Lanc Crews

Air & Ground Crew Personnel

The Extensive Team Required to Keep a Lancaster Fully Operational


Top Left, petrol bowser and crew.
Top Right, mobile workshop and crew.
2nd Row down, Corporal Mechanic, 4 Aircraftsmen (mechanics), Engineer Officer, Fitter (armourer), 3 Armourers, Radio Mechanic, 2 Instrument Repairers, 3 Bomb Handlers, Fitter.
3rd Row from bottom: Bomb Train with WAAF driver and bombing-up crew.
2nd Row from bottom: Flight Maintenance Crew, from left as follows: NCO Fitter, Mechanic, NCO Fitter, 5 Mechanics, Electrical Mechanic, Instrument Repairer, 2 Radio Mechanics
Bottom Row, from left: Flying Control Officer, WAAF Parachute Packer, Meteorological Officer Aircrew: Pilot, Navigator, Air Bomber, Flight Engineer, Wireless Operator/Air Gunner, 2 Air Gunners
Of the 2500 personnel which were housed on a wartime Bomber Command airfield, only 10% were aircrew.  Dozens of others were required to prepare each Lancaster for flight and the ground crew were most appreciated by the aircrew. Generally working outside, the conditions especially in the winter were often windswept, wet and cold.  Their contributions to the successes of the effort cannot be overemphasised. The ground crew which were associated with each aircraft took immense pride in “their” aircraft and would joke that they were only “loaning” the bomber for a few hours and that the aircrew were “not to break it.”

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The Lancaster  Aircrew

Flying log: every crew member was required to keep a flying logbook of every flight he took including air tests, transport, training and operational flying.  This book was signed by the Flight Leader each month and by the Commanding Officer of the squadron or the various Trade Leaders at the end of the tour (eg: a Bomb Aimer’s log would be signed by the Bombing Leader, the Gunner’s by the Gunnery Leader etc.).

A Lancaster crew numbered 7 – the Pilot, Flight Engineer, Navigator, Wireless (radio) Operator, Bomb Aimer/ Front Gunner, Mid-upper Gunner, and Rear Gunner. Invariably all were very young, a man of 25 would likely be referred to as the “Old Man” or “Grandpa.” They were of different ranks, came from all walks of life, and often from more that one country. However, they quickly bonded together to form a very special, tightly-knit group. This camaraderie was crucial to maintaining morale and efficiency in the air. Most felt that their crew was one of the best in Bomber Command. They generally spent many of their off-duty hours together as well as the 1st day or two of a leave.

Flak: anti-aircraft fire. From the German, “FLugAbwehrKanonen‘. In reports “heavy flak” did not refer to the concentration or degree of flak but to the calibre observed. “Heavy flak” referred to anything of 88 mm and up; while “light flak” consisted of quick firing 20, 30 or 40 mm. guns. By extension flak came to mean any grief given to you by anyone else.

Pilot
lancaster_crewRegardless of rank, the Pilot was Captain and always in command of the aircraft.  Behind his head was the only piece of armour plating that a Lancaster carried. Up front, his seat on a raised floor section to the left of the main cabin, was the Pilot, who was also the aircraft Captain. He had a good all-round view through the framed canopy, albeit slightly restricted to the rear and to starboard. There was a direct-vision panel on either side of the windshield, and in the canopy roof was an escape hatch, for use in a crash-landing or ditching.  Behind him was a 4mm-thick sheet of armour, the top part of which could be folded down. Straight in front of the pilot was the control column, topped with a wheel type yoke. The column moved backwards and forwards to control the elevators in the tail, causing the aircraft to climb or dive, while the yoke moved like a car steering wheel, controlling the ailerons in the wings to make the aircraft bank to left or right. At his feet were the rudder pedals, which were used for flat turns to either side. Low to the pilot’s left was the compass, but to allow him to steer without constantly having to glance inside the cockpit, a compass repeater was mounted on the centre strut of the divided wind-shield. On the dash in front of him were many dials and switches, which included the essential flying instruments; air speed indicator, artificial horizon, turn and bank indicator and rate of climb/descent indicator among them, while the throttle levers and propeller speed controls were mounted on a central console where they could be reached by both the Pilot and the Flight Engineer.

