The four-engine Avro "Lancaster", a direct development of the unsuccessful twin-engine Manchester became the 'mighty pulverizer' of the RAF's Bomber Command, able to carry the great 22,000-pound "Ten-Ton Tessie", also known as the "Grand Slam", the heaviest bomb-load lifted by any bomber of World War II. Its most notable single exploit was the breaching of the Mohne and Eder dams in May, 1943.
The "Lanc" was built in Canada under licence by Victory Aircraft Limited, Malton, Ontario, and the first Canadian-built machine was flown overseas in September, 1943. A total of 420 Lancaster Xs were built in Canada and Canadian units in the Commonwealth Tiger Force would have flown Lance Xs in the Pacific had the war lasted into 1946.
After service with the twelve squadrons of the RCAF's No. 6 Group in Bomber Command during the war, the Lancaster was used by the RCAF in varied post-war roles. Including photo-reconnaissance, air/sea rescue, and maritime reconnaissance. 'Lancs' of No. 408 (Photo) Squadron were primarily responsible for the completion of the aerial mapping of Canada. The Lancaster was finally retired from the RCAF on 1 April 1964, after serving for more than twenty years.
Avro Lancaster Mk II (with Bristol Hercules radial engines) (Photo Credit Unknown)
Nine Victoria Crosses were awarded to crew members of Lancasters, a record not achieved by any other aircraft.
SQUADRON LEADER JOHN D. NETTLETON, V.C. No. 44 (Rhodesian) Squadron, RAF, was the first South African to win the Victoria Cross in World War II. On 17 April 1942, he was the leader of a flight of Lancasters that attacked the U-boat engine factory at Augsburg. In spite of heavy losses at the outset, the bombers pierced the broad daylight into the heart of Germany and struck a vital point with deadly precision.
WING COMMANDER GUY GIBSON, V.C., D.S.O. and Bar No. 617 Squadron, RAF, is remembered most as Gibson "The Dam Buster". On the night of 16 May 1943, he was the leader of nineteen Lan- casters that attacked and breached both the Mohne and Eder dams that caused great flooding and devastation in the Ruhr. Without Gibson's heroism in drawing enemy fire on his own aircraft, great losses would have occurred.
FLIGHT LIEUTENANT WILLIAM REID, V.C., No. 61 Squadron, RAFVR The pilot and captain of a "Lanc" detailed to attack Dusseldorf on 3 November 1943. "Although he was wounded in two attacks by enemy fighters, without oxygen, suffering severely from the cold, his navigator dead, his wireless-operator critically injured, his aircraft crippled and defenceless, F/L Reid showed superb courage and leadership in penetrating a further 200 miles into enemy territory to attack one of the strongest defended targets in Germany, every additional mile increasing the hazards of the long and perilous journey home. His tenacity and devotion to duty were beyond praise." Thus, in part, reads his citation for the Victoria Cross he received.
SERGEANT NORMAN CYRIL JACKSON, V.C. No. 106 Squadron, RAF, was the first flight engineer to be awarded the Victoria Cross. On the night of 26 April 1944, he participated in a raid against the stiff target of Schweinfurt which was to be his last Bomber Command tour thus completing two tours of operational flying. Sgt. Jackson ventured out on the burning "Lanc" at 200 miles an hour at a great height and in intense cold; he ignored the extra hazard of having a spilled parachute; even if he had managed to put the flames out, there would be little or no chance of his getting back into the aircraft. He was eventually blown off the aircraft and miraculously his chute opened sufficiently that when he landed he was only slightly injured and burned. Sgt. Jackson was taken prisoner and repatriated in 1945 after VE-Day.
PILOT OFFICER ANDREW CHARLES MYNARSKI, V.C. No. 419 Squadron, RCAF, was awarded posthumously one of the two of the Victoria Crosses bestowed upon members of the RCAF. He was an air-gunner on a Lancaster detailed to attack a special target at Cambrai, France, on the night of 12 June 1944. The citation for his V.C. reads, in part: "P/0 Mynarski displayed extreme courage and utter disregard for own personal safety trying to release the rear-gunner who was trapped in the turret. Mynarski was severely burned and charred from his fight through the flames to the rear of the aircraft and his delay in leaving the aircraft was fatal for him. The rear-gunner F/0 G.P. Brophy who Mynarski tried to free lived, saved by some quirk of fate at that last impact; thrown clear, and not badly injured."
SQUADRON LEADER IAN W. BAZALGETTE, V.C., No. 635 Squadron, RAFVR, was born in Calgary, Alberta. He lived for a short time in Toronto before his parents returned to England and at the outbreak of World War II enlisted in the RAF. He was a "Master Bomber" of a Pathfinder squadron detailed to mark important targets. On the night of 4 August, 1944, in spite of his Lancaster being engulfed in flames, reached the target, marked it for the main force, and then bombed it himself. He fought bravely to bring the aircraft and his crew to safety but decided the time had come to order all those of the crew who could do so to bail out. He knew the bomb-aimer was wounded and the gunner was unconscious therefore could not get out. He endeavoured to crash-land the machine but, unfortunately, Bazalgette and the two men he tried to save perished in the ensuing crash. For his courage and devotion to duty, he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
SQUADRON LEADER ANTHONY M. PALMER, V.C., No. 109 Squadron, RAFVR, a Pathfinder pilot led a formation of Lancasters on his 111th operational mission on the night of 23 December 1944 on a strike against Field-Marshal von Runstedt's supplies stacked high at Cologne for the Ardennes offensive that proved to be the turning-point in the fight for Europe. His Victoria Cross was won for four years of bravery; the prolonged, extreme endeavour of 111 missions against the enemy.
FLIGHT SERGEANT GEORGE THOMPSON, V.C., No. 9 Squadron, RAFVR, was a wireless-operator on a "Lanc" detailed to attack the Dortmund-Ems Canal. In spite of serious burns to his face, hands and legs, and utter disregard for own personal safety, carried the upper and tail-gunners out of their burning turrets, extinguishing their blazing clothes with his bare hands. For these heroic deeds, F/S Thompson was awarded the Victoria Cross.
CAPTAIN EDWIN SWALES, V.C., D.F.C., No. 582 Squadron, South African Air Force, was a 'Master Bomber' of a force of 'Lancs' which attacked Pforzheim on the night of 23 February 1945. Intrepid in the attack, courageous in the face of danger, he did his duty to the last by keeping the aircraft under control while his crew parachuted to safety, he sacrificed his life so that his comrades might live.