Lancaster III AK-193 - History

Lancaster III AK-193 - History


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Lancaster III
(AK-193: dp. 2,307; 1. 338'7"; b. 50'; dr. 21'1"; s. 12 k.;
cpl. 85; a. 1 3", 6 20mm.; cl. Alamosa; T. C1-31-AV1)

The third Lancaster (AK193),ex MC Hull 2124, was laid down 1 July 1044 by Walter Butler Shipbuilding Inc., Superior, Wis.; launched the .same year; acquired by the Navy 21 September 1945; and commissioned the same day. The end of World War II reduced the need for cargo ships, and Lancaster decommissioned 23 November 1946 and v as returned to was the same day.


Lancaster III AK-193 - History

Lancaster Mk. I/III

Lancaster Mk. II

Lancaster Mk. 1 Special

Lancaster History

Lancaster Mk. VII

Lancaster Mk. VI

Copyright: Larry Wright, 1998

Roy Chadwick

Even prior to any formal orders being received for the twin-engine Avro Manchester, Roy Chadwick, Avro's Chief Designer, had unofficially proposed a four-engine variant of the Manchester to the Air Ministry.

Although, the initial four-engine proposal was not given the total support of either Avro or the Air Ministry. With the Manchester design not fully finalized, a group of six draftsmen were assigned to the project. The Type 683 four-engine variant named Manchester Mk.III was already well under way long before the first Manchester rolled off of Avro's production lines.

The new design called for the use of the basically sound Manchester fuselage and center wing section. To which it was proposed to mount an increased main wing with a span that was initially to be 90'-0" (27.43 meters), this would later be increased to 102'-0" feet (31.09 meters.) The tail lane was also to be enlarged, but the early design retained the Manchester's tri-fin design. This to would be revised shortly after the first flight of prototype and would also include the deletion of the central fin and an increase in the size of the twin rudders.

With the initial design nearing completion design calculations showed that the four-engine Manchester, which was now unofficially being referred to as the Lancaster, showed significant improvement in performance over the twin-engine version. The design team surmised that even with a new all up weight of nearing 58,600 lbs, the aircraft would be capable of reaching a top speed slightly over 300 mph at 18,000 feet and a have a bomb lifting capacity of 12,000 lbs.

By August 1940, correspondence between senior members of Avro, Avro's sub-contractors and the Air Ministry reveal all parties were actually discussing the new four-engine design. But as yet no commitment had made towards producing a prototype aircraft.

At about the same time as the correspondence discussing the new Manchester version was occurring. A decision was made high in governmental echelons that the entire bomber force should be equipped entirely with four-engine types.

Within twenty-four hours of this decision being made, a letter arrived at the Air Ministry suggesting that once the original order for the two hundred twin-engine Manchester's, currently under production with Avro, was completed. The entire Avro manufacturing facility should be converted for production of the Handley-Page Halifax.

This suggestion can only have been received in the most unfavourable way by the management of Avro. As their reaction was immediate and they submitted a counter-proposal to the Air Ministry for the production of the four-engine Manchester variant.

The speed by which Avro was able to react the Air Ministry's suggestion that they convert to the manufacture of the Halifax. Makes two things obvious.

Firstly, that Avro had in fact conceived of the four-engine Manchester variant a full two years prior to the delivery of the first twin-engine Manchester, and that Avro was in fact ready to produce this version prior to even the first Manchester being delivered to a squadron.

Secondly, that Avro successfully argued that since over 70 percent of the components required to build the four-engine variant were currently being used on the twin-engine version. There by allowing for a far quicker conversion from manufacture of the twin-engine version, to manufacture the four-engine version being attained than could be achieved by converting to a the manufacture of a totally different aircraft type.

Although by November 1940, all efforts were being made to bring the Manchester up to specified performance levels. Both Avro and the Air Ministry were more than aware of the Manchester's operational shortcomings. And it was at about this time that the Air Ministry finally instructed Avro to proceed with the development of the four-engine Manchester variant, which was then officially deemed the Manchester Mk.III.

Once again Avro was quick off the mark. Deciding, that in order to speed up the development of the Mk.III an existing Manchester Mk.I airframe complete with its then standard central tail fin and 22'-0" span tail plane assembly, should be used. One was quickly allocated and soon removed from the production line for conversion and it was not long before the revised main wing assembly complete with its four Merlin engines was mated and the aircraft made ready for flight.

On January 9th, 1941, only six weeks after the preparations had begun, the first prototype Manchester Mk.III (BT308) took to the air. Initial test flight reports were good, with the only comment being that the aircraft lacked directional stability. This observation was not unsurprising as it will be recalled that the original design Mk.III design required the tail plane to be modified to a 39'-0" span twin rudder configuration.

The second prototype DG595, which represented the production version of the Mk.III quickly followed and first took to the air on May 13, 1941 and was soon joined BT308 at the A& AEE testing facilities at Boscombe Down, for flight and operational trails.

As testing continued and with results proving to be favourable and in some case actually exceeding those originally estimated. A decisions was made to officially renamed the aircraft Lancaster Mk.I. The decision must have been partly made with the hope that this promising new aircraft could begin its service life with a clean slate rather than being introduced under the tarnished image of the Manchester.

The first Royal Air Force squadron to re-equip with the Lancaster was No. 44 Squadron based at Waddington in December 1941. The squadron in fact had the received the first prototype BT308 on strength in September for crew training. But this one aircraft could hardly be considered a total re-equipment of an operational squadron. No. 44 Squadron also had the honour of launching the first Lancaster offensive sorties, these being against Essen on the night of 10/11 March 1942.

Four major Lancaster variants were produced namely the Mk.I, Mk.II, Mk.III and the Canadian built Mk.X. Although, specialised variants and marks were also manufactured and included:

The Mk.I and Mk.III Specials which were both cleared to carry bomb loads in excess of 12,000 lbs, but were restricted to flying with an maximum all up flying weight of 72,000 lbs.

Examples of their use included: the attack the Ruhr Dams with the bouncing bomb, attacks on specialised targets such as the Battleship Tirpitz and underground flying bomb storage sites using the 22,000 lbs Grand Slam and the 12,000 lbs. Tallboy bombs respectively. All three of "special" weapons being designed by Barnes Wallis.

The Mk.VI was produced for operational trails of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 85 and 87 engines. Only ten such aircraft were ever built, but served with several operational squadrons and took part in offensive operations.

The Mk.VII(FE) was primarily designated for use with Tiger Force and operate in the Far East against Japan. Although most of the modifications were to allow the aircraft to operate in the extreme weather conditions that the Far East theatre would demand. This variant also included the installation a mid-upper turret equipped with twin .50 calibre machine guns.

Other minor variants also existed, but by and large none of these saw significant operational wartime service.

In total Lancaster Squadron's carried out 156,308 operational sorties dropping 604,612 tons of bombs, 51,513,105 incendiaries and laid over 12,000 sea mines. However, the aircraft's finest hours may have come in "non-offensive" operations just as the war was either about too or had just come to a close.

The first of these was during Operation Manna w here Lancaster Squadron's dispatched a total of 3,156 sorties to drop 6,684 tons of food supplies to the starving Dutch in May 1945.

The second Operation Dodge, saw many of the Lancaster Squadron's tasked to perform another act of humanity. Although, this time its was to return Allied Prisoners of War from various locations throughout Europe back to England. In a period of 24 days, a total of 2,900 round trips were flown and 74,000 ex-POW's were returned.

With the end of hostilities both in Europe and the Far East, the Lancaster was by no means finished in its service to the various Air Forces who operated them. The RAF continued to use the aircraft in various rolls including photographic and maritime reconnaissance up until October 1956. The Royal Canadian Air Force, who flew back many of the surviving Mk.X's to Canada, also continued to use the aircraft again in photographic and maritime rolls until the late 1950's.

Additionally, surplus aircraft, some almost brand new, were sold to the Air Forces of Argentina, Egypt and France. Where they were to be used a variety of rolls until replaced by newer aircraft types. Other's still were sold to private companies and were converted for use as airliners, transports, jet engine test beds or were equipped to act as mid-air refuelling tankers.

Today only 26 identifiable airframes are known to exist in the world. Of these only two, The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's PA474 and the Canadian War Plane Heritage Mynarski Lancaster FM213 continue to fly and allow future generations to witness the aircraft in its true element, namely the air. The remainder are by and large persevered in various locations throughout the world, but remain well and truly grounded. Two others, NX611 is now capable of taxing at East Kirkby, Lincolnshire and FM-159 at Nanton, Alberta is able to run up at least one engine.


Locating the crash site of Lancaster HK663, 195 Sqn – By Joop Hendrix Planehunters Recovery Team

Lancaster HK663 with it’s crew

Until may 2014 the crash location of Lancaster HK 663 from 195 Sqn was not known, but in most literature “Holland” was mentioned as crash location.

Aircraft history:

Serial Range HK553 – HK806 This aircraft was one of 200 Lancaster’s ordered from Vickers Armstrong (Castle Bromwich) as Mk.11 Sep41 and changed to Mk.111 Feb43, but built as Mk.1s from Oct43 to Feb45. Up to HK773 had Merlin 22 engines initially installed, and all subsequent models had Merlin 24 engines. HK663 was delivered to No.195 Sqn 16Oct 44 When lost this aircraft had a total of 18 recorded hours HK663 was one of two No.195 Sqn Lancaster’s lost on this operation.

Crew information:
F/O P.J.Funk RCAF Inj
F/O B.C.Lumsden RAAF PoW in Camp L3, PoW No.8709
F/O F.Major RCAF PoW No.8719
Sgt G.W.Flower PoW No.1139
Sgt G.P.Kenny KIA
Sgt S.Dudley was interned in Camp L7, PoW No.1135,
Sgt N.Price, PoW No.1162.

+ Sgt G.P.Kenny rear gunner 37 years old.

The raid:

On 2-11-1944 about 184 Lancaster’s from no.3 group were tasked against the oil plant at Homberg Germany. It was a daylight precision bombing mission, 195 Sqn. was involved in the raid and they took off from Whitchford at 11.18 AM. They successfully attacked the oil plant, in the graph below the result of the attack that day 2-11-1944. 5 Aircraft were lost that day.

Date of 1944 Attacks:
2 Nov.

HE Bombs Dropped Tons:
938

Average Weight of HE Bombs Dropped, Pounds:
1.160

Bombs Exploded in Target Area, Tons:
20.3

Average Daily Production for 3 Days before Attack, Metric Tons:
48

Cause of Production Loss and Other Major Damage:
Heavy damage to water-gas generators, hydrogen sulfide removal plant, benzine distillation unit, to tanks and pipelines

Recuperability as Estimated by Plant, percent of Capacity:
No estimate reconstruction continues

Estimated Damage, Reichmarks:
1,500,000

On the way back to England the aircraft crashed landed, the only information on internet is the following 2 sentences:

Presumed abandoned prior to being crash-landed in Allied held territory as F/O Funk was admitted to a Canadian Field Hospital.
Sgt Kenny, at 37 well over the average age of air-crew, is buried in Groesbeek Canadian Cemetery he was the son of Dr.Thomas Bernard Kenny MD of Trinidad.

Discovery of the crash location:

The City of Venray and surrounding little towns that now belong to Venray will mark there 70th anniversary of their liberation in September 2014. The idea was brought up by Mr. Bernard Ploegmakers to form a committee that would research what aircraft came down during WW2 in Venray. The crash information will then be displayed on 4 different locations in the towns.

The committee existed of about 7 people that all were involved with the history of WW2 in one or another way. There was a list of 53 possible crashes that came from two local researchers. On one of these crashes the information we had was: a Halifax bomber from 78 Sqn that crashed on 4-11-1944 just behind the nowadays German military cemetery. Within the committee Mr. Toon v/d Wetering from Volkel airbase doubt that it was a Halifax in reference to information he had about that particular Halifax.

So I went out with my metal detector and found evidence from a crashed WW2 aircraft located just outside the fence of the German military cemetery. The small pieces I found were for sure from a WW2 aircraft, but no proof of the aircraft type.

Mr. Lei Potten who serves at the committee as well arranged permission to search on the war cemetery. There is about 40 yards of wooden area right at the fence on the inside. We found quite some small pieces of metal and when cleaning it 2 of these were quite interesting.

That was a part bearing the letters VACB 761 which means the aircraft was build at Vickers Armstrong in the Castle Bromwich factory. And second a type plate that reveals the number 683 which stands for the aircraft type, a Lancaster!! Yes we new for sure the aircraft type now.

In the meantime Mr. Jan Strijbos copied all sorts of old documents from the city’s archives and found a letter describing that the crashed airplane could be a Lancaster or a Halifax.

Myself went through the missing aircrafts from the RAF in W.R.Chorley’s list around the datum of 4-11-1944 and found out that on 2-11-1944 a Lancaster crashed in Holland but the location was not known. The aircraft mentioned the HK633 was build at Castle Bromwich and was on a mission to Homberg Germany which would have brought it close to the Ysselsteyn area.

I had a good feeling this was the aircraft we were looking for, furthermore 2 other Lancaster’s on the sane raid crash in the neighbourhood that day on 2-11-1944 and were identified. But we did not have the final proof but that came a few days later when Mr. Lei Potten found out that Sgt G.B. Kenny the tail gunner was brought in at the British field hospital located at the local school wounded and died that same day. Also his name is on a memorial stone located in Ysselsteyn.

There are 2 mistakes made though, the first one is that the date on the memorial stone is 2-10-1944 instead of 2-11-1944 and secondly he is registered as a Canadian, but he has the nationality of Great Brittan (Trinidad is from the U.K.) according files found on the internet.

1835809 Sgt Gerald Patrick, KENNY
Service No: 1835809 Service: RAFVR
Trade/Branch: Air Gnr DOB:
Squadron(s): 195
Station/Unit/Ship: Witchford
Group: Command: Bomber
Nationality: Trinidad Enlisted : Jan/Feb 1943
Disposal: KIA Age 37 yrs Date Died: 2 Nov 1944
Aircraft : Lancaster I HK663

Aftermath:

The information will be shared with the community by informing all kinds of interested parties that have to do with WW2 crashes in Europe.

After searching for family members ( thanks to peter Gulliver and Neil) 2 survivors were found in the spring of 2014 being Gerald Flower (89) living in Vancouver area Canada and Sydney Dudley (93) living in England. Gerald was in the Netherlands in 2011 and visited the war cemetery in Groesbeek but did not know the tailgunner Kenny was buried over there untill he read this report.

From the other crewmembers daughters, sons or nephews were found and contacted. The son of the Pilot, David Funk lived even in the Netherlands.

From these contact most information came from “James” (Australia) the husband of Alister Bradbeer a daughter from Bruce Lumsden the navigator. Bruce had written down al his experiences from the last flight up to imprisonment as POW and the liberation from the camp. He shared this with James over the years in lots of letters and this was done on a unbelievable detailed level.

Following is his description of the fatal last flight and some pictures gathered from the various
family members.

On that Autumn day in 1944, our crew had already notched up 20 operations over Europe, most of them at night, but a number during daylight. We were therefore an experienced crew there were probably only two or three crews on the squadron who had completed a greater number of “ops”. It is understandable that if you have avoided “getting the chop” for so long you have built up considerable confidence, both in the capacity of the crew and in the aircraft, without consciously lessening your awareness of the perils, particularly in those seven or eight minutes over the target area. What you have failed to calculate is that after 20 ops, your time, statistically calculated has run out. Having managed to survive 20 ops, you consider your chances of completing another 10 and so finishing a tour are increasing all the time instead the chances, statistically reckoned, are now lowered.

We were called at 6.30 that morning and ordered to report to the mess at 7.15 for the pre-op meal. That would indicate a take-off time of 9.30 or 10 o’clock. But after entering the briefing room at 8 o’clock, we were told that there had been a delay because of weather conditions over the target.