Flight Engineer
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Flight Engineer’s Panel.
The flight engineer was responsible for everything mechanical; as well as constantly monitoring the instruments in front of the pilot, he had a 2nd panel with fuel gauges and data on the status of each of the 4 engines.  

Now we come to the front cockpit with the Pilots control column and his flight instruments on the left. On the right are the Flight Engineer’s engine controls and instruments.  There are further Engineer’s fuel controls and instruments on the right side of the cockpit. From the Engineer’s position he looks down into the Bomb Aimer’s compartment.  He does have a drop down seat but most of the time was required to stand up being required to move about.

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LancasterBombAimer

Bomb Aimer
BombAimerMkXlV_VectorSightThe bomb-aimer’s compartment was situated in the front of the aircraft at a level below that of the main cockpit. Lying on his stomach and looking through the bombsight out the large perspex blister, the bomb-aimer would guide the aircraft to the target and release the bomb load. As well, the bomb-aimer was responsible for operating the front gun turret positioned directly above him, although this was not necessary on most operations. Squeezing past the Flight Engineer’s station, down into the nose was the territory of the Bomb Aimer, who usually manned the nose turret when not actually on the bombing run, although he could also be called upon to assist the navigator by map-reading, always assuming that the ground was in sight. The bomb aimer lied prone, his chest propped on an adjustable support. Beneath him was the forward escape hatch, which would also be used by BombAimerPos.jpgthe flight engineer and the pilot, in the latter case if he could reach it in time before the aircraft went completely out of control.  To the right of the bomb aimer was the bomb fusing and selection panel. It was essential that the bombs were released in a predetermined order from the long bay if unwanted changes of trim were to be avoided. For this, a selector box was used. The bombs themselves were released by a hand-held ‘tit’, which had a small guard above the button to prevent accidents. Also featured were camera controls and photo-flares which enabled a picture to be taken of the aim point. The bomb sight itself was of the vector type, into which the aircraft speed and altitude were set, together with the ballistic data for the type of bombs carried, and the estimated wind speed and direction. The sight was gyro-stabilized, which allowed banked turns to be made during the run up to the target. Two lines of light on a reflecting screen form a cross which indicated where the bomb will drop at any given moment. Over the intercom, the bomb aimer guided the pilot to a position where the extension of the vertical line passed through the aim point. When the bomber was lined up correctly, the aim point appeared to slide gradually down the vertical line. Then when the cross touched the target, the bomb aimer pressed the button and down went the bombs, bringing destruction to the target below. When not engaged in dropping the bombs, the bomb aimer occupied the nose turret, with its 2 machine guns. At night he probably had little to do; rarely was visibility clear enough to allow the night fighters to attack from head-on. In daylight or at low level the situation may well had been different, and it may had even been that the turret must have be occupied even on the bombing run. This gave rise to a problem; the gunner had no footrest, and in moments of excitement could have trod on the bomb aimer’s head, to say nothing of showering him with hot ’empties’ when he fired.

The bomb aimer had a set of controls which told the pilot whether to steer left or right. When the aircraft was above the target, he pressed a button to release the bomb load.  The bomb aimer also doubled as the front gunner.

WirelessOperatorNavigator

Behind the Pilot and Flight Engineer, the Navigator worked in a curtained off compartment so that the lights he required would not give away the position of the Lancaster to enemy fighters. Few navigators had the time, or the inclination, to leave their station during a raid. They were constantly plotting the aircraft’s course and making adjustments for wind and other factors. As electronic navigational aids developed during the war the navigator’s work load became even greater.

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Navigator
LancasterNavigatorThe navigator’s table. Sitting immediately behind the pilot, the navigator relied on primitive means at the start of the war, often having to navigate by the stars or use dead reckoning to estimate the aircraft’s position. In front of the wireless operator sat the navigator, sideways on. He had a table, but larger than that of the wireless operator, on which he spread out his charts, pencils, protractors, computer , and all the other paraphernalia needed to find a specific location in a blacked-out and hostile Europe.  Almost overhead was an astrodome, through which the navigator could ‘shoot’ the stars to arrive at a very approximate position, but in this machine he had something better and very different.  This was a H2S, a blind bombing aid which showed a radar picture of the ground below on a television-type screen. It needed a fair bit of interpretation to get good results, and like all electronic aids of this era, it was temperamental; but it helped. Like the wireless operator, the navigator had a window, out of which he rarely looked, and he was partitioned off from the pilot by another curtain which kept light out of the main cabin.

