1. The Second World War was the first war won in the air, and the Avro Lancaster was Britain’s premier bomber. 

Avro developed it to meet the UK’s wartime need for a larger bomber that could go further and carry a larger payload, a response to the Junkers Ju 88 that had scarred London and the surrounding counties during the Blitz. 

Its first flight took place in January 1941 and was officially introduced into the Royal Air Force in February 1942.  It remained in service well after the war not only in the UK, but also Australia and Canada, and was not completely retired until 1963 in Canada.

Lancaster bomber in the air

2. Its predecessor, the Avro Manchester, was a disaster of an aircraft. It had two Rolls-Royce Vulture engines which blew up and caught fire. After 30 crashes four Merlins were fitted instead on longer wings and the most successful heavy bomber of the war was born: the Lancaster.

3. Bombs weren’t the only thing the Lancasters dropped on Europe.  During the later days of the war, they would drop food supplies on the occupied Netherlands in Operation Manna.

4. The Lancaster’s most famous action was Operation Chastise, an attack on German dams in the Ruhr Valley.  Out of three damns on the Eder, Möhne, and Sorpe rivers, Allied forces breached two of them and partially breached the third.  The success of the mission is what inspired the film, The Dam Busters, in 1955. 

5. The bomb bay of the Avro Lancaster was one of its primary features, and at 33 feet (10 metres) it could carry a lot of ordinance.  At first, the heaviest bomb it carried was the 4,000 lb HC Cookie, but after bulging doors were added to the bomber that added 30% to the carrying capacity, it could also handle the 8,000 lb. and 12,000 lb. versions of the Cookie. 

Eventually, it also carried the 12,000 lb. Tallboy and the 22,000 lb. “Grand Slam”, which was designed to create mini-earthquakes and was the most powerful non-atomic bomb of the war. This sank the Tirpitz battleship.

Lancaster bomber in a museum

6. At 21 metres long and with a wingspan of 31 metres, the Lancaster was one of the largest bombers in WWII and had a crew complement of seven, which is only three men fewer than the American B-17 Flying Fortress.  Its maximum speed was 287 mph (462 kmh), the maximum ceiling height was 24,500 feet (7,470 metres), and its range was 2,530 miles (4,072 km).

7. During the war, Lancasters flew over 156,000 raids, dropping around 50 million incendiary bombs and 608,000 tons of explosive devices.  Bomber Command killed around 500,000 German civilians and 50,000 aircrew were killed. That is the cost of war.

8.  The Avro Lancasters were fitted with Rolls Royce Merlin V12 engines which produced 1,280 horsepower each.

Lancaster Bomber Flying

9. One of the more famous payloads carried by the Lancaster was the “Upkeep” bouncing bomb, which was designed by Barnes Wallis, who had also developed the Tallboy and Grand Slam.  The bomb, which was actually a depth charge, was designed to bounce across the surface of the water to avoid nets and other obstacles.  The bombs were used heavily in Operation Chastise and became famous as a result of their appearance in The Dam Busters.

10. A Carling Black Label advert in the 1980s caused some controversy when it depicted a German soldier catching the bombs like a goalkeeper and a similar ad was run in 1994.  The first advert used footage from the 1955 film.

11. Of the 7,377 built, 17 of the Avro Lancasters survive today.  Many are on display in as varied countries as France, Germany, Sweden, and New Zealand.  One located in the United Kingdom is still airworthy and flies regularly in air shows as part of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.