The Lancaster is another of the great, iconic aircraft of World War II. Also the last of the major Allied “heavies” that I haven’t featured yet at this site.
Let’s take a look at this very important British bomber.
At the start of World War II British strategic bombers meant the Vickers Wellington, Handley Page Hampton and Armstrong Whitworth Whitley. All three were twins, modern by the standards of the time but somewhat wanting as pure bomb haulers. Only the Wellington was close to adequate, at least enough to be the last of those three in production and service.
The RAF wanted something clearly bigger, with the range to hit targets deep in Germany from England and enough load to make the trip worthwhile. This mostly meant four engine bombers. Short provided the first such, the Stirling bomber entered service in 1941. It could carry a significant load, but due to an ill-advised wingspan limitation from the Air Ministry, its operational ceiling was low making it highly vulnerable to all forms of defense. It was phased out of front-line service by 1943.
Next up was the Handley Page Halifax. Although its initial form was as a twin it was produced as a Rolls-Royce Merlin powered four engine bomber. It also flew its first bombing missions in 1941, and was all around a more capable aircraft. Bomber Command CO Arthur Harris came to regard the type as inadequate compared to the later Lancaster, it did carry a smaller bomb load with a slightly shorter range; but mostly crews disagreed with Harris’ assessment of the type and it would count as a modern and capable aircraft to the end of the War. Truly this was a major strategic bomber, that is not available in my scale, so no Halifax at PlaneDave for the foreseeable future…
This all leads to the Lancaster. Avro started work an a new heavy twin design (heavy medium?) in the late 1930s. It was powered by two Rolls-Royce Vulture engines, a new design, bigger than the Merlin. It could generate over 1700 hp, so the new aircraft was more powerful than existing twins. This plane flew as the Avro Manchester in 1939 and entered service in 1941 along with the other new types. But problems were quickly apparent, mainly the Vulture engine was no where near ready for service. It was prone to fires or simple failures. Production was ceased after 202 examples due to insolvable engine troubles.
But the type flew well and showed much promise. So Avro decided to replace the two Vultures with four Merlins. They used the engine pods (“power eggs”) designed for the Bristol Beaufighter Mk II, and lengthened the wingspan by 12 feet. This was initially the “Manchester Mk III”, but the designation was changed to Lancaster before flight testing was even complete.
The Lancaster entered service in 1942 and quickly became the preferred heavy bomber for Bomber Command. It carried a heavy load, at long range, and flew well. Like other British heavies it was a single pilot aircraft (no co-pilot). Unlike American heavies, the missions were flown at night, which meant no vast formations. Instead night missions were flown in a stream, aircraft navigating individually to the target. This initially led to very poor overall accuracy, but in time a procedure was developed with certain squadrons working as “Pathfinders” (often these were Mosquitos) that would illuminate a target with flares and incendiaries. By the end of the War this had become a very effective system.
Flying in a stream also meant aircraft were left to deal with German defenses individually. Perhaps the most common threat was searchlights, if a plane was lit up it would be tracked while anti-aircraft or night fighters zeroed in. Of course radar equipped night fighters could strike out of the dark too (not all German night fighters were the radar equipped variety). But for either threat a Lancaster pilot could respond with an array of violent defensive maneuvers. This is something the plane became much loved for, its ability to twist and turn even with a load was remarkable.
The first mark of Lancaster to enter service, not surprisingly the Mark I, was the most common version to the end of the War. It was joined by the Mark III, identical except for Packard built Merlin engines; a Mark II with Bristol Hercules engines; and a Canadian built Mark X that used Packard Merlins and American made guns and turrets. There were several modifications to carry specialized bomb loads (more on that in a later post!). Total production was over 7000 and the type remained in service past the end of the War.
This example was assigned to Canadian 424 Squadron. They had been equipped with the Halifax, converting to Lancasters in January 1945. This plane flew entirely with that Squadron from the start of Lancaster operations until mid-1947.
This is the HK Models kit. It is a nice kit, good level of detail and modern level of expectations about fit. My only, moderately serious complaint has to do with the number of antennae and attachments that go on the exterior with no locating pins or positive locating points. Some of these should have simply been molded in place. The builder is left to make a best guess and butt join things to the outer skin. That leads to an excessively fragile finished product. In fact, several such attachments were lost in the finishing process and are already MIA in these photos.
I don’t mean to make too big a thing of that. The kit is beautiful, and offers some significant detailed and interesting structures. The three turrets took a week to build all by themselves and, I think, came out quite nicely. I’d say I learned something in building it too, like how HUGE that front turret is!
I also used ASK Masks, for all the clear parts. And dang there are a lot of those! Unmasking took close to an hour. The interior was enhanced with Eduard’s SPACE. This is a mix of 3-D decals and photo-etch. It really leads to some vividly real looking interior equipment. Finally I used Zots Decals for Piccadilly Princess, those are gorgeous and easy to work with.