The Experienced Navigator
As a navigator and bomb aimer, perhaps a raid to feel most proud of was one against a target in Mannheim.  It was a relatively long flight in those days.  Having navigated to within some 25 miles of the target, he took up my position behind the bomb sight for the ‘run in’. On the ‘run in’ our 2 gunners started shouting: “You’re wrong, – the target is 5 miles to starboard; the whole area is on fire!” To which the Navigator yelled back: “They’re wrong!”  By then they could see the outskirts of Mannheim coming into the bomb sight.  The Navigator could then see the River Rhine by the light of the moon, winding its way through the suburbs. Strangely, they noticed that all of the searchlights were in the doused position, not shining upwards. They were making a dim circle around the outskirts of this large city.  Above all, there was no attacking gunfire. They were giving us a free run so as not to expose their position. The enemy did not want to ‘disturb’ the mass of Bomber Command bombing their fire ‘decoy’ in a forest some 5 to 6 miles outside Mannheim! The target came up, and still not a shot fired. They were able to fly straight and level, and took a perfect photograph.  When printed, this showed our bombs straddling the target area, which became the only accurate photograph in the Squadron. The next day came a new target briefing, and the Squadron Commander snarled, “What happened to you lot over Mannheim last night? Fancy bombing a forest!” He then told the rest of the squadron that there was only one photo from the whole of the Squadron and out of some 200 aircraft of Bomber Command there were only 9 photos of the target.

He turned to the pilot and said, “Well done!” There was a voice at the back of the briefing room, in a complaining tone that said, “What about the Navigator?”  I hope the Squadron Commander heard it. I believe it was a Rear Gunner. The Commander still said nothing to the Navigator.  You see, it was still a Pilot’s Air Force, dating back to WWI and to between the wars.  From this, you can understand why the Navigators were accused of having a ‘union!’ Any Pilot would tell you, that, – when we were some 30 miles from a target, they saw nothing below, only the horizon well ahead.  Over Mannheim, the Navigator learned a life’s lesson. There were other times when the Gunners reported actions by other aircraft which did not fall in with your own calculations. The real lesson was – and made use of several times – if you are sure, having checked your calculations, stick to your result and never follow anybody else

Flame float: small incendiary device that would float after being thrown out down the flare chute. The rear gunner would centre the “pip” on his reflector sight on the point of light and then read off the degree of deviation from a scale on his turret ring – this would provide the navigator with the degree of wind drift blowing the aircraft off track

Wireless Operator

WirelessOpHalifaxA few feet along on the left via a 7mm-thick armoured door was situated the Wireless Operator’s post. He sat at a small table with his radio and his pencils and pads. He had a small window which was level with the leading edge of the wing, but at night kept a curtain drawn across it. This was mainly because he needed artificial light by which to work, and this must not have been allowed to betray the presence of the bomber to any roving fighters which might have been in the area. In any case, over blacked-out enemy territory there was little to see, while above a heavily defended area the view could sometimes be a little too exciting for someone who had no immediate task to occupy him. The Wireless Operator had the warmest place in the aircraft; often he was overheated while other crew members were freezing.

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Wireless operator’s desk. In the cramped fuselage space above the bomb bay, the wireless operator listened for transmissions from base which might include vital instructions on changes of targets or updated weather conditions

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The wireless operator’s station was just in front of the main spar, in the rear part of the cockpit section. In addition to his official duties related to the radio equipment, the W/Op was also expected to have a working knowledge of the navigator’s equipment, understand the aircraft’s electrical and intercom systems, and administer first aid as necessary. As well, he was generally on duty in the astrodome in the event of contact with enemy fighters and over the target. The astrodome was a dome shaped piece of perspex which protruded above the aircraft’s fuselage in order that the navigator could take star shots. As well it provided an excellent viewpoint.

