Avro Lancaster B Mk I

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.

Some of those instrument panels have a lot more detail than I could ever do free hand! I’d like to thank Eduard for giving me something new to spend money on…
The Lancaster’s bomb bay is huge. Here with a 4000 lb high capacity “Cookie” in the middle, with three 500 lb bombs either side of it.

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.

Lancaster and Flying Fortress are about the same size. Lancaster carried a far heavier load, only the Superfortress could carry more, but the Lancaster had a bigger bomb bay.
Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum flies this Lancaster B Mk X. Notice it has the Martin upper turret with two .50 machine guns.

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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24 Responses to Avro Lancaster B Mk I

  1. A really good-looking Lanc, Dave. I also built one of these but from another kit company. The only misgivings I have in building and detailing the lush interior is that when the fuselage halves are joined, they’ll never be seen again unless your planning to exhibit it as an open-view model. Regardless, a nice job! Ken in PA

    • atcDave says:

      I had decided as soon as I bought the Eduard set that I would do some photos before I closed it up. That’s the only way it makes sense to me, because yeah, it will all never be seen again!

  2. Pingback: Avro Lancaster B Mk I – My Forgotten Hobby V

  3. jfwknifton says:

    My Dad once turned to me when I was a little boy, and he asked me “Do you know why you’re here, why you got to be born?” A strange question, and he answered it himself. He said “Two reasons. I was never sent to bomb Berlin and I flew in Avro Lancasters. We all knew that the Lancaster would always bring you back”.
    I tried to find out Arthur Harris’ colourful opinion of the Halifax and my search results were at
    https://www.bing.com/search?q=What%20was%20Harris%27s%20opinion%20of%20the%20Halifax%3F#&sl=en-gb

    • atcDave says:

      That is an awesome reason for you to love the Lancaster!
      I don’t have stats handy, but I believe the Lancaster had the lowest loss rate of any of the heavies. The only glitch was it also had a low survivability when hit! It was not well designed for getting out of. Of course at that time such factors were not given a very high priority (ergonomics in general was not an issue!)
      Harris’ attitude towards the Halifax is interesting, and ultimately does not reflect well on the man. If the later Halifax Mk III is separated out by sub-type, it had about the same loss rate as the Lancaster (with better crew survivability). Not to say it was a better plane (still a smaller bomb load and shorter range), but his statements about “one Lancaster is worth four Halifaxes” are clearly nonsense.

      • jfwknifton says:

        The main problem about getting out of a Lancaster was the main spar which was a four feet high barrier across the fuselage.
        All Harris really cared about was the weight of bombs dropped on the target and I think that is the main reason that he was unenthusiastic about the Halifax. He was even less of a fan of the Stirling. Personally, I have always wondered how much the undercarriage of this aircraft weighed. Was it more than its bombload?

      • atcDave says:

        Without checking sources I think the Halifax had only a slightly lower capacity (?), so really it was like 80% of a Lancaster in that regard. It also DID have the range to hit targets all across Germany (?, again, not checking sources) so the practical impact was only fewer doglegs/feints on long range missions (like Berlin and beyond). I can certainly see where Harris would have preferred Lancasters, but he seems to over-state his case.
        The Stirling was definitely a lesser aircraft. Except that landing gear! Dang, it was an engineering marvel. Not sure why Short Brothers decided they needed the nose stuck SO HIGH up in the air. I suspect the landing gear may make the type impossible to render in plastic (kidding, sort of…)

      • I too am astonished why a bomber was equipped with such extended ( meaning high) landing gear. Was it to accommodate large external loads?

      • atcDave says:

        Okay, checking sources it looks like the Halifax bomb load was about 60% of a Lancaster. Obviously more problematic and less efficient. But STILL, not 4 to 1 worse!

      • atcDave says:

        As far as I know loads weren’t a part of it (although the type did end up mostly flying cargo, towing gliders, and supporting the airborne; so maybe they made a virtue of it?). Nor was propeller ground clearance. Just an odd choice!

      • jfwknifton says:

        From what I know the Lancaster was far and away the favourite.aircraft of the crews. At briefings, Lancaster crews would often cheer if they were told they were to be accompanied by either Stirlings or Halifaxes although the Halifax crews were very loyal to their aircraft, which were nevertheless slow and didn’t carry as many bombs as a Lancaster. Until a captured German night fighter pilot told the RAF, the Halifax also had a problem that the exhaust was not adequately covered and could be seen from a very long distance. German fliers therefore considered Halifaxes as easy meat until the design fault was rectified.

      • atcDave says:

        That’s funny, I’ve read something very similar about Flying Fortress crews, and how happy they were if Liberators were a part of the same strike package. Supposedly they knew the Luftwaffe would always target the Liberators first (they cruised at a lower altitude).
        Also interesting on the exhaust. The Lancaster also got an exhaust shield (the half pipe sort of covering over the exhaust stacks, it usually has some metallic grey cooking effect on the aft portion of it. Piccadilly Princess has these, but the Canadian warbird photo at bottom does not). Perhaps both planes received the same fix at the same time?

      • jfwknifton says:

        To be honest, I don’t know, but it would not surprise me, because there was always a constant pressure of time as regards repairs and modifications. The visibility of the Halifax at night was tested by a Beaufighter nightfighter, who were frankly amazed at how easy the bombers were to see.

      • atcDave says:

        That is interesting.

  4. Pierre Lagacé says:

    I will be resisting to but it.

  5. Jeff Groves says:

    Beautiful work, Dave! Camo looks spot on!

    • atcDave says:

      Thank you Jeff! It was interesting working on something so big. I can’t even imagine the 1/32 scale Lancaster(s!)

  6. Kevin says:

    Absolutely love the Lanc, a hallmark of most capable bombers and a heavy-hitting legend. As always, an educational post and a most beautiful model, job well done, Amigo!

  7. Kevin says:

    Important Question: I see other historical aircraft referenced in the above comments… and, all were important, because they were the best at the time and stepping stones towards creating better, more advanced. My question, is what did pilot/ crews prefer to fly into combat with?

    • atcDave says:

      I think the Lancaster was the favorite, mainly because of its maneuverability and structural strength. Halifax crews were not unhappy with their mount, and were perhaps defensive because they knew they weren’t Harris’ favorite. The Stirling was not loved.
      Of the early War types the Wellington was most respected, mostly for for its sturdiness and reliability. I believe the Hampton was considered fun to fly, a good performer; but very light as strategic bombers go. The Whitley was just obsolete and everyone knew it.

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