Later there was a further postponement of take-off, I seem to remember. Eventually we took off about 12 noon.

At first the briefing seemed to take the normal course. The target, we were told was a synthetic oil refinery at the town of Homberg, on the Rhine opposite the city of Duisberg. (A few days before, we had bombed Duisberg with a maximum force (up to 1000 bombers) twice in ten hours the first raid at about 9 p.m. and the second at 7 a.m. the next morning. (It must have been a terrible pounding.) All the usual information was given about the route to the target, the times of take-off, setting course, over target, etc., the weather forecast, the enemy defences and all the rest. Then came the completely surprising announcement that aircraft were to fly in formation. We had never flown in formation before. The R.A.F. never flew in formation. The Americans always flew in huge formations and were experts in such flying, but our pilots had never practised formation flying. It was a lunatic idea and where it emanated from, and why, we were not told. But I don’t remember that anyone was very upset by the order or seriously questioned it. That was the order we simply had to carry it out.

After take-off, our squadron of three flights (six aircraft in each flight) was to rendezvous with another squadron over Reading. Each aircraft was given its position in the formation. Ours was No 2 in the first flight at the head of our formation. Unlike the tactics of the Americans, however, who used a Master Navigator in the lead aircraft, the rest simply following in formation, our orders were that each navigator was to keep his own navigation plot. I suppose this was a precaution against the failure of the attempt to fly in formation. Furthermore, each aircraft was to make its own bombing run and each bomb-aimer bomb separately. The Americans always had a Master Bombardier.

After take-off we climbed to 8,000 feet, heading for the rendezvous point. Here we met our first problem. There was no sign of the other squadron. We hung around for 3 or 4 minutes, but then at 12.40 p.m., unable to wait longer, we set course. I remember being slightly disgusted that the others were not able to carry out such a simple manoeuvre as a rendezvous at an appointed time. I think also that we were all probably a bit disconcerted that there had been a major failure of plans so early in the operation. It did not encourage confidence in this extraordinary new tactic that had been so suddenly ordered.

But from then on, things got only worse. Now setting course four minutes late, a quite serious departure from orders, I expected that the leading aircraft would increase speed in order to try to make up time. With a full bomb load, there was not much reserve power, but we could have managed another 5 or, perhaps, even 10 knots. But instead our cruising speed actually decreased. I was very fussed by this, but we were under strict radio silence – to break radio silence was almost a court-martial offence – so there was no communication between the aircraft in the formation. We cruised on, losing time steadily and I noticed that when we crossed the enemy coast, we were eight minutes behind time.

I remember now that the squadron commander had decided to fly on this “op”. Squadron commanders seldom flew but some of them liked to go on an occasional “op”. They would go with an inexperienced crew and that meant, as in this case, with an inexperienced navigator. Normally that would not be the concern of other crews, but on this day everyone was in the hands of a navigator who was making only his first or second flight, because, of course, the squadron commander considered that he should lead the formation. The rest of us would have reasoned differently.

Almost as soon as we had crossed the enemy coast, more trouble appeared. The squadron commander “feathered” his port outer engine. We couldn’t ask, “What’s the matter?” but presumably the engine had been overheating and he had been nursing it along at less than the prescribed cruising speed. Then a green Aldus lamp commenced flashing at us from a turret. Syd Dudley our radio operator, read the morse: “Take lead”. So we moved into the No.1 position in the formation.

By this time we were perhaps only thirty minutes from the target and Peter Funk our pilot spoke to me on the intercom. “What do you want us to do, Bruce? Do you think we should try to make up time or just keep going as we are?”

In a small piece of woods on the edge of Ysselstein German Military Cemetery a plane was known to have crashed.

It was not really my decision to make but the pilot’s. I was of a higher rank but he was captain of the aircraft. However, with my ingrained respect for both punctuality and compliance with orders, I replied at once, “I think we should try to make up time.” It was probably not a wise decision, but the error of it was considerably multiplied when the pilot edged the four throttles forward to gain another few knots of airspeed. Instead of the other aircraft in the formation following suit and coming with us, we were astounded to see a gap opening up between us and them as, for some reason, they all remained with
the crippled aircraft.

We could see, some distance ahead of us, another wave of bombers steadily approaching the target, and I think Peter thought we might just catch them up before reaching the target, but there was not enough time.

So in another ten or fifteen minutes, we turned on to our last short leg, the run into the target. Having left behind our own formation, we had failed to overtake the wave in front of us, and so, there we were out over the target, all alone – “like a country dunny” as the expression (politely phrased) was in those days. Perhaps it was fortunate for us that we did not then realise the terrible danger of being so isolated. We should have known that, without the protection of numbers, the enemy radar was capable of homing on to a solitary aircraft very closely, predicting its altitude, course and airspeed with great accuracy. Then the radar controlled A/A guns could direct a very deadly fire. But I suppose that we had become so used to watching the flak bursting all around us without ever being touched that a sense of immunity had developed, almost a defiant contempt. By day the ugly black smudges appear somewhat menacing, but at night the shell bursts are seen as pretty twinkling lights and suggest little menace. For, of course, the explosions cannot be heard above the roar of the four great engines of the Lancaster.

The attack on Homberg was made from our maximum altitude, a little over 20,000 feet. Just before 2 p.m. we commenced our bombing run to the target. The sky was clear the bomb-aimer could see the target coming down the wires of his bomb-sight and began to give directions to the pilot, “Right, steady, steady”. At that moment, there was the sensation of a great thump as though a giant had struck a savage blow at the aircraft. I heard Frank Major, the Canadian bomb-aimer, give a sharp yell. The aircraft seemed to shudder momentarily, then fly steadily on.. The nose of the aircraft had been blown off. No wonder Frank yelled! His position was down in the nose lying flat on his tummy. But he was unhurt.

I don’t know whether we had sustained any other damage but we continued the attack, the directions of the bomb-aimer coming quietly over the inter-com “Left-left, steady – Right, steady”, and so on. The bomb doors were now open and all of us must have been hoping fervently that we would not be hit in the bomb bay and end our lives flying through the air in many little bits. Slowly the target was moving down the two parallel wires of the bomb-sight. We were all waiting to hear those two momentous words from the bomb aimer, as he pressed the tit: “Bombs gone”. Meanwhile, I was working out the course we were to take from the target.

It was always a relief to know that at last you were no longer accompanied by that huge “cookie” beneath where you were sitting. But there was still an awkward interval of 20 or 30 seconds after the bombs were dropped while the pilot had to fly straight and level in order for the camera to photograph the moment of impact. Afterwards, back at base, the picture would reveal the accuracy with which the target had been attacked.

I think that it was in these moments that we were hit a second time. Immediately the starboard inner engine caught fire and had to be “feathered” (i.e. stopped) and the fire extinguished. I left my seat to see what damage had been done and was surprised to see torn metal and large gaping holes in the wing surfaces. I noticed, with rather more concern, that fuel was streaming behind us from ruptured tanks. But the aircraft was still flying and I did not feel unduly troubled. I remember Syd Dudley from his seat at the W/O’s desk reaching over and touching my arm and pointing down below my chair. A hole, about the size of a fist, had been punched in the deck by a shell fragment that could have missed me by inches only. I regarded the hole with mild curiosity and grinned at Syd. There wasn’t enough time to dwell on such a minor detail.

The camera had clicked and I gave the pilot the new course to steer. He had just put the nose down and was turning on to course when, “Vroomph” – we were hit a third time. Though visually we would have been only a speck in the sky four miles above them, guided by their radar, those boys on the ground were making a meal of us.

Memorial plaque with the name of the rear gunner on it, he has the wrong date and nationality

Two more engines caught fire and were stopped. Peter Funk tried to re-start the port inner, but it immediately spat flames. Without a bomb load, a Lancaster could fly on one engine, though it might gradually lose altitude, so, though the situation now was clearly serious, I still felt confident that we would somehow manage to make it back to base. Even when the pilot gave the order: “Put on parachutes”, I regarded the instruction as a wise precaution to be followed until the crisis was passed. The aircraft appeared to be under control and with the nose down we were screaming away from enemy territory at about 250 knots. We were, in fact, by now over Holland.

But in another minute or two the order “Put on parachutes” was followed by the altogether unbelievable words, “Jump, jump”. For a moment I had to force myself to believe that Peter meant it. Then I was conscious, not of fear, though perhaps it rose out of fear, but of a feeling of the most profound regret at the idea of leaving the aircraft in which experience had established a complete and total confidence. Surely there was some hope left.

But the hydraulics of our crippled aircraft had been shot away and the pilot was fighting to keep control. I gave a last longing look at my desk and the charts and log and other paraphernalia and stepped down to the escape hatch in the nose. The bomb-aimer and engineer had already gone. I knelt over the open hatch and looked down. The earth seemed a long way below. I could not dismiss the longing not to have to make the fateful act, even though I knew that it was now a matter of life or death. It was a moment I had never previously visualised and involved a kind of surrender I was quite unprepared for. I was poised to tumble head first through the open hatch as we had once been instructed, when I suddenly thought of that ring which I would have to pull. Suppose I couldn’t find it when I was out there hurtling groundwards! I hesitated a second and grasped the ring in one hand. Then, without a single remaining reason for delay, I dived forward in a somersault.

There was a brief moment of unconsciousness, a blank remains in my memory. Then I felt a sudden sharp jerk through my body. I looked above me and there was the great silken canopy of my parachute. For a moment or two, it seemed that I was suspended motionless in space, because from my altitude of about 8,000 feet, my approach to the ground gave no sense of relative speed. Impelled, I suspect, by a navigator’s strict preoccupation with time, I looked at my watch. It was 1407 hours.

My first conscious act of the mind, and it came without my own volition, was: “Poor Mother, this is going to be hard for her when the news reaches home.” For the next few moments I seemingly hung in space. I had no sense at all of downward motion. For a second or two it worried me the irrational thought that I was “stuck” up there entered my mind. Then I was suddenly struck by the total silence around me, a feeling I had never before experienced. For that first minute or so I must have been beyond the range of the ordinary sounds of earth. The noiseless atmosphere was eerie but beautifully peaceful.

I could see our aircraft flying into the distance apparently stable still. A couple of figures exited from it and I saw their ‘chutes open. Then my ‘chute turned around and they were lost to sight.

I began to pay attention to my descent. Below me was a broad expanse of flat countryside with small green fields surrounded by trees. Not a sign of warfare or military activity of any kind. My hopes of escaping capture rose. Perhaps I was descending into an area of Holland untouched by war. Then I heard heavy artillery fire but it seemed distant.

But a few moments later I heard the sharp crack of rifle shots, and then, unbelievably, the swift whistling whine of bullets passing close. Strangely, I was not worried at all by the thought that I might be killed, or even injured by one of these shots. I was concerned that my parachute might be ripped apart and that I would make an express trip to earth and a painfully heavy landing. (It would appear that the rear gunner was hit and killed, as he was found to be dead when a British tank crew got to him.)

By this time the upward approach of earth had become noticeably rapid and I called to mind the drill for making a good landing. I scanned the countryside but could still see no evidence of military activity, no troops, no vehicles on roads and no tanks moving across the ground. The only sign of human life was a farmer sitting in a slowly moving wagon drawn by an ambling horse. He appeared not to have noticed my approach, but I thought of him as a possible source of help and concealment

I was relieved to see that I would not have the awkwardness of landing in trees or dropping into a canal, but right into the centre of a small irregular-shaped field. I took a look at my watch. It was just 1415 hrs (2.15 p.m.) and I knew that my descent had taken eight minutes. Then I gave a half-turn to the knob of my parachute harness in the centre of my chest and, just before my feet touched the ground, banged the knob sharply with the heel of my right hand. The harness straps fell apart, I was released from the ‘chute and, striking the ground with a mild jolt, fell forward on my hands and knees. For an instant I seemed to have landed in the most peaceful spot on earth.

With the rapidity with which the mind works in moments of crisis, that instant was long enough for me to remember that I had first to get rid of my tell-tale parachute. “Bury it,” was the official advice. I looked at the 70 yards of white nylon stretched across the grass and wondered how I could possibly find a way to bury it. But I did not have to ponder my question for in the next instant I heard shouts and looking across the field I saw that a reception committee were coming towards me, seven or eight men in an unfamiliar green uniform. “Could they perhaps be members of a Dutch Home Guard,” my mind rationalised. But recognising the futility of the thought, I decided that I had best signify my surrender in the time-honoured fashion. I raised my hands above my head and my heart dropped into my boots.

The crew from Lancaster HK663

Noel Price in prison camp.

Mr Gerald Flower in his hometown of Vancouver in June 2014 doing fine.

Thanks to the research committee:
Bernard Ploegmakers
Jan Strijbos
Ruud Wildekamp
Toon v/d Wetering
Gerrit Kateman
Harry Strijbos
Lei Potten
Joop Hendrix
Special thanks to:
peter Gulliver and Neil from 51 Sqn history org.
All the survivors and family especially James Bradbeer Australia.

By Joop Hendrix / Planehunters Recovery Team
Reproduced with permission on War History Online


The Lancaster: Britain's Workhorse WWII Bomber

Unlike most combat planes built in large numbers, the Lancaster was little changed during the war. Major design modifications proved unnecessary. A total of 7,377 of the bombers were eventually produced, including 430 built in Canada.

Wing Commander Guy P. Gibson of Royal Air Force Bomber Command was handed the most challenging assignment of his six-year career in the spring of 1943.

After winning the Distinguished Service Order with bar and the Distinguished Flying Cross by the age of 24, the chunky, modest son of an Indian Forest Service official took command of a unit newly formed for “special duties,” No. 617 Squadron. It was destined to gain a unique niche in the history of military aviation.

At the sprawling Scampton Airfield near the city of Lincoln in northeastern England that spring, Gibson oversaw the intense preparation of 700 handpicked pilots, bombardiers, navigators, and gunners for a daring and unprecedented operation—a low-level precision raid by four-engine Avro Lancaster heavy bombers. It was code named Operation Chastise.

Gibson, characterized as an officer who “exerted his authority without apparent effort,“ told the crews, “You’re here to do a special job, you’re here as a crack squadron, you’re here to carry out a raid on Germany, which, I am told, will have startling results. Some say it may even cut short the duration of the war…. All I can tell you is that you will have to practice low flying all day and night until you know how to do it with your eyes shut.”

The targets, kept secret during the squadron’s training, were the Mohne, Eder, and Sorpe dams in Germany’s Ruhr Valley. Since before the start of World War II, Air Ministry planners believed that the destruction of the dams, which stored water vital for production, would cripple Nazi Germany’s economy. The untried weapons chosen for the operation were spherical, five-foot-long bombs (actually mines) that contained five tons of Torpex high explosive.

Developed by Dr. Barnes N. Wallis, an engineering genius who had invented the geodetic aircraft design, the bombs were to be dropped from a height of only 60 feet, skip across the surface of the water, roll down the faces of the dams, and explode underwater. Widespread flooding and damage would result.

After several failures, the “bouncing bomb” had been successfully tested off the southern coast of England. The weapon was so cumbersome that the Lancaster had to be modified to hold it, protruding below the bomb bay. Dual spotlights were also fitted to No. 617 Squadron’s bombers. The big, robust Lancaster was the only aircraft suited for the unique operation.

“The Most Precise Bombing Attack Ever Delivered”

All was made ready for the mission by Sunday, May 16, 1943, and the weather was excellent. That night, 18 Lancasters took off from Scampton, formed up, and thundered at low level across the North Sea and the Dutch coast. Two planes were shot down by German antiaircraft fire, and two had to return to base, one with flak damage and the other after hitting the sea. Another bomber went down when its pilot was blinded by searchlights.

The remaining Lancasters flew on in moonlight through increasing enemy flak and small-arms fire to the Ruhr dams. Gibson dropped the first bomb on the Mohne dam and scored a direct hit. The second plane was hit by flak and crashed, but the third and fourth made successful runs. The dam still held. But the fifth bomber’s run did the trick.

