Military History Books
by Harold A. Skaarup   
Canadian Warplanes 3: The Second World War, Avro Lancaster

Avro Lancaster, RCAF 1942-1945

Data current to 27 Aug 2020.

 (RCAF Photo)

Avro 683 Lancaster Mk. X (Serial No. NG347), coded QB-P for Papa, “Piccadilly Princess”, No. 424 "Tiger" (B) Squadron, RCAF.

This Lancaster was abandoned after it crashed near Hartford Bridge, Hampshire, in the UK, after being severely damaged in the rear fuselage and starboard wing by a night-fighter immediately after dropping its bomb load over the target at Mannheim, Germany on the 10th of August 1943.  The aircraft was destroyed.  The head and shoulders of the “Princess” nose art was recovered the day after the crash by the pilot and ended up on display at the Canadian War Museum in April 1949.  This piece of the fuselage is believed to still be in the possession of the Museum.  (Note: Handley Page Halifax Mk. V, (Serial No. EB247), coded ZL*P, also carried the name “Piccadilly Princess”, when it flew with No. 427 "Lion" (B) Squadron, RCAF).  

The Avro Lancaster is a four-engined heavy bomber, designed and manufactured by Avro as a contemporary of the Handley Page Halifax and the Short Stirling.  All three aircraft were four-engined heavy bombers adopted by the RAF during the same Second World War era.  The Lancaster was powered by four Rolls-Royce Merlin engines and in one version, Bristol Hercules engines.  It first saw service with RAF Bomber Command in 1942 and as the strategic bombing offensive over Europe gathered momentum, it was the main aircraft for the night-time bombing campaigns that followed.  As increasing numbers of the type were produced, it became the principal heavy used by the RAF, the RCAF and squadrons from other Commonwealth and European countries serving within the RAF, overshadowing contemporaries such as the Halifax and Stirling.

The Lancaster had a long, unobstructed bomb bay, which meant that it carry the largest bombs used by the RAF, including the 4,000 lb (1,800 kg), 8,000 lb (3,600 kg) and 12,000 lb (5,400 kg) blockbuster bombs in loads that were often supplemented with smaller bombs or incendiaries.  The Lancaster night bombers delivered 608,612 long tons of bombs in 156,000 sorties over Europe.  The versatility of the Lancaster was such that it was chosen to equip 617 Squadron and was modified to carry the Upkeep"Bouncing bomb" designed by Barnes Wallis for Operation Chastise, the attack on German Ruhr valley dams.  Although the Lancaster was primarily a night bomber, it excelled in many other roles, including daylight precision bombing, for which some Lancasters were adapted to carry the 12,000 lb (5,400 kg) Tallboy and then the 22,000 lb (10,000 kg) Grand Slam earthquake bombs (also designed by Wallis).  This was the largest payload carried by any bomber in the war.

 (IWM Photo, CH15380)

A 12,000-lb (5,443 kg) MC bomb (Bomber Command executive codeword 'Tallboy') seen immediately after its release from Avro Lancaster B Mark I (Serial No. JB139) of No. 617 Squadron, RAF, over the flying-bomb store at Watten, France.  The "Blockhaus d'Éperlecques" V-2 launch site was attacked on 19 June 1944 and 27 July 1944.

During early 1942, it was decided that the bomber should be produced in Canada, where it was manufactured by Victory Aircraft in Malton, Ontario.  The Canadian-built Lancaster B X 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 instruments and electronics.  In August 1942, a British-built Lancaster B I, (Serial No. R5727), was dispatched to Canada as a pattern aircraft, becoming the first of the type to conduct a transatlantic crossing.  The first Lancaster produced in Canada was named the "Ruhr Express".

Postwar, the Lancaster was supplanted as the main strategic bomber of the RAF by the Avro Lincoln, , a larger version of the Lancaster (three were built in Canada and flown by the RCAF).  The Lancaster took on the role of long range anti-submarine patrol aircraft and air-sea rescue.  It was also used for photo-reconnaissance and aerial mapping.