The Mid-Upper Gunner and rear-gunner completed the crew. Both were extremely vulnerable and in the coldest part of the aircraft. Their duties were to continuously scan the night sky for enemy fighters from the moment of take off until the aircraft landed, sometimes ten hours later. Their most important contribution was to spot the fighter and instruct the pilot to take evasive action. When this occurred the fighter generally broke off the contact and looked for another bomber with a less alert air gunner.
MidUpperTurret

Mid-Upper Gunner
MidUpperGunnerThe mid-upper gunner, after stowing his parachute in its place high on the right of him climbed into his turret via a step on the left of the fuselage. Access was not easy, due to the seat design which forced him to squeeze past it before he could enter. The mid-upper gunner had only 2 machine guns, although his turret could traverse through 360 degrees, which gave him a grandstand view all round. His field of fire was obstructed, however, to the rear by the tail-plane and fins, on each side by the wings, engines and propellors, and straight ahead by the navigator’s astrodome.  The turret was surrounded by a fairing which contained a cam track. By restricting the movement of the guns, this ensured that he couldn’t damage his own aircraft when firing.  When the guns were elevated at 20 degrees or more, turret traverse was fast and smooth, but below this it was much slower. This was to avoid damage to the turret firing at full depression, but in action, it was a serious disadvantage as it made tracking a fast moving enemy fighter very difficult. In an emergency the mid-upper gunner had to squirm out of the turret, retrieve his parachute from stowage, and depart through the door by which he entered.  The mid-upper turret. One of 3 gun turrets in the Lancaster, the mid-upper gunner’s position was highly exposed on the top of the fuselage. As the war went on, this role was reduced as German fighters learned to attack bombers from below

The Rear Gunner
LancRearGunTurretThe rear gunner, and his job is arguably the most dangerous, and certainly the coldest, the most lonely and isolated, of any Lancaster crewman. His parachute was stowed outside the armoured doors that shut him in a cold cramped position until the end of the mission, his only human contact was that of the disembodied voices of other crew members over the intercom. He was here for how many hours the mission took. The call to bale out was ‘Abracadabra Jump, Jump! Abracadabra Jump, Jump!’. It sounded silly, but it had 1 advantage. It couldn’t have possibly been misunderstood. Nevertheless, it was often not used, and the order was given in plain language. On hearing the command to bale out, the rear gunner opened his armoured doors at the rear of his turret, reached back for his parachute and clipped it onto his chest harness. He swivelled his turret right round until the open doors were facing outwards, then did a backward roll out into the night sky above a hostile country. This was of course presupposing that his parachute had not been burnt or shot to pieces, that he was still able to turn his turret to the escape position, and that the centrifugal forces exerted by his out-of-control bomber would have allowed him to make these necessary moves  The rear gunner’s turret. As well as trying to shoot down enemy aircraft, the rear gunner was a vital lookout, alerting the pilot to fighters approaching from the rear. The turret was highly exposed and many aircraft returned to base with them sheared off.
RearGunnerCupola

Alone in his transparent shell,
A speck in space,
He sits, poised in his airy kingdom;
At his back the unknown,
Before him the unfolding map
Of his journey.
Guardian of seven lives,
Taut with the concentration of survival,
He swings his turret through vigilant arcs,
Eyes straining for the fighters,
Braced for the violence of surprise. – – Philip A. Nicholson

The 4 cannon in the rear turret were fed by long belts of ammunition running down the side of the fuselage.  The gun turret of a Bomber Command aircraft during a night operation was the coldest, loneliest, place in the sky. Whereas other crew-members enjoyed some comfort from the proximity of others in the forward section of the aircraft, the mid-upper gunner spent the trip suspended on a canvas sling seat, his lower body in the draughty fuselage and his head and shoulders in the Perspex dome. The rear gunner was even more removed from his fellow crew members and any heating system. Suspended in space at the extreme end of the fuselage, “Arse-end Charlie” was subject to the most violent movements of the aircraft. Squeezed into the cramped metal and perspex cupola, the rear gunner had so little leg space that some had to place their flying boots into the turret before climbing in themselves. Many rear gunners removed a section of the perspex to improve their view, so with temperatures at 20,000′ reaching -40 degrees, frostbite was a regular occurrence. And through the entire operation, the rear gunner knew that the Luftwaffe fighter pilots preferred to attack from the rear and under the belly of the bomber, so he was often first in line for elimination. During World War II 20,000 air gunners were killed while serving with Bomber Command.