As the Lancasters climbed away, Gibson reported, the top of the dam simply “rolled over and the water, looking like stirred porridge in the moonlight,” cascaded into the valley below.

The Eder dam was well hidden in a valley and difficult to approach. One of the Lancasters dropped its bomb too late, which exploded on the parapet and took the plane with it. After several abortive runs, two more bombers laid their ordnance accurately and breached the dam with spectacular results. The squadron’s remaining bomb damaged the Sorpe dam but failed to cause a breach.

Eight bombers were lost in the operation, and 54 crewmen lost their lives. The cost was high, but the raid gave a major boost to Allied morale. Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest medal for valor, and 33 other members of the squadron were also decorated.

The devastation and widespread flooding inflicted by the raid killed 1,300 civilians, left thousands homeless, damaged 50 bridges, and briefly halted production in the Ruhr. But, because only two of the dams had been breached, the impact was less severe than planned. The dams were repaired by October 1943.

The operation, nevertheless, was remembered as the most celebrated Allied bomber mission of the war. The official Bomber Command history called it “the most precise bombing attack ever delivered and a feat of arms which has never been excelled.”

Developing the “Lanc” Heavy Bomber

The Avro Lancaster was a remarkable plane. From 1942 onward it was the primary British bomber in the Allied aerial offensive against Germany. Sturdy, versatile, and ideally suited for mass production, it had the RAF’s lowest heavy bomber loss rate and was used extensively in high- and low-level day and night raids. Its payload exceeded that of the U.S. Army Air Forces’ Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and Consolidated B-24 Liberator, and it could carry the heaviest bombs, from 4,000-pounders up to the 12,000-ton “Tallboy” and the 22,000-ton “Grand Slam.”

Many experts termed the “Lanc” the most effective bomber of the war. Aviation historian Owen Thetford called it “perhaps the most famous and certainly the most successful heavy bomber used by the Royal Air Force in the Second World War.” Historian William Green said that a great plane must have “a touch of genius which transcends the good” and “the luck to be in the right place at the right time.” He added, “It must have above-average flying qualities: reliability, ruggedness, fighting ability, and skilled crews. All these things the Lancaster had in good measure.”

Yet the bomber was conceived almost by accident, developed as a result of the failure of its predecessor, the twin-engine Avro Manchester. The Lancaster story began in 1936, when the standard RAF night bomber was the ungainly, soon obsolete Handley Page Heyford, a twin-engine biplane, and when Bomber Command possessed only one squadron of Hendon monoplane bombers. The Air Ministry drew up specifications for a twin-engine heavy bomber that September, and Sir Edwin A.V. Roe, an aircraft design pioneer, proposed a design that was powered by two “new and unorthodox” Vulture liquid-cooled engines.

Named the Manchester, it made its maiden flight from Manchester Ringway Airfield in July 1939, became operational in November 1940, and first saw action on February 24-25, 1941, when it flew a night raid against the French port of Brest. Replacing the twin-engine Handley Page Hampden, the Manchester carried a heavy payload, mounted eight machine guns, and had a maximum range of 1,630 miles, yet it was “one of the RAF’s great disappointments,” said Thetford. Its engine proved unreliable, and it racked up the highest loss rate of all RAF bombers in the war, so it was removed from combat service in June 1942.

But Roe’s design team, headed by brilliant Roy Chadwick, still believed that, with improvements, the Manchester could become an effective bomber. So, four 1,460-horsepower Rolls-Royce Merlin engines were installed on the basic airframe, and the Lancaster was born. Piloted by Captain H.A. “Sam” Brown, the prototype made its maiden flight on January 9, 1941, from Woodford, Northamptonshire. It tested successfully, assembly line work was started immediately, and the first production bomber flew on October 31, 1941. Wing Commander Roderick Learoyd’s No. 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron at Waddington, Lincolnshire, received a welcome Christmas present that December 24 when three of the first operational Lancasters arrived to replace its obsolete Hampdens.

The massive, mid-wing Lancaster had a twin tail and four characteristic power turrets (nose, tail, dorsal, and ventral), all mounting twin .303-caliber machine guns except the tail position, which had four .303s. The ventral turret was soon removed. A spacious bomb bay enabled the plane to accommodate a minimum 14,000-ton payload, outperforming such other Bomber Command “heavies” as the Short Stirling and the workhorse Handley Page Halifax.

Manned by a crew of seven, the Lancaster was comparatively easy to fly, maintain, and repair. It had a maximum speed of 287 miles an hour, a range of 1,660 miles, and a ceiling of 24,500 feet. Most of the aircraft were fitted with an H2S radar “can,” protruding beneath the after fuselage. A few mounted .50-caliber machine guns, some had bulged bay doors in order to carry the Tallboy and Grand Slam bombs, and others were powered by Packard-built Merlin or Bristol Hercules radial engines.

Unlike most combat planes built in large numbers, the Lancaster was little changed during the war. Major design modifications proved unnecessary. A total of 7,377 of the bombers were eventually produced, including 430 built in Canada. The Lancaster became the dominant aircraft of RAF Bomber Command and the mainstay of its regular night raids over Nazi-occupied Europe and Germany. By January 1942, there were 256 Lancasters out of 882 heavies in Bomber Command, and a year later there were 652 Lancasters out of 1,093 bombers. The “Lanc” was loved by its crews.


Lancaster III AK-193 - History



























Avro 683 &ldquoLancaster&rdquo B.Mk.III
United Kingdom &mdash World War II four-engined heavy bomber

Archive Photos Airplane Trading Cards and Photos [1]

[Avro 683 Lancaster B.Mk.III (ED865) (Trade Card, A History of British Military Aircraft, 1963, Kellogg, UK, 7 of 16). (The Skytamer Archive, copyright © 2014 Skytamer Images) [1] ]

[Avro 683 Lancaster Mk.III (ED470, AM-P), Airplane card: 1993 &ldquoWorld War II War Machines, the Flight Series&rdquo, The Rogers Group, USA (The Skytamer Archive)]

Overview 2

  • Avro 683 Lancaster
  • Role: Heavy bomber
  • Manufacturer: Avro
  • Designed by: Roy Chadwick
  • First flight: 8 January 1941
  • Introduced: 1942
  • Retired: 1963 (Canada)
  • Primary users: Royal Air Force Royal, Canadian Air Force
  • Number built: 7,377
  • Unit cost: £s45-50,000 when introduced (£s1.3-1.5 million in 2005 currency)
  • Developed from: Avro Manchester
  • Variants: Avro Lancastrian, Avro Lincoln, Avro York

The Lancaster owes its origin to Air Ministry specification B.13/36 for a twin-engined medium bomber to be fitted with Rolls-Royce Vulture engines. The first aircraft built to this specification was the Manchester, the prototype of which first flew in July, 1939. About 18 months later the Manchester began to go into squadron service in the RAF.

Owing to delays in the development of the Vulture engine the decision was taken in mid-1940 to design a new version of the Manchester to be fitted with four Rolls-Royce Merlin engines. The first conversion made use of about 75% of parts and assemblies of the Manchester, the principal change being the provision of a new center-section with mountings for four Merlin × engines. This aeroplane became the first prototype of the Lancaster.

A second prototype fitted with four Merlin XX engines and considerably modified in detail was designed, built and flown in some eight months.

The first production Lancasters began to come off the production lines early in 1942 and in the same year the decision was made to produce the Lancaster in Canada. The first Canadian-built Lancaster was delivered by air across the Atlantic in September, 1943. In 1944 Lancaster production was begun in Australia.

The Lancaster is the most versatile of British heavy bombers. It can carry a maximum internal load of 18,000 lbs without modification to the standard bomb-bay. On a range of 1,000 miles its normal load is 14,000 lbs. With modifications to the bomb-bay it carries both the 12,000 lb and 22,000 lb bombs, the only bomber in the World to carry bombs of these sizes.

There have been four basic versions of the Lancaster. These are as follow:

  1. Lancaster I: Four Rolls-Royce Merlin XX engines.
  2. Lancaster II: Four Bristol Hercules VI air-cooled radial engines.
  3. Lancaster III: Same as the Mk.I but fitted with Packard-built Merlin engines.
  4. Lancaster X: The Canadian-built version of the Mk.III fitted with Packard-built Merlin engines.

The Avro Lancaster first saw active service in 1942, and together with the Handley Page Halifax it was one of the main heavy bombers of the RAF, the RCAF and squadrons from other Commonwealth and European countries serving within RAF Bomber Command. The &ldquoLanc&rdquo or &ldquoLankie,&rdquo as it was affectionately known, became the most famous and most successful of the Second World War night bombers, &ldquodelivering 608,612 tons of bombs in 156,000 sorties.&rdquo Although the Lancaster was primarily a night bomber, it excelled in many other roles including daylight precision bombing, and gained worldwide renown as the &ldquoDam Buster &rdquo used in the 1943 &ldquoOperation Chastise&rdquo raids on Germany's Ruhr Valley dams.

Design and Development 2

The origins of the Lancaster stem from a twin-engined bomber design submitted to meet Specification P.13/36, which was for a new generation of twin-engined medium bombers for &ldquoworldwide use &rdquo, the engine specified as the Rolls-Royce Vulture. The resulting aircraft was the Manchester, which, although a capable aircraft, was troubled by the unreliability of the Vulture. Only 200 Manchesters were built and they were withdrawn from service in 1942.

Avro's chief designer, Roy Chadwick, was already working on an improved Manchester design using four of the more reliable but less powerful Rolls-Royce Merlin engines on a larger wing. The aircraft was initially designated Avro Type 683 Manchester III, and later re-named the Lancaster. The prototype aircraft (BT308) was assembled by Avro's experimental flight department at Manchester's Ringway Airport from where test pilot H.A. &ldquoBill &rdquo Thorn took the controls for its first flight on Thursday, 9 January 1941. The aircraft proved to be a great improvement on its predecessor, being &ldquoone of the few warplanes in history to be &lsquoright&rsquo from the start.&rdquo Its initial three-finned tail layout, a result of the design being adapted from the Manchester I, was quickly changed on the second prototype (DG595) and subsequent production aircraft to the familiar twin-finned specification also used on the later Manchesters.

Some of the later orders for Manchesters were changed in favor of Lancasters, the designs were very similar and both featured the same distinctive greenhouse cockpit, turret nose and twin tail. The Lancaster discarded the stubby central third tail fin of the early Manchesters and used the wider span tailplane and larger elliptical twin fins from the later Manchester Mk.IA.

The Lancaster is a mid-wing cantilever monoplane with an oval all-metal fuselage. The wing was constructed in five main sections, the fuselage in five sections. All wing and fuselage sections were built separately and fitted with all the required equipment before final assembly. The tail unit had twin oval fins and rudders. The Lancaster was initially powered by four wing-mounted Rolls-Royce Merlin piston engines with three-bladed airscrews. It had retractable main landing gear and fixed tail-wheel, with the hydraulically operated main landing gear raised into the inner engine nacelles.

The majority of Lancasters built during the war years were manufactured by Avro at their factory at Chadderton near Oldham, Lancashire and test flown from Woodford Aerodrome in Cheshire. Other Lancasters were built by Metropolitan-Vickers (1080, also tested at Woodford) and Armstrong Whitworth. The aircraft was also produced at the Austin Motor Company works in Longbridge, Birmingham later in the Second World War and postwar by Vickers-Armstrongs at Chester. Only 300 of the Lancaster B II fitted with Bristol Hercules engines were constructed this was a stopgap modification caused by a shortage of Merlin engines as fighter production was of higher priority. Many B.IIs were lost after running out of fuel. The Lancaster B.III had Packard Merlin engines but was otherwise identical to contemporary B.Is, with 3,030 B.III's built, almost all at A.V. Roe's Newton Heath factory. The B I and B III were built concurrently, and minor modifications were made to both marks as new batches were ordered. Examples of these modifications were the relocation of the pitot head from the nose to the side of the cockpit, and the change from de Havilland "needle blade" propellers to Hamilton Standard or Nash Kelvinator made &ldquopaddle blade&rdquo propellers.

Of later variants, only the Canadian-built Lancaster B.Mk.X, manufactured by Victory Aircraft in Malton, Ontario, was produced in significant numbers. A total of 430 of this type were built, earlier examples differing little from their British-built predecessors, except for using Packard-built Merlin engines and American-style instrumentation and electrics. Late-series models replaced the Frazer Nash mid-upper turret with a differently configured Martin turret, mounted slightly further forward for weight balance. A total of 7,377 Lancasters of all marks were built throughout the duration of the war, each at a 1943 cost of £s45-50,000 (approximately equivalent to £s1.3-1.5 million in 2005 currency).

Crew Accommodation 2

Starting at the nose, the bomb aimer had two positions to man. His primary location was lying prone on the floor of the nose of the aircraft, with access to the controls for the bombsight head in front, with the bombsight computer on his left and bomb release selectors on the right. He would also use his view out of the large transparent perspex nose cupola to assist the navigator with map reading. To man the Frazer Nash FN5 nose turret, he simply had to stand up and he would be in position behind the triggers of his twin .303 in (7.7 mm) guns. The bomb aimer's position contained the nose parachute exit in the floor.

Moving backwards, on the roof of the bomb bay the pilot and flight engineer sat side-by-side under the expansive canopy, with the pilot sitting on the left on a raised portion of the floor. The flight engineer sat on a collapsible seat (known as a &ldquosecond dicky seat&rdquo) to the pilot's right, with the fuel selectors and gauges on a panel behind him and to his right.

Behind these crew members, and behind a curtain fitted to allow him to use light to work, sat the navigator. His position faced to port with a large chart table in front of him. An instrument panel showing the airspeed, altitude and other details required for navigation was mounted on the side of the fuselage above the chart table.

The radios for the wireless operator were mounted on the left-hand end of the chart table, facing towards the rear of the aircraft. Behind these radios, facing forwards, on a seat at the front of the main spar sat the wireless operator. To his left was a window, and above him was the astrodome, used for visual signalling and also by the navigator for celestial navigation.

Behind the wireless operator were the two spars for the wing, which created a major obstacle for crew members moving down the fuselage even on the ground. On reaching the end of the bomb bay the floor dropped down to the bottom of the fuselage, and the mid upper gunner's Frazer Nash FN50 or FN150 turret was reached. His position allowed a 360° view over the top of the aircraft, with two .303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine guns to protect the aircraft from above and to the side. The mid-upper gunner had perhaps the most uncomfortable ride of all the crew, as he was seated on a rectangle of canvas that was slung beneath the turret once the gunner had occupied his position. He could be required to occupy this seat for up to eight hours at a time.

To the rear of the turret was the side crew door, on the starboard side of the fuselage. This was the main entrance to the aircraft, and also could be used as a parachute exit. At the extreme rear of the aircraft, over the spars for the tailplane, the rear gunner sat in his exposed position in the FN20, FN120 or &ldquoRose Rice&rdquo turret, entered through a small hatch in the rear of the fuselage, and depending on the size of the rear gunner, the area was so cramped that the gunner would often hang their parachute on a hook inside the fuselage, near the turret doors. In the FN20 and FN120 turrets, he had four .303 in (7.7 mm) Brownings, and in the Rose Rice turret he had two .50 in (12.7 mm) Brownings. Neither the mid upper or rear gunner's positions were heated, and the gunners had to wear electrically heated suits to prevent hypothermia and frostbite. Many rear gunners insisted on having the center section of perspex removed from the turret to give a completely unobstructed view.

Armament 2

While eight .303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns were the most common Lancaster armament, twin .50 in (12.7 mm) turrets were later available in both the tail and dorsal positions. A Preston-Green mount was available for a .50 in (12.7 mm) mounted in a ventral blister, but this was mostly used in RCAF service. This blister was later the location for the H2S radar. A Nash & Thomson FN-64 periscope-sighted twin .303 in (7.7 mm) ventral turret was also available but rarely fitted as it was hard to sight. (Similar problems afflicted the ventral turret in the North American B-25C Mitchell and other bombers). Some unofficial mounts for .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns or even 20 mm cannon were made, firing through ventral holes of various designs.