Beginning in 1946, Lancaster Mk Xs were modified for service with the RCAF.  Fourteen aircraft were modified to perform aerial and photo-reconnaissance missions; these would go on to perform much of the mapping of northern Canada until as late as 1962.  Throughout the 1950s, the RCAF operated seventy modified Lancasters, designated Lancaster 10MR/MPs, as Maritime Reconnaissance and Patrol aircraft in an anti-submarine role.  Modifications involved the installation of radar and sonobuoy operators' positions, removal of the rear and mid-upper gun turrets, installation of a 400-gallon fuel tank in the bomb bay to increase the patrol range, upgraded electronics, radar, and instrumentation, and a cooking stove in the centre section.  They served throughout the 1950s, when they were replaced by the Lockheed Neptune and Canadair Argus.

The B.X was a Canadian-built B.III with Canadian- and US-made instruments 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 centre of gravity balance.  Canada was a long term operator of the Lancaster, using modified aircraft after the war for maritime patrol, search and rescue and photo-reconnaissance until 1964.  The last flight by the RCAF was by F/L Lynn Garrison in (Serial No. KB-976), on 4 July 1964 at the Calgary International Air Show.

Postwar the RCAF modified the B X (as the Lancaster Mk 10) to fill a variety of roles, with specific designations for each role. These included:

10ARArea Reconnaissance – three aircraft modified for surveillance operations over the Arctic. Fitted with lengthened nose (40 inches (100 cm) longer) and carrying cameras and ELINT equipment. These remained in service until 1964.

10BRBomber Reconnaissance. Minimally modified variant with additional windows for observers in rear fuselage. 13 converted.

10DCDrone controller with Ryan Firebee drones – two modified in 1957 and operational until 1961.

10MR (later 10MP): Maritime Reconnaissance or Maritime Patrol anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft, based on BR with mid-upper turret removed.  70–75 converted. In service from 1950 to 1955.

10NNavigational trainer. Five converted.

10OOrenda jet engine testbed for the engine used in the Avro CF-100 Canuck.

10PPhoto reconnaissance mapping duties. 11 converted 1948–1950.  Retired 1964.

10S&R: Interim search-and-rescue aircraft, minimally modified 10S. Replaced by disarmed 10BR and 10MRs.

10S : Standard – designation applied to baseline standard, with Merlin 224 engines, Marin mid-upper turret and H2S radar, for aircraft retained postwar for future use. Sometimes referred to by unofficial designation 10U.

B.XV: As per Lancaster B.IV/Lincoln B.1 but built in Canada and renamed Avro Lincoln XV.  Three were built before order was cancelled when war ended.

Of the 17 surviving and largely intact Lancasters known to exist, two are airworthy; one, called Vera (Serial No. FM213), coded VR-A, is in Canada, operated by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Mount Hope, a suburb of Hamilton, Ontario, and the other, (Serial No. PA474), is based in Coningsby, in the UK, operated by The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.  In 2014, "Vera" toured the UK in a series of joint displays with the BBMF aircraft.  For the 2018 flying season, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Operation Chastise, the Canadian Warplane Heritage Lancaster is painted in the markings of Guy Gibson's 617 Squadron aircraft (Serial No. ED932), coded AJ-G, when he commanded the "Dambusters" raids.

Another Lancaster, Just Jane, based in East Kirkby Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre is able to taxi but is not currently airworthy, though there are plans to return her to flight in the future.  The fourth Lancaster with working engines and able to taxi is "Bazalgette" (Serial No. FM159), based at the Bomber Command Museum of Canada in Nanton, Alberta.  It has been carefully restored from a vandalised state and is now a major tourist attraction.

 (DND Photo via Chris Charland)

 Avro Lancaster at war.

 (DND Photo via Chris Charland)

 Avro Lancaster at war.

 (DND Photo via Chris Charland)

Avro Lancaster, top rear view.

 (RCAF Photo via Fred Paradie)

Avro Lancaster (Serial No. KB 882), coded NA-R, in the UK with No. 428 Squadron, RCAF. 