During a Bomber Command operation, the only sounds the gunner would hear, aside from the constant deafening roar of the engines, would be the hiss of the oxygen and the occasional crackling, distorted voices of other crew members in his earphones. From take-off to landing, at times for as long as 10 hours, the air gunner was constantly rotating the turret, scanning the surrounding blackness, quarter by quarter, for the grey shadow that could instantly become an attacking enemy night fighter. The air gunner’s closest friends were likely his crew members in the forward section of the bomber and the relaxation of his vigilance for even a moment could mean death for them all.

The primary role of the air gunner was not to shoot down enemy aircraft. Rather it was to perform the role of a lookout. After hours of staring into the blackness, his shouting into the intercom of, “Corkscrew port now!” would have the pilot instantly begin a series of violent evasive manoeuvres, throwing the heavy bomber around the sky. Generally if an enemy fighter pilot knew he had been seen, no attempt would be made to follow the bomber through its gyrations. Rather he would seek out another aircraft, hopeful that it might have a less alert air gunner. Many air gunners completed their tour of operations without firing a single shot “in anger,” but the stress they were constantly under was equal to those who, with guns ablaze in the night, became part of brief, terrifying, life and death battles in the night with enemy aircraft.

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Inside the Lancaster, looking forwards towards the cockpit. The 3 round windows towards the bottom of the picture look into the bomb bay, and were there to enable to crew to check that all the bombs had been released.

At the beginning of the war “Wireless-Air gunners” (WAG’s) played a dual role, being responsible for radio operations as well as the operation of the gun turret. Later, with the advent of the 4-engined bombers with 7 crew members, this combined role was no longer necessary.
– Search sky before take off and landing, your a/c is most vulnerable.
– If gun fire, search for fighter; take evasive action.
– Always watch your own tail.
– Conserve your ammo; if you’re fired upon from long range, instruct pilot to use evasive action.
– Never fly straight or dive when under attack.
– Use good team work with rest of crew.
– Patrol across the sun, never into or away from it.
– Never turn away from an attack, always towards.
– If using tracer at night, remember it tends to momentarily destroy your night vision; hold your fire until necessary.
– If on reconnaissance aircraft; your job is to return with information; not to seek combat with enemy aircraft.
– Aim of enemy fighter is to destroy; aim of bomber air gunner is to get safely to target and back to base.
– Never fire until fired upon.
– All aircraft approaching are considered to be enemy until identified otherwise.
– REMEMBER: TO BE SURPRISED IS TO BE LOST.
– If your own guns fail or are damaged during an attack use your ingenuity to outwit the attacker.

At night Jerry has a big bag of tricks for decoys. He sends one aircraft along your course with identification lights on. He sends one behind you on your tail; or has one come out of the moon. On any of these be sure and search on the opposite side of your aircraft for the real attacker.  His favourite position, if he can get it, is to come from below and climb up to 300 yards from you, directly underneath, stall his aircraft and rake your fuselage with machine-gun and cannon fire. Invariably the bombs explode and the bomber disintegrates. So every now and then have your pilot do steep turns so you can search below the aircraft for fighters.  Searchlights co-operate with the fighters in many different ways. Sometimes they send a series of dots in your direction. Sometimes they wave along your course. Sometimes they search for you and cone you. If this happens and they suddenly go off, then you know a fighter has found you.  If there is a cloud cover below, the searchlights light up the clouds and you are silhouetted for the fighter above you.