An important feature of the Lancaster was its extensive bomb bay, at 33 ft (10.05 m) long. Initially, the heaviest bombs carried were 4,000 lb (1,820 kg) &ldquoCookies &rdquo. Bulged doors were added to allow the aircraft to carry 8,000 lb (3,600 kg) and later 12,000 lb (5,450 kg) &ldquoCookies&rdquo. Towards the end of the war, attacking special and hardened targets, the B.I Specials could carry the 21 ft (6.4 m) long 12,000 lb (5,450 kg) &ldquoTallboy&rdquo or 25.5 ft (7.77 m) long 22,000 lb (9,980 kg) &ldquoGrand Slam&rdquo &ldquoearthquake&rdquo bombs, the Lancaster was able to deliver the heaviest bombs made. To carry the &ldquoGrand Slam&rdquo extensive modifications to the aircraft were required which led to them being redesignated as B.I (Specials). The modifications included removal of the mid-upper turret, two guns from the rear turret, removal of all of the cockpit armor plating and installation of Rolls-Royce Merlin Mk.24 Engines which had better take-off performance. The bomb-bay doors were removed and the rear end of the bomb bay cut away to clear the tail of the bomb. Later the nose turret was also removed to further improve performance.

Bombsights used on Lancasters included:

  • Mark IX Course-Setting Bombsight (CSBS): This was an early preset vector bombsight that involved squinting through wires that had to be manually set based on aircraft speed, altitude and bombload. This sight lacked tactical flexibility as it had to be manually adjusted if any of the parameters changed and was soon phased out in favor of the bombsights below.
  • Mark XIV bombsight: A vector bombsight where the bomb aimer input various details of the bombload, target altitude and wind direction, and the analogue computer then continuously calculated the trajectory of the bombs and projected an inverted sword shape onto a sighting glass on the sighting head. Assuming the sight was set correctly, when the target was in the cross hairs of the sword shape, the bomb aimer would be able to accurately release the bombs.
  • T1 bombsight: A Mark XIV bombsight modified for mass production and produced in the USA. Some of the pneumatic gyro drives on the Mk.XIV sight were replaced with electronic gyros and other minor modifications were made.
  • Stabilizing Automatic Bomb Sight: Also known as "SABS", this was an advanced bombsight mainly used by 617 Squadron for precision raids. Like the American Norden bombsight it was a tachometric sight.

Radio, Radar and Countermeasures Equipment 2

The Lancaster had a very advanced communications system for its time. Most British-built Lancasters were fitted with the R1155 receiver and T1154 transmitter, whereas the Canadian built aircraft and those built for service in the Far East had American radios. These provided radio direction-finding, as well as voice and Morse capabilities.

  • H2S: Ground-looking navigation radar system - eventually, it could be homed in on by the German night fighters' NAXOS receiver and had to be used with discretion.
  • Fishpond: An add-on to H2S that provided additional (aerial) coverage of the underside of the aircraft to display attacking fighters on an auxiliary screen in the radio operator's position.
  • Monica: A rearward-looking radar to warn of night fighter approaches. However, it could not distinguish between attacking enemy fighters and nearby friendly bombers and served as a homing beacon for suitably-equipped German night fighters. Once this was realized, it was removed altogether.
  • GEE: A receiver for a navigation system of synchronized pulses transmitted from the UK - aircraft calculated their position from the time delay between pulses. The range of GEE was 3-400 mi (483-644 km).
  • Boozer (radar detector): A system of lights mounted on the aircraft's instrument panel that lit up when the aircraft was being tracked by Würzburg ground radar and Lichtenstein airborne radar. In practice it was found to be more disconcerting than useful, as the lights were often triggered by false alerts in the radar-signal-infested skies over Germany.
  • Oboe: A very accurate navigation system consisting of a receiver/transponder for two radar stations transmitting from widely separated locations in Southern England which together determined the range and the bearing on the range. The system could only handle one aircraft at a time, and was fitted to a Pathfinder aircraft, usually a fast and maneuverable Mosquito rather than a heavy Lancaster, which marked the target for the main force.
  • GEE-H: Similar to Oboe but with the transponder on the ground allowing more aircraft to use the system simultaneously. GEE-H aircraft were usually marked with two horizontal yellow stripes on the fins.
  • Village Inn: A radar-aimed gun turret fitted to some Lancasters in 1944.
  • Airborne Cigar (ABC): This was only fitted to the Lancasters of 101 Squadron. It was three aerials, two sticking out of the top of the fuselage and one under the bomb aimer's position. These aircraft carried a German speaking crew member on board and were used to jam radio to German night fighters and feed false information on allied bomber positions to them. Due to the nature of the equipment, the enemy was able to track the aircraft and due to this 101 suffered the highest casualty rate of any squadron. Fitted from about mid-1943, they remained until the end of the war.

Operational History 2

Lancasters flew 156,000 sorties and dropped 608,612 long tons (618,378 tonnes) of bombs between 1942 and 1945. Lancs took part in the devastating round-the-clock raids on Hamburg during Air Marshall Harris' &ldquoOperation Gomorrah&rdquo in July 1943. Just 35 Lancasters completed more than 100 successful operations each, and 3,249 were lost in action. The most successful survivor completed 139 operations, and was scrapped in 1947.

A famous Lancaster bombing raid was the 1943 mission, codenamed &ldquoOperation Chastise&rdquo, to destroy the dams of the Ruhr Valley. The mission was carried out by 617 Squadron in modified Mk.IIIs carrying special drum shaped bouncing bombs designed by Barnes Wallis. The story of the mission was later made into a film, &ldquoThe Dam Busters.&rdquo Also famous was a series of Lancaster attacks using &ldquoTallboy&rdquo bombs against the German battleship Tirpitz, which first disabled and later sank the ship.

Lancasters from Bomber Command were to have formed the main strength of Tiger Force, the Commonwealth bomber contingent scheduled to take part in Operation Downfall, the codename for the planned invasion of Japan in late 1945, from bases on Okinawa.

RAF Lancasters dropped food into the Holland region of the occupied Netherlands, with the acquiescence of the occupying German forces, to feed people who were in danger of starvation. Named after the food Manna which miraculously appeared for the Israelites in the Book of Exodus, the aircraft involved were from 1, 3 and 8 Groups, and consisted of 145 Mosquitoes and 3,156 Lancasters, flying between them a total of 3,298 sorties. The first of the two RAF Lancasters chosen for the test flight was nicknamed &ldquoBad Penny&rdquo from the old expression: &ldquoa bad penny always turns up.&rdquo This bomber, with a crew of seven men (five Canadians including pilot Robert Upcott of Windsor, Ontario), took off in bad weather on the morning of 29 April 1945 without a cease fire agreement from the German forces, and successfully dropped her cargo.

A development of the Lancaster was the Avro Lincoln bomber, initially known as the Lancaster IV and Lancaster V. These two marks became the Lincoln B1 and B2 respectively. There was also a civilian airliner based on the Lancaster, the Lancastrian. Other developments were the York, a square-bodied transport and, via the Lincoln, the Shackleton which continued in airborne early warning service up to 1992.

In 1946, four Lancasters were converted by Avro at Bracebridge Heath, Lincolnshire as freighters for use by British South American Airways, but proved to be uneconomical and were withdrawn after a year in service.

Four Lancaster Mk.III's were converted by Flight Refuelling Limited as two pairs of tanker and receiver aircraft for development of in-flight refueling. In 1947, one aircraft was flown non-stop 3,459 mi (5,567 km) from London to Bermuda. Later the two tanker aircraft were joined by another converted Lancaster and were used in the Berlin Airlift, achieving 757 tanker sorties.

Fifty-nine Lancaster B.Is and B.VIIs were overhauled by Avro at Woodford and Langar and delivered to the Aeronavale (France) during 1952/53. These were flown until the mid-1960s by four squadrons in France and New Caledonia in the maritime reconnaissance and search-and-rescue roles. During its Argentinian service, Lancasters saw limited use in military coups, owing to the small number there.

Variants 2

Avro Lancaster B.I &mdash The original Lancasters were produced with Rolls-Royce Merlin XX engines and SU carburetors. Minor details were changed throughout the production series - for example the pitot head design was changed from being on a long mast at the front of the nose to a short fairing mounted on the side of the fuselage under the cockpit. Later production Lancasters had Merlin 22 and 24 engines. No designation change was made to denote these alterations.

Avro Lancaster B.I Special &mdash Adapted to take first the super-heavy &ldquoTallboy&rdquo and then &ldquoGrand Slam&rdquo bombs. Upgraded engines with paddle-bladed propellers gave more power, and the removal of gun turrets reduced weight and gave smoother lines. For the Tallboy, the bomb-bay doors were bulged for the Grand Slam, they were removed completely and the area faired over. For some Tallboy raids, the mid upper turret was removed. This modification was retained for the Grand Slam aircraft, and in addition the nose turret was later removed. Two airframes (HK541 and SW244) were modified to carry a dorsal &ldquosaddle tank&rdquo with 1,200 gal (5,455 L) mounted aft of a modified canopy for increasing range. No. 1577 SD Flight tested the aircraft in India and Australia in 1945 for possible use in the Pacific, but the tank adversely affected handling characteristics when full and flight refueling was later used instead.

Avro Lancaster PR.I &mdash B.1 modified for photographic reconnaissance, operated by RAF No. 82 and No. 541 Squadrons, wartime. All armament and turrets were removed with a reconfigured nose and a camera carried in the bomb bay. The type was also operated by 683 Squadron from circa 1950 for photographic reconnaissance based at Aden and subsequently Habbaniya in Iraq until disbanded 30 November 1953.

Avro Lancaster B.I (FE) &mdash In anticipation of the needs of the Tiger Force operations against the Japanese in the Far East (FE), a tropicalized variant was based on late production aircraft. The B I (FE) had modified radio, radar, navaids and a 400 gal (1,818 L) tank installed in the bomb bay. The mid-upper turret was also removed.

Avro Lancaster B.II &mdash Bristol Hercules (Hercules VI or XVI engines) powered variant, of which 300 were produced by Armstrong Whitworth. One difference between the two engine versions was that the VI had manual mixture control, requiring an extra lever on the throttle pedestal. These aircraft were almost always fitted with an FN.64 ventral turret and pronounced step in the bulged bomb bay.

Avro Lancaster B.Mk.III &mdash These aircraft were fitted with Packard-built Merlin engines and produced at the same time as the B.I, the two marks being indistinguishable externally. The minor differences between the two variants were related to the engine installation, and included the addition of slow-running cut-off switches in the cockpit, a requirement due to the Bendix Stromberg pressure-injection carburetors fitted to the Packard Merlin engines.

Avro Lancaster B.III Special &mdash Known at the time of modification as the &ldquoType 464 Provisioning&rdquo Lancaster, this variant was built to carry the "Upkeep" bouncing bomb for the dam busting raids. The bomb-bay doors were removed and Vickers-built struts to carry the bomb were fitted in their place. A hydraulic motor, driven by the pump previously used for the mid upper turret was fitted to spin the bomb. Lamps were fitted in the bomb bay and nose for the simple height measurement system which enabled the accurate control of low-flying altitude at night. The mid-upper turret was removed to save weight, and the gunner moved to the front turret to relieve the bomb aimer from having to man the front guns so that he could assist with map reading.

Avro Lancaster ASR.III/ASR.3 &mdash B.III modified for air-sea rescue, with three dipole ventral antennas fitted aft of the radome and carrying an airborne lifeboat in the re-configured bomb bay. The armament was often removed and the mid-upper turret faired-over, especially in postwar use. Observation windows were added to both sides of the rear fuselage, a port window just forward of the tailplane, and a starboard window into the rear access door. A number of ASR.3 conversions were fitted with Lincoln-style rudders.

Avro Lancaster GR.3/MR.3 &mdash B.III modified for maritime reconnaissance.

Avro Lancaster B.IV &mdash The B.IV featured an increased wingspan and lengthened fuselage and new Boulton Paul F turret (two × 0.5 in) with re-configured framed &ldquobay window&rdquo nose glazing. The prototypes (PW925, PW929 and PW932) were powered by two-stage Merlin 85s inboard and later, Merlin 68s on the outboard mounts. Because of the major re-design, the aircraft was quickly renamed Lincoln B.1.

Avro Lancaster B.V &mdash Increased wingspan and lengthened fuselage, two-stage Merlin 85s. Renamed Lincoln B.2.

Avro Lancaster B.VI &mdash Nine aircraft converted from B.IIIs. Fitted with Merlin 85/87 which had two-stage superchargers, giving much improved high altitude performance. The Merlin 85/87 series engines were fitted with annular cowlings similar to the post war Avro Lincoln and four bladed paddle-type propellers were fitted. These aircraft were only used by Pathfinder units by No. 7 Squadron RAF, No. 83 Squadron RAF, No. 405 Squadron RCAF and by No. 635 Squadron RAF. Often used as a "Master Bomber" the B.VIs allocated to RAF Bomber Command (2 being retained by Rolls Royce for installation and flight testing) had their dorsal and nose turrets removed and faired-over. The more powerful engines proved troublesome in service and were disliked by ground maintenance staff for their rough running and propensity to 'surge and hunt', making synchronization impossible. The B.VI was withdrawn from service in November 1944 and the surviving aircraft were used by Rolls Royce, the Royal Aircraft Establishment and the Bomb Ballistics Unit (BBU) for various testing and experimental duties.

Avro Lancaster B.VII &mdash The B.VII was the final production version of the Lancaster. The Martin 250CE mid-upper turret was re-positioned slightly further forward than on previous Marks, and the Nash & Thomson FN-82 tail turret with twin 0.50 in (12.7 mm) Browning machine guns replaced the FN.20 turret with four 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine guns.

Avro Lancaster B.X &mdash The B.X was a Canadian-built B.III with Canadian- and US-made instrumentation and electrics. On later batches the heavier Martin 250CE was substituted for the Nash & Thomson FN-50 mid-upper turret, mounted further forward to maintain center of gravity balance. Canada was a long term operator of the Lancaster, utilizing modified aircraft in postwar maritime patrol, search and rescue and photo-reconnaissance roles until 1964. The last flight by the RCAF was flown by F/L Lynn Garrison in KB-976, on 4 July 1964 at the Calgary International Air Show.

Operators 2

  • Argentina
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Egypt
  • France
  • New Zealand
  • Poland
  • Soviet Union
  • Sweden
  • United Kingdom

Surviving Aircraft 2

  • There are 17 known largely complete Avro Lancasters remaining in the world with two airworthy, one of which can be found at Ontario's Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum.

Avro 683 Lancaster B.Mk.III Specifications 3,4 (as noted)

Manufactures: 4

  • A. V. Roe and Co Ltd
  • Sir W. G. Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft Ltd
  • Metropolitan-Vickers Ltd
  • Mid-wing cantilever monoplane.
  • Wing in five main sections, comprising a center-section of parallel chord and thickness which is integral with the fuselage center-section, two tapering outer sections and two semi-circular wing-tips.
  • Subsidiary wing units consist of detachable leading and trailing-edge sections of outer wings and center-section, flaps and ailerons.
  • All units are built up individually with all fittings and equipment before assembly.
  • Two-spar wing structure, each spar consisting of a top and bottom extruded boom bolted on to a single thick gauge web-plate.
  • Ribs are aluminum-alloy pressings suitably flanged and swaged for stiffness.
  • The entire wing is covered with a smooth aluminum-alloy skin.
  • Ailerons on outer wing sections have metal noses and are fabric-covered aft of the hinges.
  • Trimming-tabs in ailerons. Split trailing-edge flaps between ailerons and fuselage.