Avro 683 Lancaster Mk. III (1), (Serial No. EE 182), Mk. X and Mk. XP (228), (Serial Nos. FM101, FM102, FM103, FM104 (preserved in the BCAM), FM105, FM110, FM111, FM115, FM118, FM120, FM122, FM 123, FM124, FM126, FM127, FM128, FM130, FM136 (preserved in the Aerospace Museum of Calgary), FM140, FM148, FM153, FM155, FM159 (preserved in the Nanton Lancaster Society Air Museum), FM172, FM199, FM206, FM207, FM208, FM209, FM210, FM211, FM212 (Windsor, Ontario), FM213 (CWHM), FM214, FM215, FM216, FM217, FM218, FM219, FM220, FM221 (Resolute Bay, Northwest Territories, wreckage), FN222, FM223, FM224, FM225, FM226, FM227, FM228, FM229, KB721, KB732, KB733, KB739, KB744, KB746, KB747, KB748, KB757, KB760, KB764, KB771, KB772, KB774, KB781, KB783, KB789, KB791, KB794, KB796, KB801, KB802, KB807, KB810, KB811, KB812, KB819, KB820, KB823, KB824, KB825, KB826, KB827, KB829, KB830, KB833, KB836, KB837, KB838, KB839 (GMAM), KB840, KB841, KB843, KB844, KB847, KB848, KB849, KB851, KB852, KB854, KB856, KB857, KB860, KB861, KB862, KB863, KB864, KB865, KB867, KB868, KB871, KB872, KB873, KB875, KB876, KB877, KB878, KB880, KB881, KB882, KB883, KB884, KB885, KB886, KB888, KB889 (preserved in the IWM, Duxford, UK), , KB890, KB891, KB892, KB893, KB894, KB895, KB896, KB898, KB899, KB900, KB912- KB934, KB936, KB937, KB938, KB939, KB940, KB941, KB942, KB943, KB944 (preserved in the CASM), KB945, KB946, KB947, KB948, KB949, KB950, KB951, KB953, KB953, KB954, KB955, KB956, KB957, KB958, KB959, KB959, KB960, KB961, KB962, KB963, KB964, KB965, KB967, KB968, KB969, KB970, KB972, KB973, KB974, KB975, KB976 (Fantasy of Flight Museum, Florida), KB977, KB978, KB979, KB981, KB982, KB983, KB984, KB986, KB988, KB990, KB991, KB992, KB994 (North Weald, UK), KB995, KB996, KB997, KB998, KB999), for a total of 229 aircraft.

Avro Lancaster in flight during the Second World War.  (RAF Photo)

Avro Lancaster, RAF (Serial No. R5852), in flight during the Second World War.  (IWM Photo, CH 6071)

 (RAF Photo)

Avro Lancaster (Serial No. R5689), coded VN-N of No. 50 Squadron, RAF, Swinderby, UK, 28 Aug 1942.

 (RAF Photo)

Avro Lancaster Mk. II (Serial No. DS689), coded OW-S, No. 426 Squadron, RCAF.  Manufactured by Armstrong-Whitworth, Aircraft Ltd. Baginton, Coventry, this bomber is equipped with Bristol Hercules radial air-cooled engines and bulged bomb-bay doors to carry the large ‘Super-cookies’.  DS689 flew several missions over Berlin until it was lost during a raid on Stuttgart on the night of 7/8 December 1943.

DS689 was delivered to No.426 Squadron on Monday 29 June 1942.. The aircraft failed to return from night-operations to Stuttgart on the night of Thursday, 7 October 1943, becoming the 28th aircraft from the Squadron to become non effective and struck off charge, becoming the 214th Squadron aircraft to become non-effective and struck off charge flying out of RAF Station Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire, the 592nd aircraft from Canadian Squadrons operating in Bomber Command, the 350th aircraft from No.6 (RCAF) Bomber Group, to become non-effective and struck off charge and the 52nd aircraft to become non-effective flying from Base Station RAF Station Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire, the main Station of No.61 (Beaver) Bomber Base No.6 (RCAF) Bomber Group.  Lancaster DS689 was the 75th aircraft having been briefed to attack Stuttgart to become non-effective and struck off charge and the 285th aircraft from the Group to become non-effective and struck off charge following an operational sortie and the 263rd aircraft to become non-effective and struck off charge following a bombing sortie. Air Ministry (AM) Form 78 indicates that DS689 had 339 hours 35 minutes flying time logged against the airframe.

