contained tetraethyl lead (TEL).
The fuel in the British fighters was mostly a rich mixture setting for peak power in take-off, climb and combat, so the dominant deposit was soot and burned oil, making dark exhaust stains.
The long-range British bombers however, were mostly running leaned out as much as possible, to ensure that they had enough fuel for the return.
This tended to give the lead component, in the fuel, more prominence; hence, the black streaks with a white centre.
The Lanc's exhaust stubs took quite a pounding on these trips and it was quite common to find stubs burnt off and damage to the shroud itself.
Now, the part #2 of the "Deadly nocturnal encounter over Germany"
is finished and the Lanc is ready for her
nightly bomb run.
I hope you enjoyed this website!
Thank you for visiting!
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions or comments
As told at the beginning of this post,
the Avro Lancaster is part #2 of my project
“Deadly nocturnal encounter over Germany”
The two other parts are;
#1 Bf 110 G Nightfighter (see page 46)
#3 The deadly encounter over Germany (see page 48)