Fuselage 3

  • Oval all-metal structure in five separately-assembled main sections.
  • The fuselage backbone is formed by pairs of extruded longerons located halfway down the cross-section of the three middle sections.
  • Cross beams between these longerons support the floor and form the roof of the bomb compartment.
  • "U"-frames and formers bolted to the longerons carry the smooth skin plating.
  • The remaining sections are built up of oval frames and formers and longitudinal stringers, covered with flush-riveted metal skin.
  • All equipment and fittings are installed before final assembly of the separate units.

Tail Unit 3

  • Cantilever monoplane type with twin oval fins and rudders.
  • Tail-plane in two sections built up in similar manner to the wings, the tail-plane spars being joined together within the fuselage on the center-line.
  • Tailplane, fins and rudder, are metal-covered, elevators covered with fabric.
  • Trimming-tabs in elevators and rudders.

Landing Gear 3

  • Retractable main wheels and fixed tail-wheel.
  • Main wheels are hydraulically retracted into the inboard engine nacelles and hinged doors connected to the retracting gear close the apertures when the wheels are raised.
  • Track: 23 ft 9 in (7.24 m).

Power Plant 3,4

  • Four 1,300-hp Packard Merlin 28 1,480-hp Merlin 38 or 1,640-hp Merlin 224 radial air-cooled engines in welded steel-tube nacelles cantilevered from the front spar of the wings.
  • Three-bladed constant-speed full-feathering airscrews.
  • Six protected fuel tanks in wings.
  • Separate oil tank in each nacelle.

Accommodation 3

  • Provision for a crew of seven.
  • Bomb aimer in the nose below the front gun-turret.
  • Above and behind and to port is the Pilot's position in a raised canopy with good all-round vision.
  • Inside the canopy immediately aft of the pilot's seat is the Fighting Controller's position.
  • Slightly aft of this position is the Navigator's station, with table, chart stowage and astral dome in the roof.
  • At the rear end of the navigator's table and just forward of the front spar is the Radio Operator's station.
  • Within the center-section is a rest room with bed.
  • Aft of the rear spar are the mid upper and mid lower turrets, together with various equipment stowage for flares, emergency rations, etc.
  • In the extreme tail is the rear turret.
  • A walkway is provided along the entire length of the fuselage and the main entrance door is situated on the starboard side just forward of the tail-plane.

Armament, Bombs, Armor and Equipment 3

  • Ten Browning .303 machine-guns in four hydraulically-operated Nash & Thompson turrets, one in the nose, two amidships and one in the extreme tail.
  • The tail-turret carries four guns, the remainder two each.
  • The tail-turret is fed by ammunition tracks from boxes in the rear fuselage.
  • The bomb compartment is 33 ft long and has normal accommodation for a maximum weight of approximately 8 tons in various combinations of bombs.
  • The largest size which can be carried under special conditions is the 22,000 lb bomb.
  • An armored bulkhead is fitted across the center-section portion of the fuselage and is so arranged that it will open up for passage through the fuselage on either side of the center-line.
  • The back of the pilot's seat is armor-plated and there is armor protection behind his head.
  • Certain other vulnerable parts of the structure and the turrets are armored.
  • Special bullet-proof glass is provided for the fighting controller's position.
  • Full night-flying equipment, radio, flares, oxygen, de-icing equipment, etc.
  • A dinghy is carried in the center-section trailing-edge portion of the wing and is automatically released and inflated in a crash alighting in the sea.
  • It can also be operated by hand.

Dimensions 3,4

  • Span: 102 ft 0 in
  • Length: 69 ft 4 in
  • Height: 20 ft 6 in
  • Net wing area: 1,205 ft²
  • Gross wing area: 1,297 ft²
  • Tare weight: 36,475 lbs
  • All-up weight: 50,000 lbs
  • Take-off weight with 22,000 lb bomb load: 72,000 lbs

Performance with normal bomb load 5

  • Maximum speed at 11,500 ft: 287 mph
  • Cruising speed at 12,000 ft: 210 mph
  • Climb to 20,000 ft: 41 min 40 sec
  • Service ceiling without bomb load: 24,500 ft
  • Range with 14,000 lb bomb load: 1,660 miles
  • Range with 22,000 lb bomb load: 1,040 miles
  1. Shupek, John. The Skytamer Archive. &ldquoA History of British Military Aircraft&rdquo Kellogg Company of Great Britain Ltd., 1963, UK, Card 7 of 16&rdquo
  2. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Avro Lancaster
  3. Bridgman, Leonard, &ldquoAvro: The Avro 683 Lancaster.&rdquo Jane's All the World's Aircraft 1945/1946. Sampson Low Marston & Company Limited, London, 1946. pp. 15c-17c
  4. Jackson, A. J. &ldquoAvro 683 Lancaster&rdquo Avro Aircraft Since 1908, Second Edition. Putnam Aeronautical Books, London, 1990. ISBN 0-85177-797-X, pgs. 358-369.
  5. Mason, Francis K. &ldquoAvro Type 683 Lancaster&rdquo The British Bomber since 1914, Second Edition. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, USA. 1994. ISBN 1-555750-085-1, pp. 343-349.

Copyright © 1998-2020 (Our 22 nd Year) Skytamer Images, Whittier, California
All rights reserved


Tag: Lancaster III JB664

(“This” post, having been created in February of 2019, is now slightly updated: Included below is a photographic portrait of 1 Lt. Levitt Clinton Beck, Jr., from the National Archives’ collection Photographic Prints of Air Cadets and Officers, Air Crew, and Notables in the History of Aviation – NARA RG 18-PU. Though I don’t know the Advanced Flying School from which Lt. Beck graduated and received his commission as a Second Lieutenant, the large pin that he’s wearing, bearing the abbreviation 󈬛-B”, indicates that he received his wings in February of 1943. Lt. Beck’s pride and determination are obvious.)

[May 20, 2021: Updating the update!…

From Missing Air Crew Report 6224, covering the loss of Lt. Beck’s P-47D Thunderbolt, this post has included a copy of the “Meldung über den Abschuss eines US-Amerikanisch Flugzeuges” (Report about the downing of an American airplane) from German Luftgaukommando Report J 1582, which pertains to the capture and identification of Lt. Beck, and, the eventual “correlation” by the Germans of Lt. Beck to his specific Thunderbolt.

I’ve now updated this post (I prefer to “stick with the same post”, rather than make a succession of brief additional posts) to include 300 dpi color scans, from the United States National Archives, of the two sheets comprising J 1582. One scan is of the above-mentioned “Meldung”, and the other is a list – compiled on July 7, 1944 – of destroyed Allied airplanes, with the names (where known) of pertinent dead or captured Allied airmen lost on June 28, 1944.

Both of these documents are displayed “lower” in the post, just “below” the MACR…]

“On the other hand,
if I don’t make it,
everything I have written will be here for anyone to read,
and I feel it will make a better ending to my life than just to be
“missing in action.”

“When you read all this I shall be right there looking over your shoulder.”

________________________________________

Among my varied interests is a fascination for literary art. That is, art, appearing as cover and interior illustrations upon and within books and magazines, examples of which are displayed at one of my brother blogs, WordsEnvisioned. My interests in literary art encompass a wide variety of subjects, such as science fiction (the latter especially as “pulp” science fiction, and fantasy, from the 1940s through the 1960s), many aspects of history, aviation, literature, and many other areas.

Within the world of aviation, the book Fighter Pilot, created by the parents of First Lieutenant Levitt Clinton Beck, Jr. in honor and memory of their son, at first seemed to be a most fitting subject for WordsEnvisioned. On second thought, I realized that the book’s literary and historical significance and its relation to military aviation make it a more suitable subject “here”, at ThePastPresented.

Military literature from all eras is replete with autobiographical accounts of the wartime experiences and postwar reminiscences of its participants. Such narratives, whether published during the immediacy of a conflict, or afterwards – years, and not uncommonly decades later – are typically based upon combinations of official documents, letters, diaries, photographs, illustrations, and above all, human memory, however fickle, imperfect, or uncertain the latter may be. The commonality of most such accounts, regardless of the era regardless of the war even regardless of the identity of the soldier and the nation for which he fought is that the participant of the past, would become the chronicler, creator, and literary craftsman within the present, for the future.

Among the vast number of books and monographs presenting the story of a soldier’s wartime experiences, is another kind of literature, bearing its own nature and origin. That is, stories about the lives and military experiences of servicemen who never returned from war, created by family members – typically parents – sometimes by former comrades – as living memorials that exists in words, and grant indirect testimony of and witness for those who can no longer speak.

A striking example of this genre of military literature is the book Fighter Pilot., created and published in 1946 by Levitt Clinton and Verne Ethel (Tryon) Beck, Sr., of Huntington Park, California. The book is a posthumous autobiography of their son, First Lieutenant Levitt Clinton Beck Jr., who served as a fighter pilot in the 514th Fighter Squadron of the 406th Fighter Group, of the 9th Air Force. Centrally based upon the thoughts, musings, retrospectives, and then-undelivered “letters” penned by their son, and including transcripts of correspondence several photographs, Fighter Pilot is historically fascinating, detailed, and from a “human” vantage point, a literary work that is best termed reflective – for the reader, and, by Beck, the writer.

Shot down during a brief encounter with FW-190s of JG 2 or JG 27 on June 29, 1944, Beck crash-landed his damaged Thunderbolt (Bloom’s Tomb P-47D 42-8473) south of Dreux, France, near Havelu. His loss is covered in MACR 6224.

Taken to Les Branloires by Roland Larson, he was given civilian clothes by a Mr. Pelletier, and then taken to the town of Anet, where he remained for three weeks, hidden by Madame Paulette Mesnard, in a room above her restaurant, the Cafe de la Mairie (on Rue Diane de Poitiers). There, while safely hidden (Fighter Pilot reveals that Madam Mesnard insisted that Lt. Beck remain there until Anet’s liberation by Allied troops…) he would compose the writings that would eventually become Fighter Pilot.

Three weeks later, Lt. Beck was taken to the home of Mr. Rene Farcy, in Les Vieilles Ventes.

One week further, Beck was picked up by a certain “Jean-Jacques” and the latter’s female companion, “Madame Orsini”. Ostensibly a member of the Underground, Jean-Jaques was actually Jacques Desoubrie, a double agent who worked for the Gestapo. Desoubrie took Lt. Beck to a hotel in Paris, on Boulevard St. Michel.

The next day, the Lieutenant was arrested by the Gestapo and taken to the prison of Fresnes.

From there, in accordance with German policy (as of the Summer of 1944) towards Allied aviators captured while garbed in civilian clothing and without military identification (dog-tags), and, in association with resistance networks in Belgium, France, and the Netherlands, Beck was one of 168 captured Allied aviators sent to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp.

A very detailed account of the mens’ experiences at Buchenwald can be found at the Wkikipedia biography of RNZAF pilot Squadron Leader Phillip John Lamason, DFC & Bar, who became the senior officer of the group. As quoted, “Upon arrival, Lamason, as ranking officer, demanded an interview with the camp commandant, Hermann Pister, which he was granted. He insisted that the airmen be treated as POWs under the Geneva Conventions and be sent to a POW camp. The commandant agreed that their arrival at Buchenwald was a “mistake” but they remained there anyway. The airmen were given the same poor treatment and beatings as the other inmates. For the first three weeks at Buchenwald, the prisoners were totally shaved, denied shoes and forced to sleep outside without shelter in one of Buchenwald’s sub-camps, known as ‘Little Camp’. Little Camp was a quarantine section of Buchenwald where the prisoners received the least food and harshest treatment.”

“As Buchenwald was a forced labor camp, the German authorities had intended to put the 168 airmen to work as slave-labor in the nearby armament factories. Consequently, Lamason was ordered by an SS officer to instruct the airmen to work, or he would be immediately executed by firing squad. Lamason refused to give the order and informed the officer that they were soldiers and could not and would not participate in war production. After a tense stand-off, during which time Lamason thought he would be shot, the SS officer eventually backed down.

“Most airmen doubted they would ever get out of Buchenwald because their documents were stamped with the acronym “DIKAL” (Darf in kein anderes Lager), or “not to be transferred to another camp”. At great risk, Lamason and Burney secretly smuggled a note through a trusted Russian prisoner, who worked at the nearby Nohra airfield, to the German Luftwaffe of their captivity at the camp. The message requested in part, that an officer pass the information to Berlin, and for the Luftwaffe to intercede on behalf of the airmen. Lamason understood that the Luftwaffe would be sympathetic to their predicament, as they would not want their captured men treated in the same way he also knew that the Luftwaffe had the political connections to get the airmen transferred to a POW camp.”

Eventually, the men were transferred out of Buchenwald, with 156 going to Stalag Luft III (Sagan). Ten others were were transported from the camp over a period of several weeks.

Two of the 168 did not survive: They were Lt. Beck, and, Flying Officer Philip Derek Hemmens (serial 152583), a bomb aimer in No. 49 Squadron, Royal Air Force. Hemmens’ Lancaster Mk III, ND533, EA * M, piloted by F/O Bryan Esmond Bell, was shot down during a mission to Etampes on the night of June 9-10. Ironically, Hemmens was the only crew member to actually escape from the falling plane. His fellow crew members were killed when EA * M was shot down.

Lt. Beck, weakened from an earlier bout of illness from the conditions in the concentration camp, died from a combination of pneumonia and pleurisy while isolated in the camp’s “hospital”, on the evening of September 29-30, 1944.

He has no grave. His name is commemorated on the Tablets of the Missing at the Luxembourg American Cemetery.

Similarly, the name of F/O Hemmens, who died on October 18, is commemorated at the Runnymede Memorial.

Well, there is at least some justice in this world, even if that justice is not speedy: Jacques Desoubrie, whose infiltratation of two French Resistance groups eventuated in the arrest of at least 150 Resistants, fled to Germany after France’s liberation. He was, “…arrested after being denounced by his ex-mistress, and executed by firing squad as a collaborationist on 20 December 1949 in the fort of Montrouge, in Arcueil (near Paris).”

For one so young at the time (Beck was 24), the overlapping combination of seriousness, introspection, contemplation, and literary skill (and, some levity) in his writing are immediately apparent.

A central and animating factor in Beck’s words was the realization of the danger of his predicament, and the possibility that – however remote, at the time for reasons unknown, at the time – he might not return. He was realistic about this. Whether this feeling arose from a premonition, or objective contemplation of the danger of his situation, either and both motivations spurred him to record thoughts and create letters for two eventualities:

His return, and the creation of a permanent record of his experiences, perhaps for the sake of reminiscing perhaps for eventual publication.

His failure to return, and a document by which he could be remembered by his parents and friends. (He was an only son.)

“The idea has been growing within me these last few days that I should like to take all these experiences and others I have had, and have my book, “Fighter Pilot,” published after the war is over. There is the thought, too that “Lady Luck” may not be able to ride all the way with me. So, while I have a few days to wait for the French Underground to complete their plans for my escape back to England, I see no reason why I shouldn’t write every day, all that I can, so that just in case my luck has run out, you will know what has happened to your wandering son.”

I obtained a copy of Fighter Pilot some years ago. The book was republished in Honolulu by “Book Vompay LLC” in 2008, with the book’s Worldcat entry stating that, “This edition is a revised and corrected version of the original, which was first published in 1946.” As of this moment – early 2019 – copies are available from two eBay sellers, each for approximately $50.00.

Some extracts from the book’s text, as well as some images, are shown below. These will give you a feel for the book’s literary and historical flavor.

The book’s dust jacket bears an image of a bubbletop P-47D, almost certainly sketched by Beck himself. Though the canopy frame bears a kill marking denoting a destroyed German plane (see account below), this aerial victory was not confirmed: USAF Credits for the Destruction of Enemy Aircraft, World II, contains no entry for this event.

A poem by Beck, composed at the age of twenty.

I SEE IT NOW

(Written in 1940)
By L.C. Beck, Jr.