 (City of Vancouver Archives Photo, AM640-S1-: CVA 260-1518)

Avro Lancaster, RCAF, on display at an airshow at Richmond, British Columbia, Aug 1945.

 (City of Vancouver Archives Photo, AM640-S1-: CVA 260-1523)

Avro Lancaster rear turret view, Vancouver, British Columbia, Aug 1945.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3614986)

Avro Lancaster B Mk. X (Serial No. KB760), coded NA-P, with aircrew and groundcrew, No. 428 (Ghost) Squadron, RCAF.  They flew the squadron's 2,000th sortie, a raid on Bremen, Germany.

Avro 683 Lancaster in flight.  (RAF Photo)

Avro 683 Lancaster, Canada stamp.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 2264450)


Avro Lancaster B Mk. II, RCAF (Serial No. LL725), EQ-C, of No. 408 Squadron being bombed up Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire, ca. 1944.  (RAF Photo)

Avro Lancaster LQ-A.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3584030)


Avro Lancaster bombing a target in Europe, 21 March 1945.  (Library & Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4207036)

  (RAF Photo)

Avro 683 Lancaster, possibly (Serial No. KB689), coded VN-N, No. 50 Squadron, RAF.

 (RAF Photo)

Avro Lancaster Mk. II (Serial No. DS704), No. 408 Squadron, RCAF.

(RAF Photo)

Avro Lancasters with the RCAF on a bomb run over coastal batteries, Wangerooge, ca 1944. 

 (RAF Photo)

Avro Lancaster bombing St. Vith, Belgium, 26 Dec 1944.

From the RCAF Facebook page: On 25 April 1945, many Canadian aircrew took part in a 482-aircraft Bomber Command raid aimed at knocking out German coastal batteries controlling the approaches to the ports of Bremen and Wilhelmshaven.  Five Handley Page Halifax bombers and two Avro Lancaster bombers were lost – four Halifaxes and the two Lancasters to collisions – resulting in 28 Canadian and 13 British airmen being killed.

 (RAF Photo)

Avro Lancaster (Serial No. PB997), coded YZ-E, No. 617 Squadron, dropping a ten ton (22,000 lb Grand Slam) bomb on the Arbergen Railway Bridge over the Weser River on 21 March 1945.  Colin Leighfield noted it may be a Lancaster B1 (special) possibly dropping 12,000-lb Tallboy bombs, as the front and mid-upper turrets have been removed to reduce weight.

 (IWM Photo, CH15363)

 A 12,000-lb MC deep-penetration bomb (Bomber Command executive codeword 'Tallboy') is hoisted from the bomb dump to its carrier at Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire, to be loaded into an Avro Lancaster of No. 617 Squadron, RAF, for a raid on the V-weapon site at Wizernes, France, ca 1 Jan 1944.

 (IWM Photo)

A 22,000-lb Grand Slam bomb being handled at RAF Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire, UK, ca 1945.  

The Grand Slam was a larger version of the Tallboy bomb and closer to the size that its inventor, Barnes Wallis, had envisaged when he developed the idea of an earthquake bomb.  Medium Capacity (M.C.) bombs were designed to remedy the shortcomings of General Purpose (G.P.) bombs, with a greater blast and casings which were robust enough to confer a considerable capacity to penetrate, especially Tallboy and Grand Slam bombs.  The Grand Slam case was made of a chrome molybdenum alloy steel and had a charge-to-weight ratio of nearly fifty per cent.  It was also known as Ten Ton Tess because of its weight.

 (RAF Photo)

Avro Lancaster, top front view.

