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Lancaster Firsts - Jim Shortland 11th November 2015

A Lancaster Mk1 (Special) drops a 22,000lb Grand Slam (No 4 RAFFPU, Royal Air Force official photographer)

The Branch had a particularly large (for us) audience for the return of Jim Shortland to the Geospatial Building, Nottingham on 11th November. Nineteen people attended including visitors from Sussex and Surrey. Jim’s talk was entitled ‘Lancaster Firsts’ and concentrated upon those aspects of Bomber Command operations which became possible after the introduction of this versatile aircraft. Some were successful; others were failures, despite the bravery and skill of the crews. First described was the Augsburg Raid in April 1942 when 12 Lancasters of Nos 44 and 97 Sqn attacked the MAN U-boat diesel engine factory at Augsburg. With seven out of 12 Lancasters failing to return in exchange for relatively minor damage to the factory, the RAF learned once again that even operations conducted from very low-level were not yet feasible in daylight. Nevertheless, 94 Lancasters from No 5 Group set out six months later in October to bomb the large Schneider Factory at Le Creusot and its associated transformer station, situated more than 300 miles inside France. The factory was regarded as the French equivalent to Krupps and produced heavy guns, railway engines and, it was believed, tanks and armoured cars. This time the crews’ luck held on this shorter route, and only one aircraft was lost. There was considerable damage to the factory although there was also co-lateral damage to the nearby French workers accommodation.

The Dams Raid and Barnes Wallis’s famous ‘Upkeep’ bouncing bomb was covered before going on to describe 617Sqn’s next operation, which was to the Dortmund Emms Canal. This raid too was something of a disaster. The 12,000lb light casing, high capacity (LCHC) bomb they were to use comprised three 4000lb LCHC bombs joined one behind the other. It made a big bang but had poor ballistic properties. This meant that it must be dropped from low level to have any chance of success. Eight Lancasters set out, and only three returned showing once again that low-level attacks by large aircraft against heavily defended targets were unsustainable.

617Sqn had greater success with the Barnes Wallis’s 12,000lb ‘Tallboy’, also dropped by IXSqn, and ultimately the 22,000lb Grand Slam. These were thick casing, medium capacity, penetration weapons which achieved near sonic speed when dropped from a great height. Although the Grand Slam in particular was capable of punching a hole through several feet of reinforced concrete and several inches of steel in the lucky event of a direct hit, their prime purpose was to shake the target’s foundations sufficiently for it to fall down or become ineffective as a weapons platform. Tallboys were used to great effect against the Samaur and Rilly La Montagne railway tunnels; V1, V2, and V3 sites; The battleship Tirpitz and heavy cruiser Lutzow; various u-boat and e-boat pens; and the Dortmund Emms Canal.

Wallis’s 22,000lb Grand Slam was a scaled-up version of Tallboy. It was first used operationally late in the War in Europe, March 1945, and was the most powerful non-nuclear bomb used in WW2. Consequently only 99 were produced of which 42 were used. 617Sqn were provided with especially lightened Lancasters, known as ‘Mk1 Specials’, to carry it. The weapon was first dropped against the Bielefeld Viaduct and subsequently used against railway bridge targets and u-boat pens in Germany.

  • 04 January 2016
  • East Midlands Branch

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