I WATCHED the day turn into nite,
Creeping shadows reached the sky
Birds flew to their nests,
Still singing as they went
All mankind lay quiet at rest,
As though to heaven sent.
Quiet ne’er before was like this –
Even wind hung softly about the trees,
As is afraid of waking birds,
Sleeping in their nests
‘Twas like another world to me,
And I found myself wishing –
Wishing it were true.

I’ve suffered – and have hated it,
But in my mind a thought was born,
Making a new path for me –
On which I now find my way.

I see it now –
While I suffer here
I must not question of it
It is the way of life –
Too much happiness would spoil me

I’d grow too fond of life on earth
And the after life I seek
Would not be so sweet -.
We must have our troubles here
Our hearts torn by loss,
Our hands made bloody by war,
Our future left unknown.

Once again the time has come
When day and night do meet, –
But all are going in ways apart
And but touch here in their passing
I’m glad that God mas made it so
For it thrills me to my very soul
To see so bright a luster of the day
Meet the sweet sereneness of the night.

The book’s simple and unadorned cover.

1 Lt. Levitt Clinton Beck, Jr., in an undated image taken in the United States.

Pilot, propeller, and power. Given Beck’s rolled-up sleeves and the intense sunlight, this picture was probably taken somewhere in the southeastern United States. Another clue: 406th Fighter Group P-47s did not have white engine cowlings.

Dated March 8, 1944, this picture is captioned “Officer’s Party, AAF”.

Fighter Pilot lists the names of the men in the photo. They are (left to right):

Billington, James Lynn 2 Lt. (0-810463) – Queens County, N.Y.
KIA June 24, 1944, MACR 6346, P-47D 43-25270
Dugan, Bernard F. 2 Lt. (0-811868) – Montgomery County, Pa.
KNB April 15, 1944 (No MACR)
Born 8/16/19
Arlington National Cemetery Buried 7/19/48
Beck , Levitt Clinton, Jr., Lt.

Middle Row

Long, Bryce E. Lt. (0-811938) – Edmond, Ok. (Survived war)
Van Etten, Chester L. Major (0-663442) Los Angeles, Ca. (Survived war)
Gaudet, Edward R. 2 Lt. (0-686738) – Middlesex County, Ma.
KIA June 29, 1944, MACR 6225, P-47D 42-8682
Atherton
Benson, Marion Arnold 2 Lt. (0-806035) – Des Moines County, Ia.
KIA June 17, 1944, MACR 6635, P-47D 42-8493

Cramer, Bryant Lewis 1 Lt. ( 0-810479) – Chatham County, Ga.
KIA August 7, 1944, MACR 7405, P-47D 42-75193
Cara Montrief (grand-daughter) According to Fighter Pilot, Cramer’s daughter was born three weeks after her father was shot down.
Dorsey III, Isham “Ike” Jenkins – Opelika, Al. (Survived war)
David “Whitt” Dorsey (brother)

Note that Major Van Etten is wearing RAF or RCAF wings.

A review of Missing Air Crew Reports yields a huge umber of accounts for which an aircraft went missing, and, the pilot did not return. This is so for MACR 6224, which covers Beck’s loss. However, within Fighter Pilot appears Beck’s own account of his last mission, writing in hiding at Anet, which provides the “other side” of the Missing Air Crew Report. Beck’s final radio call, “Eddie, I think I may have to bail out,” – probably to 2 Lt. Edward R. Gaudet – was heard and reported as “My airplane is hit. I think I’ll have to bail out,” by 1 Lt. Bryant L. Cramer, who himself was shot down and killed less than two months later.

Lt. Gaudet was shot down and killed during the same engagement, while flying P-47D 42-8682 (covered in MACR 6225).

Beck’s account, and images of MACR 6224, follow below:

WE WERE TO fly the “early one” that morning of June 29th. We dashed down in the murky dawn, that only England can boast about, for breakfast and briefing. Both very satisfying, we took off and headed for our target, just a few miles south-west of Paris, along the Seine river. My flight carried no bombs, as we were to be top cover for the squadron on their bomb run. It was a group (three squadrons) mission.

Just before we reached the first target, a bridge, the flak opened up and we did some evasive action to go around it. None of it came very close to my flight, but we were not giving them very much of a target to shoot at, I guess. The clouds made it rather hard to keep the others down below in sight, so I dropped down to about 12,000 feet. We lost the rest of the squadron for a while and then I spotted them to the west, being shot at. I started over there with my flight and as we neared the others, someone in my flight called:

“Break, Beck, flak. Break left!”

I did, and then, Eddie, I believe, said: “It’s a 190.”

I turned 180 degrees and saw the 190 in the middle of three 47s — Cramer, Eddie and Unger. I gave it full boost and started back after the little devil. He looked very small among the Thunderbolts and I had no trouble recognizing him as a 190. He was breaking up and then I think he saw me coming after him as he turned around and we were then going at each other head on. For a brief second I thought of breaking up into a position where I could drop on his tail, but he was the first Jerry I’d ever seen and I wasn’t going to let him live that long if I could help it.

I knew, however, that his chances of shooting me, at head on, would be just as good but I was a little too eager and mad to give a damn. I squeezed the trigger and I think the first round hit him because I saw strikes on his cowl, wing roots and canopy all the way in. I guess I’d have flown right through him, but he broke up a little to the left and I raked his belly at very close range. I thought to myself:

“Becky, there’s your first victory.”

Just to make sure, though, I turned with him and started down but I didn’t seem to be going very fast. I rammed the throttle with the palm of my hand but was rather astonished to feel it already up against the stop. I flipped on the water switch but that didn’t seem to do any good either. I looked down at my instruments and then it was very clear. My engine had been shot out. I felt a little panicky at first but settled down and started “checking things.”

Nothing I did seemed to have any effect, so I called:

Eddie, I think I may have to bail out.

Oil started licking back over the cockpit. Here we go again, I thought. Just like Cherbourg. She is even worse this time, I guess. The damned engine was just turning over and that was about all. I knew I could never make the channel but I was still trying, I guess, because I was messing around with the throttle and everything I could get my hands on … 6000 feet now.

I still had my eye on my “victory”, though. He was going down in a spiral to the left, smoking very badly. Wham! Something hit me in the back and threw me forward. I didn’t need to look to know what it was. I broke to the left pulling streamers off everything and there he was. A sleek little 190 sitting on my tail – gray and shiny, spitting out flames of death up at me. It wasn’t a very pretty sight, I must say — looking down his cannons — I knew then that I was no longer fighting to get the ship running again. I was fighting for my life!!

I was pretty scared for an instant, but it seems that just when I get that feeling inside and almost think I’m a coward, something snaps. It did, and I was once again the mad fighting American I had been, with an engine. I forgot for the time being that my engine was dead, I guess, because I watched him flash past and then jerked my kite around to the right to a point I knew he would be. I hadn’t looked out the front of the canopy for some time and now as I did, all I saw was the reflection in the glass, covered with oil, of my gun-sight. I cursed and pulled the trigger, shooting in the dark, but at least I felt better. I kicked the ship sideways to have a look out of the side and there was Jerry — just a hundred yards up front. I swung the nose around to about the right position, I thought, and fired. I don’t know whether I hit him or not, but he seemed in pretty much of a hurry to get the hell away.

I pressed the “mike” button and said:

“I’m bailing out.” But all I heard was deathly silence. I knew then that my radio had been blown to bits by the Jerry on my tail.

I thought that I’d better jump at about 4000 feet, so I undid my safety belt and just then my ship shuddered and I heard terrific explosions all around me. I looked out of the only clear space left in the canopy, and saw more flak than I’d ever dreamed possible in one small area. I couldn’t see which way to break so I just went to the right, because the ship did, I guess. I knew then that to bail out would mean sure capture and I still had just a wee bit of hope left for my chances of getting away. I decided to stick with the ship and try a trick that “Benny” and I had talked about one night before he was killed.

I opened the canopy a crack so I could see the ground and when I did, I saw the longest clear stretch of land I think I ever saw in France. It was just about the right distance away, I thought, for me to make my dive to the deck and then scoot over there, at tree top level, and belly in.

I remembered that I had taken my safety belt off, so I started trying to put it on and still keep my eye on Jerry at the same time — also fly the ship— without an engine. Some fun, and if you want to try your ability at being versatile, it is a good trick.

I got under Jerry without his seeing me, I guess, and then down among the trees I had to keep a keen eye out of the cockpit, so I gave up the idea of buckling my belt again, and decided that I would stretch my luck a bit more, by doing the impossible. I really had no choice, but to hell with the belt. Here comes Jerry again. I had about 275 MPH, so I felt pretty “safe”, you might say. I would wait until he got in range, then break and throw off his aim and then belly in. It was very simple, when you happen to be the luckiest guy in the whole air force. I put one hand on the instrument panel and waited until I got slowed down a bit. I eased her down slowly and was just about ready to touch the ground when I realized that I had not put my flaps down and my stalling speed would be much too fast. I pulled up, but just before I did, I felt my prop hit the ground. I pushed the flap handle down and then watched the grass go by on either side. It seemed as though I’d buzzed half way across France by now and I must be running out of field. I kicked the ship sideways and looked. The trees were still quite some distance ahead, so I eased the old girl down and then I was sliding. I put my “stick hand” on the panel, too, and just braced myself and waited. It shook me around quite a bit, but as I had ridden quite a few rough roller coasters without a safety belt, I was doing pretty well without one now at 100 MPH or so in a 7 1/2-ton hunk of metal. Just before the last few feet, the ship turned to the right and threw me crashing into the left side of the cockpit. It was then that I realized that my back and ribs were already sore from the shock I’d received from the 190’s cannon.

Flames were licking up over the cowling of my ship and I had no more than enough time to get out. I knew I wouldn’t have to destroy my ship. I jumped out, parachute and all, and again hit on my left side, on the wing. I was pretty sore around that part of me by now, also quite excited and too mad to care much.

A few yards from the ship I stopped long enough to take off all the equipment strapped to me. I considered taking the escape kit out of my ‘chute pack, but there wasn’t time.

When you are 100 miles inside enemy territory, naturally one has the feeling that every bush hides a German. I was quite inexperienced in ground fighting, so I didn’t look forward to shooting it out with the Germans with my .45 pistol.

Thoughts were running through my mind about just what to do and how, all during those first five or ten seconds. I even thought about hiding my ‘chute as we had been instructed in a lecture, but I looked back at my airplane and almost laughed.

At approximately 0815 on 29 June, I was flying the wing of Yellow Flight Leader, Lt. Beck, at 13,500 ft. on a heading of 260 o over Dreux. The flight was jumped all too effectively at this time by four FW-190s, who came out of the clouds directly over us. Lt. Beck and I broke left, bit one of the 190s got hits on Beck’s airplane before I could get it off his tail. His engine was smoking rather badly, and as I followed the enemy aircraft down in a dive, attempting to close into effective range, I heard Lt. Beck call on the radio and say, “My airplane is hit. I think I’ll have to bail out.” I can not say for sure whether he made the jump successfully or not, nor am I positive he did jump. It is quite probable, however, that he did jump, and successfully. A pilot from the 513th Squadron, flying below us at the time of the encounter, reported seeing an unidentified, black fighter dive into the ground, and saw a chute open up above it. The Focke-Wulfs were silver.

Missing Air Crew Report 6224

Here’s NARA’s digital version of the original “Meldung über den Abschuss eines US-Amerikanisch Flugzeuges” (Report about the downing of an American airplane) for Lt. Beck and his Thunderbolt. Note that though Lt. Beck was shot down on June 28, 1944, this document was actually compiled only a little over four months later: November 2, 1944. Lt. Beck had died two months before.

Here’s a list (list number 28, to be specific) of four of the Allied warplanes shot down in France on June 27-28, 1944. Data about the losses appears as black typed text, while identification numbers of pertinent Luftgaukommando Reports has been inked in, in red . The Luftgaukommando Report numbers are KE 9108, KE 9065, J 1582 (Lt. Beck’s plane), and KE 9064. Note that Lt. Beck, name then unknown, is reported as “flüchtig”: close translation “fugitive”.

I’ve been unable to correlate KE 9108 to any aircraft, but KE 9064 definitely pertains to Lancaster III JB664 (ZN * N) of No. 106 Squadron RAF, piloted by P/O Norman Wilson Easby, and KE 9065 covers Lancaster I LL974 (ZN * F), piloted by F/Sgt. Ernest Clive Fox. Of the seven men in the crew of each aircraft – both of No. 106 Squadron RAF – there were, sadly, no survivors.

As described in W.R. Chorley’s Bomber Command Losses, Volume 5:

JB664: T/o 2255 Metheringham similarly targeted. [To attack rail facilities at Vitry-le-Francois.] Crashed 2 km E of Bransles (Seine-et-Marne), 16 km SE of Nemours. All [crew] were buried in Bransles Communal Cemetery.

LL974: T/o 2255 Metheringham to attack rail facilities at Vity-le-Francois. Shot down by a night-fighter, crashing at Thibie (Marne), 11 km WSW from the centre of Chalons-sur-Marne. All were buried locally, since when their remains have been brought to Dieppe for interment in the Canadian War Cemetery.

Though KE Report numbers – covering British Commonwealth Aircraft losses – appear in NARA’s master list of Luftgaukommando Reports, I don’t know if (well, I don’t believe) they’re actually held at NARA.

This is a (postcard?) view of the main street of Rue Diane de Poitiers in Anet. Lt. Beck lived on the third floor of the building on the right, in a room with the window directly below the small “X” symbol.

And below, a 2018 Google Street view of Rue Diane de Poitiers, which (well, to the best degree possible) replicates the orientation and perspective of the above 1940s postcard image. Akin to the postcard, the view is oriented south-southeast.

What was Madame Mesnard’s restaurant is now occupied by a branch of the Banque Populaire, while the business to the right (_____ Centrale“) is now the Pressing Diane Anet laundary service.

Above all, hauntingly, the similarities between the view “then”, and the view “now” are striking. The window of Lt. Beck’s hiding place is visible directly beneath the leftmost of the two television antennae.

Below, another Google view of 16 – 18 Rue Diane de Poitiers.

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This is a very different view of Rue Diane de Poitiers: The drawing, sketched by Lt. Beck, shows buildings directly across the street from the window of his room. His self-portrait appears as a reflection in the lower right windowpane, with his initials – “By LCB” – just below.

And below, a 2018 Google street view (albeit at ground level) of the building directly across the street from Lieutenant Beck’s room. In 2019, it’s the home of the Boulangerie pâtisserie chocolaterie à Anet (Chocolate Bakery Pastry Shop in Anet).

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Here are Lt. Beck’s last diary entries and final words to his parents, composed just prior to his departure from Anet and his ill-fated attempt to return to Allied forces:

It’s a very beautiful day today, the first nice sunny one in over a week. I shall just have to lie in the sun awhile, even though I won’t get much written. As I said previously, I was to leave at 8:00 o’clock at night. That was wrong, I find, after talking to Paulette about it. It was at 8:00 o’clock in the morning. That means that I don’t have tomorrow to write and so today must wind up my writing from France.

It has been lots of fun writing all this. I guess that I am just halfway glad that I got in on this part of the war. Just a few hours after I set my plane down in France, I thought to myself:

“Boy, what a story this will make.”

Even if I don’t get out of France, ever, this will, by mail, and that is one reason why I have taken it so seriously. Had I felt that it never would be read I should not have written so much.

Writing something like this that will not be mailed right away gives me a chance to say just anything I feel. If I get back to England and finally to America again, I can just tear up anything that was meant to be read if I were killed trying to get back. On the other hand, if I don’t make it, everything I have written will be here for anyone to read, and I feel it will make a better ending to my life than just to be “missing in action.”

No one wants to die like that — just without anyone knowing what happened. I feel then that I have really accomplished a great deal in leaving these passing thoughts behind. Hoping with all my heart that they will be of some comfort to all my friends, and especially to my Mom and Dad.