Avro Lancaster nose art, 1 Feb 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4542797)

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4542803)

Avro Lancaster Ruhr Express preparing for its first Operation over Germany.  The “Ruhr Express” flew two operations with No. 405 Squadron before completing its service with No. 419 “Moose” Squadron.  On 2 January 1945 KB700, the first Canadian built Lancaster, experienced hydraulic problems while attempting to land following a raid to Nuremberg, its 49th operation.  The flaps would not deploy properly and, after overshooting the runway, the aircraft ended up in a farmer’s field where it collided with a trench digger.  Amid exploding ammunition the crew escaped but fire destroyed the aircraft. 

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4542805)

RCAF Avro Lancaster "Ruhr Express" being bombed up for a mission over Berlin.  Ground crews are steering two "cookies" (block-buster bombs) into position under the bomb-bay.  This aircraft was the first Canadian built Lancaster.  

 (RCAF Photo via Mike Kaehler)

In honour of all those that got the aircraft over target and the many that did not make it back home.  Two air gunners of the Moose squandron of the Canadian Bomber Group in Briyain, Flight Sergeants G.E. Berteau, Penhold, Alberta, and L. Nozzolillo, Toronto, (310 Broadview Avenue) Ontario, examine the remains of the first Canadian-built Lancaster to fly operationally, the "Ruhr Express".  Just before dawn on a snowy January morning, the "Ruhr Express" caught fire after a successful attack on Nuremburg, and was gutted.  She had made 50 flights over German-held territory, and every time brought back her crew safely, including the last mission.  Only the tail plane and rear structure escaped the flames.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4558161)

Avro Lancaster rear gun turret with four .303-inch Browning machineguns, Sergeant Noixeux, Wireless air gunner and Sergeant Lavois, Pilot, 2 May 1944. 

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3615003)

Avro Lancaster B Mk. II (Serial No. DS848), QO-R with aircrew, 432 Squadron, 1944. 

Of the 7,377 aircraft built, 3,736 were lost during the War (3,249 in action and 487 in ground accidents).

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 5013147)

Avro Lancaster, RCAF, Boundary Bay, British Columbia, 8 Aug 1945.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4046922)

Avro Lancaster, RCAF No. 429 Squadron, 27 Mar 1945. 

 (DND Photo)

Avro Lancaster, RCAF No. 425 Squadron, VE Day celebration, RAF Tholthorpe, England, 8 May 1945.

 (RCAF Photo)

Avro Lancaster Mk. X, No. 419 Squadron, RCAF, with (Serial No. KB711) in the lead.

 (RAF Photo via James Craik)

An impressive aerial photograph of 12 Lancasters of the RCAF Bomber Group Ghost Squadron lined up nose to tail taken 31 May 1945, the day they left for Canada. 15 Canadian built Lancasters took off at one minute intervals from their Bomber Station at Middleton St. George Yorkshire in the UK.  They were the first of the Canadian Squadrons to leave the United Kingdom after VE Day.  More followed daily until all aircrew were gone.  They were heading home to join "Tiger Force" for the war in the Pacific.

By late 1944, victory was more a matter of time rather than a question of being achieved and the decision was made on 20 October 1944 to form a very large bomber force code named “Tiger Force”.  By June of 1944 formation and re-equipment orders had been issued to all of the Canadian Bomber Squadron’s allocated for Tiger force.

Each Squadron was to be equipped with Canadian built Lancaster Mk. Xs from the FM and KB serial number series.  These aircraft, which had been built at the Victory Aircraft Production in Malton, Ontario, had been steadily arriving in England since mid 1944.  This arrangement would allow all of the squadrons to operate the same Lancaster variant. 