One Legged Rear GunnerRoberts Dunstan UK0489.JPG
Roberts Christian Dunstan DSO (5 November 1922 – 11 October 1989) was an Australian  soldier and airman of WW2. He was noted on his return to Australia after the war as a one-legged air gunner who had served with RAF Bomber Command. Dunstan was born in Bendigo, Victoria on 5 November 1922. He joined the Australian Imperial Force aged 17 on 3 June 1940.  After training he was sent to the 2/8th Field Company, a field engineer unit, in North Africa as a reinforcement. In January 1941, near Tobruk, he was wounded in the knee and had his leg amputated. After resting in Egypt he was returned to Australia and medically discharged.  Not happy with his short service, Dunstan attempted to join the Royal Australian Air Force as an air gunner.  In 1942 he trained at Port Pirie and, promoted to Sergeant at the end of his course, he embarked for Europe. Dunstan was assigned to No. 460 Squadron RAAF at RAF Binbrook, Lincolnshire, England as a Lancaster rear gunner.  He flew his 1st operation on 11 June 1943 to Düsseldorf.  In October he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer, and later was awarded the DSO for his efforts as a “Cool and skilful Air Gunner despite handicap of one leg”.  During one raid on Kassel on 22/23 October 1943, the plane in which he was flying was hit by 2 incendiary bombs dropped by another Lancaster, which was off course. The damage caused by this accident cut off the oxygen supply to Dunstan and the mid upper gunner, Flight Sergeant Hegarty.  As a result of the oxygen starvation that both men suffered, neither saw the approach of an enemy night-fighter, whose attack badly damaged the Lancaster, one cannon shell passing through the rear-gunner’s turret.  The aircraft managed to return home and make a crash-landing at Bisham, the crew escaping unhurt.  Dunstan soon completed a full tour of 30 operations and returned to Australia in August 1944.  He was discharged from the Royal Australian Air Force on 2 October 1945.

Jerry also uses what we call the “chandelier flares.” This is either a single large flare or a group of 3 – 5 flares. They are shot from the ground and hang in the air for a long time at your level. They light up everything for miles around and show your position to the fighter.  One of the most important things to remember is Jerry loves a “sleeping target.” If he finds you know he is there he will, 9 times out of 10, go away and find another bomber.  Another important thing to remember as an Air Gunner is primarily to protect your bomber and not shoot down fighters. Never fire unless it is necessary. Always take evasive action. Firing gives your position away to every night fighter in that vicinity.  Evasive action should be practiced until the co-ordination between skipper and gunner is as though one brain controlled all concerned.

During the 1930‘s great strides were made in the development of powered gun turrets in the belief that they would be capable of defending bombers from fighter attack. They were technologically advanced for the time, fully enclosed and providing the air gunner with more firepower than ever before. However with the advent of war, it became obvious to Bomber Command that formation flying during the day, even with the latest turrets, would not provide protection for the bombers from swift, heavily armed fighter aircraft. The British turned to night bombing but the air gunner’s role remained the same, that of the primary lookout and protector of the aircraft and the lives of those aboard.

Almost all Lancasters were equipped with 3 Frazer-Nash (FN) hydraulically operated turrets, each with .303 calibre machine guns. The FN-5 nose turret had 2 guns, the FN-50 mid-upper turret had 2, and the FN20 tail turret had 4. The FN64 mid-under turret saw only limited use in the aircraft’s early months. The nose turret was rarely used and manned by the bomb aimer if required. Some of the later Canadian-built Lancaster’s (those from serial # KB-855 on), including the museum’s aircraft, were equipped with the American built, electrically powered Martin 250 mid-upper turret with twin .50 calibre guns. Few, if any, of these saw service.

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Lancaster Interior
Before we commence describing serious bombing operations let us look inside the Lancaster to give you some idea of the duties and conditions under which the Air-crew work.  Starting at the entrance door immediately inside the fuselage there is a flare chute.  This carries a high velocity flare that is dropped at the same time as the bombs to photograph and record the bomb strike.  To the left are 2 stowage’s one for the Rear Gunners Parachute and one for a portable oxygen bottle. We then see into the rear gun turret to the rear.

Above the entrance door is stowage for the entrance ladder. It was my duty as the engineer to see that the ladder was in the stowage and the door locked and so inform the pilot.  Close by the door to the front is suspended a remote recording compass positioned here away from all radio and electrical interference; the readings were shown on instruments in the pilots and navigators positions.