When you read all this I shall be right there looking over your shoulder. (You may not see me but I am here.) You can feel that I have not gone away, but have, instead, come back to you. (I am so much closer than I was in England and France.)

You should see my tan now. I’m either mighty dirty or very tan, one or the other. At least I like it and feel much more healthy when I’m brown, as I have told you before.

I’ll be darned if Larson didn’t bring me two packages of cigarettes. He must have killed two Jerries to get them. What a guy.

How can a guy feel sad and lonely with someone doing everything in the world for you – ?

Mom, if you will, I’d like you to write a letter to Paulette and to Larson. They can get the French lady I spoke of, to translate it for them. You can write two or just one letter — suit yourself. Address it to Larson Roland, Anet, France.

He has lived here all his life and everyone knows him. Also, if you like, you can ask them to write and tell you just what happened. You will want to know I am sure and if there is any way humanly possible, they will find out and write you.

So, as this lovely day draws to an end, so does my writing. Always remember this saying which you put at the bottom of so many of your letters. It is truly a short, sincere, and very simple statement but holds a world of comfort and thought:

I have kept smiling every day and it has made each day of my life joyously happy. Just remember me as always smiling, Mom. And now it is you and Dad who must, “Keep your chin up” and “Keep smiling”, always.

I shall always be, Your loving son

And, earlier in the text, a letter to an unknown “Helen:

You didn’t think I would forget you, did you?

After knowing a girl as lovely as you, for twelve years, a guy would be absolutely a “dope” if he did!

Thinking of all our wonderful times together is easy but to forget them would take more than a lifetime.

I guess something must have gone wrong with the machine that “puts names on bullets”. We both were quite sure, weren’t we? I really felt that I would live to be a hundred, but I suppose I can say, quite safely, that in my 24 years I have had my share of living.

It’s always nicer, anyway, to end a story at its best climax. My story ends just as I like it. Full of thrills and excitement and with the blood tingling in my veins — Fighting.

I guess there isn’t much else to say. You know how I always was about such things. Perhaps leaving things unsaid at times is better. Just now, anything I say might sound foolish or untrue. Perhaps it would be, but when a person writes a note of this type he doesn’t very often say things he doesn’t mean.

If you can see my point I shall only say this and no more.

I loved you dearly when we were at our best. You must have known. Surely you could tell. As for some of the time, I will admit that I wasn’t sure.

Our love affair was, ’tis true, quite irregular and although it might have been better, I shall always think of it as a very wonderful part of my life.

Perhaps had we been a bit older when we met and I a bit more settled, as well as you, we would have been married.

As it turned out you are much better off as you would be a widow now instead of a beautiful young girl, with a fine future ahead of you.

Well, “Sweet Stuff,” I shall say Byeeeee now, with a kiss for old times.

I want to wish you every happiness that can be yours.

Until we meet again — I shall be waiting.

Finally, just before his departure from Anet:

If anything happens to me, I hope that you can finish my story. It would be my last wish and I think a very nice way to end a thus far, perfectly swell life. Naturally, I truly hope that I shall be able to finish the story myself, but if not, the ending will be for you to finish. Paulette will have someone write you and tell you just what happened, if the French Underground can find out. This is quite an unhappy little note, isn’t it? I feel much the opposite, however.

Here are images of four of the pilots mentioned by Beck, or, appearing in the group photograph above.

This is “Dorsey III”, namely, Isham “Ike” Jenkins Dorsey III, of Opelika, Alabama. He survived the war. Contributed by his brother, David “Whitt” Dorsey, this photo appears at Isham Dorsey III’s commemorative page at the Registry of the National WW II Memorial.

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“Unger”, mentioned in the account of Beck’s last mission, is listed in Fighter Pilot as “Lt. Edwin H. Unger, Jr., New York, N.Y.” His image, as an aviation cadet, appears in a composite of photographic portraits of servicemen from Nassau, New York, in the Nassau Daily Review-Star of May 26, 1944, accessed via Thomas N. Tyrniski’s FultonHistory website. (That’s where the “If you are reading this you have too much time on your hands.” is from!) Lt. Unger survived the war.

If You Are reading this you have to much time on your hands

This is Major Chester L. Van Etten from Los Angeles, who’s seen (wearing RCAF or RAF wings) in the center of the group photo. This image, also at the Registry of the National WW II Memorial, appears in a commemorative page created by Chester L. Van Etten himself.

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Also appearing at the WW II Memorial Registry is this image of Lt. Bryant L. Cramer, appearing on a commemorative page created by his grand-daughter, Cara Montrief. I assume that this image was taken in the Continental United States.

Here’s Lt. Cramer’s portrait, taken in August of 1943, from the National Archives’ collection “Photographic Prints of Air Cadets and Officers, Air Crew, and Notables in the History of Aviation“.

Beck, Levitt C., Jr. (Beck, Levitt C., Sr.), Fighter Pilot, Mr. and Mrs. Levitt C. Beck, Sr., Huntington Park, Ca., 1946

Chorley, W.R., Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War Volume 5 – 1944, Midland Publishing, Hinckley, England, 1997

USAF Credits for the Destruction of Enemy Aircraft, World War II – USAF Historical Study No. 85, Albert F. Simpson Historical Research Center, Air University, 1978

Jacques Desoubrie – at Wikipedia

Allied Airmen at Buchenwald – at Wikipedia

Squadron Leader Phillip John Lamason, DFC & Bar – at Wikipedia


Edmund of Lancaster, Earl of Lancaster and Leicester (1245-96)

Edmund was the founder of the House of Lancaster. He was born in January 1245 as the fourth child and second son of Henry III (b. 1207), king of England, and Eleanor of Provence (b. c. 1223), and was the younger brother of King Edward I. Edmund was married firstly to the great heiress Aveline Forz, who was much younger than he, but she died at only 15 years old in 1274 and he married the widowed Blanche of Artois, niece of Louis IX of France and dowager queen of Navarre in Spain, in c. late 1275. Blanche’s daughter from her first marriage to Enrique I, Juana I (b. 1273), was queen-regnant of Navarre and queen-consort of France, and the mother of three kings of France and the queen-consort of England, Edward II’s wife Isabella of France. Edmund and Blanche’s eldest son Thomas was born at the end of 1277 or beginning of 1278, and another son, Henry, followed in 1280 or 1281. A third son, John, lived most of his life in his mother’s native France.

Edmund received the earldom of Leicester after the death of his uncle-in-law Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, at the battle of Evesham in 1265 in 1267 he received the brand-new earldom of Lancaster, which gave his dynasty its name, from his father Henry III and in 1269 he was given most of the lands belonging to Robert Ferrers, whose earldom of Derby was taken from him to benefit Edmund. King Henry died in November 1272 and was succeeded by Edmund’s older brother Edward I (b. June 1239). Edmund was very loyal to his brother and they got on very well, and Edmund faithfully supported the king for the rest of his life, taking part in Edward’s Welsh wars in the 1270s and early 1280s. He sailed to Gascony as one of the leaders of his brother’s forces in 1296 after Edward I went to war against Philip IV of France, and died in Bayonne in early June 1296, aged 51. His widow Blanche of Artois returned to her native France, ruled by her son-in-law Philip IV, and died in May 1302.

Thomas of Lancaster, Earl of Lancaster and Leicester (1277/8-1322)

The eldest son of Edmund of Lancaster and Blanche of Artois, Thomas was 19 when his father died, and received Edmund’s earldoms of Lancaster and Leicester and the lands of the earldom of Derby. He married the great heiress Alice de Lacy (b. 1281) in 1294, and when her father Henry died in 1311 became earl of Lincoln and Salisbury as well. His childhood, given that he was the nephew of the king of England and brother-in-law of the king of France, is strikingly obscure. Thomas served his uncle Edward I loyally on campaign in Scotland and elsewhere until the king’s death in July 1307 at the age of 68. Edward was succeeded by his eldest surviving son Edward of Caernarfon (b. 1284), now King Edward II, Thomas of Lancaster’s first cousin. Seven months after his accession, Edward II married Isabella of France, Thomas’s niece. For the first 16 months or so of his cousin’s reign, Thomas of Lancaster was one of Edward’s most loyal supporters even in the face of the excessive favouritism the king showed to a man called Piers Gaveston, his beloved favourite, but in late 1308 it appears that the two cousins had a serious quarrel, and Thomas moved into a position of opposition to Edward II and remained there for the rest of his life.

Thomas of Lancaster and his ally Guy Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, kidnapped and killed Piers Gaveston in June 1312, and one chronicler comments on the ‘mortal hatred which lasted forever’ between Thomas and his cousin Edward II as a result. Thomas refused to fight for Edward at the battle of Bannockburn in June 1314 and raised an army against the king, and for some years he and Edward battled for control of the English government, unable to work together and co-operate. Each man took to marching around the kingdom with a large armed force deliberately avoiding each other. A treaty of friendship between the two cousins in August 1318 lasted only for a while, and when a group of English barons rebelled against the king’s latest powerful favourite, Hugh Despenser the Younger, in 1321, Thomas of Lancaster was their leader. He lost the battle of Boroughbridge to a royal army on 16 March 1322, and was beheaded outside his own castle of Pontefract six days later. His wife Alice had left him in 1317 and he had no legitimate children.

Henry of Lancaster, Earl of Lancaster and Leicester (c. 1280/81-1345)

Henry was the second son of Edmund of Lancaster and Blanche of Artois, and the heir of his childless brother Thomas. In early 1297 he married the heiress Maud Chaworth, who brought him lands in Wales and the south of England. They had seven children: one son and heir, Henry of Grosmont, and six daughters, Blanche, Isabella, Maud, Joan, Eleanor and Mary. Henry of Lancaster went on campaign to Scotland with his uncle Edward I in 1296 when he was only 15 or 16, and was first summoned to parliament in 1299. For the first few years of his cousin Edward II’s reign he played little if any role in politics or in public life, seemingly preferring to live quietly on his own lands with his wife Maud (d. 1322) and their growing family.

Fortuitously, Henry was outside England for most of the late 1310s and early 1320s, which spared him from the awful decision of either abandoning his brother Thomas or following him into treason and execution. Edward II allowed him Thomas’s earldom of Leicester in 1324, but not the earldom of Lancaster, and the king kept much of Henry’s rightful inheritance in his own hands. Henry joined his niece Queen Isabella when she invaded England in September 1326 to bring down her husband’s despised favourite Hugh Despenser the Younger, and was given the custody of his disgraced cousin Edward II at his Warwickshire castle of Kenilworth when it became clear that the king’s support had collapsed and he could no longer sit on the throne. Now earl of Lancaster as well, Henry was the official guardian of the new king, the teenaged Edward III, but his niece Isabella ruled for her son and allowed Henry no power or influence whatsoever. Henry’s brief rebellion against Isabella’s rule in late 1328 failed, but he was immediately restored to royal favour when his great-nephew Edward III himself overthrew his mother Isabella in October 1330. Henry lived for another 17 years and seems to have gone blind in the 1330s, which limited his political role, but he had restored his family’s fortunes after Thomas’s execution and made the Lancasters the most prestigious and wealthy family in the country. He died in Leicester in September 1345 at the age of about 65.

Eleanor of Lancaster, Lady Beaumont and Countess of Arundel (c. 1316/18-1372)

Eleanor was the fifth of the six daughters of Henry, earl of Lancaster and Leicester and Maud Chaworth, after Blanche, Isabella, Maud and Joan and before Mary, and was born around 1316 or 1318. In 1330 she married John Beaumont, son and heir of Henry, Lord Beaumont, a French nobleman who spent most of his life in England, and the Scottish noblewoman Alice Beaumont née Comyn, herself one of the two nieces and co-heirs of John Comyn, earl of Buchan (d. 1308). John Beaumont was born on or around Christmas Day 1317, and was very close to Eleanor’s own age. The young couple became parents nine years after their wedding when their son Henry Beaumont was born in late 1339, and John died in May or June 1342, apparently killed while jousting. Eleanor’s son Henry Beaumont (1339-69) continued the Beaumont line, and was an ancestor of Richard III’s great friend Francis Lovell.

In early 1345 Eleanor married her second husband Richard Fitzalan, earl of Arundel and heir to his uncle John de Warenne’s earldom of Surrey. The two had apparently already been having an affair, and in late 1344 Arundel had had his first marriage to Eleanor’s first cousin Isabella Despenser annulled and thereby made his and Isabella’s son Edmund (born c. 1326) illegitimate. Eleanor of Lancaster and Richard, earl of Arundel, had five children together between 1345/6 and 1352/3: Joan, countess of Hereford Richard the younger, earl of Arundel Alice, countess of Kent John, marshal of England and Thomas, archbishop of York and Canterbury. Eleanor of Lancaster was the great-grandmother of King Henry V (b. 1386), the second Lancastrian king of England, via her daughter Joan, countess of Hereford. Via her other daughter Alice, countess of Kent, Eleanor was also the great-great-great-grandmother of the Yorkist kings Edward IV and Richard III, and via her five children who had children of their own was the ancestor of much of the English nobility in the fifteenth century. She died in January 1372 her and the earl of Arundel’s effigies in Chichester Cathedral inspired Philip Larkin’s poem ‘An Arundel Tomb.’

Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster, Earl of Leicester, Derby and Lincoln (c. 1310/12-1361)

Henry, born around 1310 or 1312 at Grosmont Castle in Wales, was the only son and heir of Henry, earl of Lancaster and Maud Chaworth, and had six sisters. He was about 10 or 12 years old when his uncle Thomas was executed in March 1322. In 1330, he married Isabella Beaumont, second daughter of Henry, Lord Beaumont and Alice Beaumont née Comyn Isabella’s brother John, their parents’ heir, married Henry’s younger sister Eleanor the same year. Henry’s cousin Edward III made him earl of Derby in 1337, and for his entire life Henry was utterly loyal to the king and was one of the great European warriors of the fourteenth century. Much more than merely a brutal soldier, however, he was famed for his chivalry and courtesy, was an excellent diplomat, and a thoughtful, intelligent man who wrote a long religious treatise called the Book of Holy Medicines in 1354. Edward III rewarded him for his loyalty by making him duke of Lancaster in 1351, only the second duke in English history after the king’s eldest son Edward of Woodstock (b. 1330), made duke of Cornwall in 1337.

Henry of Grosmont’s marriage to Isabella Beaumont produced two daughters, Maud and Blanche, though it seems that their relationship was not a particularly happy one and Isabella is an oddly obscure figure who played no role whatsoever in her husband’s public life (even the year of her death is uncertain, probably either 1359 or 1360). Duke Henry died in Leicester in March 1361, barely even 50 years old, and was buried at the Newarke in the same town, a foundation of his father in 1330 which he had extended.

Blanche of Lancaster, Duchess of Lancaster, Countess of Richmond, Leicester, Derby and Lincoln (1342-68)

Blanche was the younger daughter of Henry of Grosmont, duke of Lancaster, and Isabella Beaumont. Her older sister was Maud, and according to the evidence of Duke Henry’s inquisition post mortem in 1361, the two sisters were born on 4 April 1340 and 25 March 1342. Blanche married Edward III’s third son John of Gaunt (b. 1340), earl of Richmond, in Reading in May 1359, and their eldest child Philippa of Lancaster, later queen of Portugal, was born 10 months and 12 days later. Two other children of Blanche and John lived into adulthood (in addition to at least three others who did not): Elizabeth, born 1363, duchess of Exeter and countess of Pembroke and Huntingdon, and Henry, born 1367, earl of Derby, duke of Hereford and Lancaster, and crowned as King Henry IV of England in 1399.