A total of 141 Lancaster Mk. Xs were allocated to Tiger force.  Fortunately, the victory against Japan brought the war to an end, resulting in the disbandment of Tiger Force. This left the Canadian Government with an interesting problem as the original intention was for the RCAF units to be re-equipped with Canadian built Avro Lincolns as soon as these aircraft could be made available.  The Lancaster Mk.Xs, although Canadian made, had been transferred to RAF ownership and as a result for several months after disbandment, the Canadian built aircraft were being operated in Canada, by the RCAF, but did they not belong to the Canadian Government.  The problem was resolved by late 1945 or early 1946 when ownership of the Canadian made Lancasters which had been returned to Canada were returned to the Canadian Government ownership. The Lancasters retained their RAF serial numbers. 

With no requirement for a heavy bomber force the Canadian Government decided to place hundreds of Lancaster aircraft into long-term storage, in various disused air based in Eastern Canada, including Scoudouc.  However after several years it was realised that the damp weather environment of the Maritimes was not the best suited for long term storage of aircraft. 

The decision was then made to relocate the stored Lancasters to a drier climate which would be more acceptable for aircraft storage.  Alberta was chosen, as there were several closed British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) stations available for this task.  By the late 1940’s, many of the Lancasters had been flown out to Alberta, where the remained until the early 1950s. 

Tension between NATO nations and the Warsaw Pact, led the Canadian Government to order seventy of these preserved Lancasters to be modified for a variety of roles including Maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare.  Canadian Lancasters were also modified for Aerial Reconnaissance, Air-Sea Rescue, Navigational Training, Photo-Reconnaissance duties and as test beds for various jet engine and winterisation trials.   Lancasters continued to serve with the RCAF until 1964. 

One of the more historic discoveries during the post-war period was made when FM214 operating with No. 408 (Photographic) Squadron, flew over Foxe Basin and discovered islands that had previously been uncharted, thereby adding 5000 square miles to Canadian territory.  (Foxe Basin is a shallow oceanic basin north of Hudson Bay, in Nunavut, located between Baffin Island and the Melville Peninsula).

From early 1943, the Canadian Government operated modified Lancaster’s for trans-Atlantic air service duties, flying VIPs, priority cargo and mail from Dorval to Prestwick in the UK with a flight-time of approximately twelve and half-hours.  The service continued until 1947, and would become the nucleus of Trans-Canada Airlines.  One of these aircraft was a British made Lancaster Mk. I (Serial No. R5727) which had been flown to Canada to serve as the pattern aircraft for the Canadian made Lancaster Mk. X.  (Larry617)

 (DND Photo)

Avro Lancasters at RCAF Air Station Scoudouc, New Brunswick.  The photo was taken after VE Day (8 May 1945), but before VJ Day (15 Aug 1945).  There are at least 70 Lancasters in this photo, all likely part of "Tiger Force" preparing to deploy to Japan.  No. 4 Repair Depot, established in September 1941 was located here.

RCAF Air Station Scoudouc was initially established in 1940 as a relief landing field for No. 8 SFTS at Lakeburn, NB.  In September 1941, it became the home of No. 4 Repair Depot (later re-located to RCAF Station Dartmouth), and No. 1 Radio Direction Finding Maintenance Unit (No. 1 RFD MU), a top-secret radar maintenance unit.  In 1943, No. 1 RFD MU merged with No. 1 Repair Depot’s Radio Repair Section.  The  station was re-named RCAF Station Scoudouc in 1945.  A new repair depot was formed at the site, along with No. 1 Maintenance Wing and No. 101 RCAF Equipment Park.  These units were disbanded on 1 November 1945 and the RCAF station was abandoned.

Scoudouc was re-activated in 1951 as a Detachment of RCAF Station Chatham, and No. 5 Supply Depot located in Moncton, opened a section at the newly christened RCAF Detachment Scoudouc.  While RCAF Station Chatham’s runways were being repaired, No. 1 (Fighter) Operational Training Unit temporarily operated from the detachment and 2 years later, the Royal Canadian Navy did the same while RCN Air Station Shearwater’s airfield was being repaired.

The runways were abandoned by 1956 and most of the buildings were removed by 1958.  RCAF Detachment Scoudouc closed on 1 January 1965.  The former station is now the Scoudouc Industrial Park.  (Bruce Forsyth)