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WirelessOperatorGoing forward up the fuselage we pass under the Mid Upper Gun Turret On the port side is a rest bed for use if a crew member is injured.  Underneath it are 16 oxygen bottles for the supply to the crew at altitude. In the air I would monitor the supply to each crew from my position.  Then there is the main spar of the aircraft with parts of the hydraulics and compressed air systems attached.  Note the small gap to get through to get to the front cockpit.  Immediately after the spar on the port side is the Wireless Operators position.  In fact he sits with his back to the spar – he does have a cushion.

 Just ahead of the mid-upper turret was an escape hatch in the fuselage roof, which was used in the event of a crash landing or a ditching at sea. In the latter event, a dinghy was housed in the upper surface of the starboard wingroot, which could be released manually from inside the aircraft, and which should have inflated automatically if the Lancaster came down in the ‘drink‘, as it was generally known. The walls in this area of the fuselage were cluttered with fire extinguishers and flame float and sea marker canisters.

Next on the port side is the Navigator’s position which is directly behind the Pilot.  The navigator worked in a curtained off compartment so that the lights he required would not give away the position of the Lancaster to enemy fighters. Few navigators had the time, or the inclination, to leave their station during a raid. They were constantly plotting the aircraft’s course and making adjustments for wind and other factors. As electronic navigational aids developed during the war the navigator’s work load became even greater.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqQAA2rcBno
Lancaster Crew Documentary

Interview with Ken Duddell, he was a Flight Engineer on the Avro Lancaster bombers flying out of RAF Elsham Wold during World War 2. In this interview Ken talks about what life was like as a Flight Engineer.

Flight Conditions

To use the term working conditions in the context of war is of course horribly inappropriate.  The conditions under which a bomber crew had to operate were spartan.  A WW2 bomber was not an airtight creation. Exhaust fumes from the engines would leak in and induce passivity. Some airmen used a stimulant agent called Benzedrine to cope. The operational altitude of the aircraft was cold all year round. So heat from the engines was led into the cockpit, were it then reached the pilot, flight engineer, navigator and radio operator. In the navigators station it was often too hot. The Bomb Aimer in the front of the plane, where he also acted as gunner, had a cold position. The mid-turret gunner, and above all, the tail gunner were very exposed to the freezing conditions. In the flight overalls there were heating coils which airmen could connect via cables and connectors.  The need for this is easy to understand when the temperature could drop to below -40° C. The ability to move around on board was limited because the level of vigilance must be on top during the entire mission.  The longest missions, such as Königsberg, could be nearly 12 hours long. This said a raid on Stettin (Now in Poland) took about 9 hours. There was a single toilet bucket on board, but who wanted to undress their protective suits and go to the toilet in the extreme cold?  Therefore many avoided to drink enough water which in turn resulted in dehydration and medical complications.

Most air crew in a Lancaster would not wear a parachute during flight. They were not comfortable to sit on and obstructed movement in tight locations. For the same reason they wore no life jacket when they flew over the land.  To save yourself by baling out from a doomed Lancaster was not an easy task. Especially when the aircraft was spinning or flew upside down. If the aircraft flew level the tail gunner could, after putting on his parachute which was stowed in the fuselage would rotate the tower so that he sat with his back to the open door of the turret and then simply fall out backwards. The Mid turret gunner and Wireless operator used the main hatch on the starboard side while the rest of the crew (bomb aimer, pilot, flight engineer and navigator) used the emergency exit in the floor of the bomb aimer’s station. When leaving through the main hatch the crew had to watch out not to hit the tail stabiliser. The order in which the crew would bail out could change due to structural damage or fire on board.

To serve in the Air Force was made to look glamorous in the recruitment adverts. The reality was quite different. One advantage was that after the missions you could eat decent food, have the opportunity to shower and sleep in a bed with clean sheets.  If there was no mission one night you could go to the pub and meet the girls both local and WAAF’s.

Dramatic Portrait of a Typical Flight

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/telegraphtv/3272415/A-guided-tour-of-a-Lancaster-Bomber.html

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