Blanche of Lancaster lost her father Henry in 1361, and the following year her sister Maud unexpectedly died too at the age of only 22. Maud had married Wilhelm of Bavaria (b. 1330), a nephew of Edward III’s queen Philippa of Hainault, but around 1357/8 the unfortunate man became insane and had to be confined for his own safety, and the couple had no surviving children. Maud returned to England after her father’s death but outlived him by just a year, and the entire vast Lancastrian inheritance thus passed to her sister Blanche and John of Gaunt, who became second duke of Lancaster. Blanche, like her sister, lived a short life: she died in September 1368 at the age of only 26, when her youngest child Henry was not even 18 months old. She was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral in London, and John of Gaunt was buried there with her 30 years later, though he had been married to two other women in the meantime: Constanza of Castile, rightful heir to the Spanish kingdoms of Castile and Leon, and his long-term mistress Katherine Swynford, mother of four of his children.

Henry IV, King of England, Duke of Lancaster and Hereford, Earl of Derby (1367-1413)

Born at Bolingbroke Castle, Lincolnshire on 15 April 1367, Henry was the Lancastrian heir from the moment of his birth, and was a grandson of both King Edward III and of Henry of Grosmont, first duke of Lancaster. He cannot have remembered his mother Blanche. Henry had at least two and perhaps three older brothers who died in infancy, and older sisters Philippa, queen of Portugal, and Elizabeth, duchess of Exeter. His father’s subsequent relationships gave him a half-sister Katherine or Catalina, queen of Castile in Spain (b. 1372/3), and four Beaufort half-siblings born in the 1370s, John, Henry, Thomas and Joan, as well. Henry was knighted and made earl of Derby as a 10-year-old in April 1377, and two months later his grandfather Edward III died and his first cousin Richard of Bordeaux succeeded to the throne as Richard II. Richard was just three months older than Henry.

Henry of Lancaster married the great heiress Mary de Bohun (b. c. 1369) in 1381 she and her older sister Eleanor, married to Henry’s uncle Thomas of Woodstock, inherited their father’s earldoms of Hereford, Essex and Northampton. Henry and Mary’s first son Henry of Monmouth was born in September 1386, and they had younger sons Thomas, John and Humphrey and daughters Blanche and Philippa as well. Henry appears to have had an uneasy relationship with his cousin Richard II for most of the king’s reign, and although Richard made Henry duke of Hereford in 1397, he had never forgiven Henry for his actions as a Lord Appellant, one of five noblemen who tried and executed some of Richard’s chief supporters, in 1388. In October 1398 Richard seized the opportunity to exile Henry from England for 10 years, and a few months later when Richard’s uncle John of Gaunt died, he confiscated the entire vast Lancastrian inheritance. Henry returned to England in July 1399 to claim his lands, and Richard’s support collapsed completely. Henry took the throne as King Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king of England, in September 1399, and Richard died at Pontefract Castle in February 1400. Henry IV survived a number of rebellions against his rule, and died at the age of not quite 46 in March 1413, passing on his throne to his eldest son Henry of Monmouth, who succeeded as King Henry V.


Edward III’s sons – starting to sort the Plantagenets out.

An article by Mark Ormrod published in 2011 in the BBC History Magazine has always stuck in my mind. Essentially Edward was an indulgent father who made big plans for his dynasty that involved crowns for his children through adoption, marriage and conquest. His sons grew up believing that they might be kings of various countries if the odds were sufficiently stacked in their favour – and having created a series of royal dukes (Edward’s two younger sons were raised to dukedoms by their nephew Richard II) it is perhaps not surprising that there was disaffection within the family. Edward’s dynastic policy required a large family. He and his wife Philippa of Hainhault were fortunate in their love for one another – England was less fortunate in the size of the Plantagenet family all of whom thought themselves worthy of a crown at a time when the occupant of the throne, Richard II (Edward’s grandson) was unable to control his ambitious, conniving relations.

It seems as good a place to start as any. It also helps that popular history gives a degree of familiarity to Edward III’s sons.

Edward, the Black Prince, from the Bruges Garter Book

Thomas of Woodstock: London, British Library Cotton MS Nero D.VIII, f. 0

Nor for that matter is sorting out their titles a linear progression. Thomas of Langley’s dukedom of Aumale was given to him by Richard II in 1385 but was then passed on by Richard to Edmund of Langley’s son Edward of Norwich in 1397 when Thomas was marched off to Calais and murdered. However, Edward of Norwich was himself stripped of the title in 1399 when his cousin became Henry IV having usurped Richard II. It’s something of a relief to report that there were no more dukes of Aumale. Henry IV recreated the title as an earldom and gave it to his son Thomas at the same time as creating him Duke of Clarence and as a duke trumps an ear, Thomas is usually known as Duke of Clarence rather than Earl of Aumale. Thomas died without children and the title became dormant (though rather like indigestion an Aumale title does return at a later date.)

The Black Prince died from dysentery and is buried in Canterbury Cathedral where his effigy and shield can still be seen. Lionel of Antwerp was murdered by his Italian in-laws in 1368. I should add that it was never proven that he was poisoned. He was buried in Milan but eventually disinterred and transported home for burial in Clare Priory, Suffolk alongside his first wife. John of Gaunt died of old age at Leicester Castle on 3rd February 1399 and was buried beside Blanche of Lancaster in St Paul’s Cathedral. Edmund of Langley died in 1402 and was buried at King’s Langley in Hertfordshire. Thomas of Woodstock was arrested on the orders of his nephew Richard II and placed in the custody of Thomas Mowbray (Duke of Norfolk), transported to Calais where he was murdered in 1397. He was eventually buried in Westminster Abbey.


John of Gaunt: father of England’s medieval monarchy and self-styled Spanish king

John of Gaunt, third surviving son of King Edward III of England, was wealthy, powerful – and his lineage would go on to irrevocably shape the royal histories of England and Spain. Writing for HistoryExtra, historian Helen Carr shares a guide to the life of the medieval prince – a tale of war, unrest and betrayal…

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Published: April 8, 2021 at 10:04 am

John of Gaunt. “What name on the roll of English princes is more familiar?” wrote Sydney Armitage-Smith, Gaunt’s first biographer, in 1904. John of Gaunt is still as familiar in our collective historical consciousness as he was over a century ago, yet over time he has been progressively marginalised in favour of more famous historical figures.

John of Gaunt: key dates & facts

Born: March 1340, Abbey of Saint Bavon in Ghent

Died: 3 February 1399, Leicester, age 58

Parents: King Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault

Known for: Third surviving son of King Edward III, and a commander in the Hundred Years’ War. Following the death of his father, and his brother Edward the Black Prince, John became effective regent of England during the minority reign of his nephew, Richard II

Wives: Blanche of Lancaster, m1359–68 Constance of Castile m1371–94 Katherine Swynford, m1396–99

Legacy: In October 1399, after overthrowing Richard II, John’s eldest son was crowned Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king of England. In 1485, Henry Tudor defeated Yorkist king Richard III at the battle of Bosworth, his claim to the throne also through John of Gaunt’s line

Who was John of Gaunt?

John of Gaunt (1340–99) was born three years into the Hundred Years’ War , a war of succession that dominated the rest of his life and the interests of his family, the Plantagenets. Gaunt was the third surviving son of Edward III , king of England (and from 1337, claimed king of France) and Queen Philippa of Hainault .

His elder brothers and sisters were Edward of Woodstock (otherwise known as the Black Prince), Isabella Plantagenet, Lionel of Antwerp and Joan Plantagenet, and his younger siblings included Edmund of Langley, Thomas of Woodstock, Mary Plantagenet and Margaret Plantagenet.

Gaunt spent most of his childhood with his older brothers. In 1349, as plague ravaged England , Gaunt was in York with the Black Prince, and took refuge at Saint Mary’s Abbey. However, his sister Joan succumbed to the epidemic (which ripped through the country and killed as much as half of the population) while on her way to marry the future Pedro I of Castile. Though John of Gaunt was only eight years old when his sister died, he loyally endowed an obit (a mass of remembrance) for her, later on in his life.

John of Gaunt was loyal to the interests of his family and siblings but he was particularly close to his eldest brother, the Black Prince. Gaunt lived with the prince in his household as a boy, learning princely etiquette and land management, and following his brother everywhere, even into battle at age 10 he insisted on accompanying the Black Prince on board his warship for the battle of Winchelsea (1350) against a mighty Castilian fleet. Their fraternal bond endured into adulthood and John of Gaunt acted as a second to his brother up until the Black Prince’s death in 1376.

This made John of Gaunt the eldest surviving son of Edward III (his other elder brother, Lionel, had died in 1368). Were it not for Prince Richard, the young son of the Black Prince, Gaunt would have stood in line to inherit the crown on his own father’s death. Despite rumours of his ill intent and personal ambition to rule England in place of Richard, John of Gaunt remained loyal to the interests of his brother, and subsequently his nephew, for the rest of his life.

Why was John of Gaunt a target during the Peasants’ Revolt?

In spring 1381, a group of rebels marched on the city of London, attacking houses and towns on their way to confront the teenage king Richard II, an event that became known as t he Peasants’ Revolt .

The unrest was cataclysmic for John of Gaunt. In the late 1370s, King Edward III’s health rapidly declined and the Black Prince died, leaving Gaunt as de facto ruler of the country (his nephew Richard was king in minority, and only 14 at the time of the 1318 revolt) . Gaunt was already unpopular in London following a falling out with leading merchant oligarchs in the City, and also with the Bishop of London, William Courtenay. The feud had begun when Gaunt tried to protect the interests and reputation of his father following the Good Parliament in 1376 . He angered the Commons, who were furious with a group of corrupt members within the king’s immediate political and personal coterie. Gaunt refused to listen to the demands of the Commons to replace the king’s ill-minded advisors, and his reputation in London never recovered. This resulted in a minor attack on the Savoy Palace, Gaunt’s home on the Thames in 1376, and his coat of arms being reversed – the sign of a traitor.

The Peasants’ Revolt in 1381 was a much larger, widespread event that emerged out of the Black Death following a series of restrictive labour laws, capped by three punishing taxes on the people. The attack on London came from rebels from Kent and Essex, but Gaunt’s property, the Savoy Palace, was destroyed by mostly London rebels, from inside the City: enemies he had acquired years before the revolt.

Outside of London, particularly in his lands in the north, Gaunt was a popular magnate. His tenants in Leicester even defended his property and reputation from the rebel groups that began to emerge in the midlands. Though Gaunt is considered for posterity as an unpopular figure, this was largely only within London-centric circles.

The consequences of the revolt for John of Gaunt were enormous. Despite his loss of property, he also spent the immediate aftermath of the revolt unaware of the position and intention of the young Richard II. Two leading politicians had been beheaded by rebels in London, and Gaunt was left on the Scottish Borders for weeks, waiting for news from the king regarding his fate.

He was scorned by Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland who he fled to for help, and was made to believe an army of rebels moved north to arrest and likely kill him. For weeks John of Gaunt lived under the protection of the Scots, which was perilous in itself as England and Scotland were near constantly at war with one another. Yet, Gaunt was popular with the Scottish nobles and they treated him generously despite him being an effective outlaw in England.

Following the revolt, Gaunt spent as little time in London as possible and he never re-built the Savoy. The unrest marked an increase in Richard’s confidence and personal power as king, and following the events in 1381 John of Gaunt was not treated with the same level of reverence as he was prior to the rebellion.

What were his major romantic relationships, and who were his children?

John of Gaunt was married three times and each of his wives were from incredibly different backgrounds.

In 1359 he married Blanche of Lancaster, who was the second daughter of his father’s friend and wealthy magnate, Henry of Grosmont, the first Duke of Lancaster. After Henry’s death in 1361, Gaunt inherited the entire dukedom of Lancaster by right of his wife, Blanche (an inheritance greatly increased by the death of Blanche’s elder sister Maud). The marriage appears to have been happy, producing three surviving children, Philippa, Elizabeth and Henry of Bolingbroke. However, their marriage was dramatically cut short when Blanche died in September 1368, probably due to complications from childbirth having recently given birth to a new baby, Isabel, who also did not survive. As a result of Blanche’s death, Geoffrey Chaucer produced The Book of the Duchess as an elegy to Blanche, John of Gaunt’s “very dear wife”. It is likely that the ‘Man in Black’, the personification of sorrow and shrouded in grief, is meant to represent John of Gaunt lamenting the loss of his young wife.

Where Gaunt’s first marriage was the result of friendship, nobility and loyalty, his second was borne out of revenge and ambition. In 1371, John of Gaunt married Constance of Castile, the eldest daughter of King Pedro of Castile, the recently murdered Spanish king. Their wedding took place near Bordeaux and was relatively quick and unceremonious. One year later, Gaunt styled himself King of Castile and León, formally changing his coat of arms by right of his wife.

Gaunt’s marriage to Constance marked a 20-year obsession to claim the throne of Castile to rule as a king in the Iberian Peninsula. The union was cemented in politics and despite the birth of a daughter, Catherine, it did not appear to be happy. The real thorn in their marriage was Gaunt’s mistress, Katherine Swynford.

Katherine Swynford was the former chamber servant of Duchess Blanche. Katherine and John of Gaunt appear to have begun their affair around 1372, shortly after he returned to England with Constance, for a year later their first son John Beaufort was born. Gaunt and Katherine’s relationship was public knowledge and Katherine spent considerable time with Gaunt in the 1370s after he employed her in his service as the ‘maistresse’ (a type of governess) to his daughters Philippa and Elizabeth. Their relationship was considered to be scandalous and the chronicler of Saint Albans Thomas Walsingham named Gaunt a “fornicator and adulterer”, a reputation he suffered for most of his life. Gaunt’s relationship with Katherine came under scrutiny shortly before the Peasants’ Revolt and added to his unpopular public profile.

Gaunt ended his relationship with Katherine shortly after the revolt, but they appear to have remained amicable. It was around a month later that Gaunt built a shrine at Knaresborough in North Yorkshire “to Saint Katherine”, probably a mark of love and respect for the woman he could not marry.

Constance died in 1394. In 1396, three years before Gaunt’s death, he finally married Katherine Swynford and she became the new Duchess of Lancaster. It is endearing to think of this as purely romantic, but it is likely that through the marriage, he sought to dutifully legitimise his four Beaufort children: John, Henry, Thomas and Joan.

What were Gaunt’s final actions before he died and where was he buried?

The final years of Gaunt’s life were spent securing his dynasty and the welfare of his family, and trying to keep the peace in the realm.

In a devastating turn of events, Gaunt’s physical demise went hand-in-hand with the tyranny of his nephew Richard II, resulting in political hostility between the Crown and the House of Lancaster that threatened the legacy Gaunt had carefully constructed. Shortly before Gaunt’s death, his heir Henry of Bolingbroke was exiled and John of Gaunt lay on his deathbed uncertain of the fate of his family and his name.

He died at Leicester Castle in February 1399 with Katherine by his side, but was buried dutifully beside his first wife, Blanche. Their joint tomb was designed by the master mason Henry Yevele, and showed Gaunt and Blanche with their hands clasped in loving perpetuity. The tomb no longer exists, for Gaunt was buried at Old Saint Paul’s Cathedral, which was destroyed in the 1666 Great Fire of London .

What is John of Gaunt’s legacy?

Though John of Gaunt died in fear for his legacy, it was in fact his legacy that has endured for centuries and shaped the English and Spanish monarchies as we understand them today. In 1399, Henry of Bolingbroke returned to England and overthrew Richard II, becoming the first Lancastrian king, as Henry IV .

Gaunt’s children by Katherine, the Beauforts, began the Tudor dynasty through Gaunt’s great-granddaughter, Margaret Beaufort : she was the mother of Henry Tudor (later Henry VII ). Catherine of Lancaster, Gaunt’s daughter by Constance, married into the Castilian royal family and became Queen Regent of Castile. Her great-granddaughter was Catherine of Aragon .

John of Gaunt is the father of monarchy as it moved from the Middle Ages into the early modern period. He is the father of the kings and queens who dust the pages of history books to this day.

Helen Carr is a medieval historian, writer and documentary history producer, and the author of the forthcoming The Red Prince: John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (Oneworld Publications, 2021)


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