How the Soviet Union reused a wartime 617 Squadron Lancaster

617 Squadron’s Lancaster ME559 photographed in early 1945 after being repaired and converted for Soviet Air Force use. [Pic: Alternative History.]

Frank Pleszak has uncovered and translated a Russian language article from an Estonian blog which gives more information about the fate of one of the 617 Squadron Lancasters used in the September 1944 attack on the Tirpitz battleship, codenamed Operation Paravane.

At this time, the Tirpitz was moored at a base in Kaafjord in the north of Norway. It was out of range for Lancasters flying from a UK base, so it was decided to use a Soviet airstrip in Yagodnik as a refuelling stop. The initial plan had been to land here after the force had conducted its bombing operation but at the last minute the order was changed so that the attack would be launched from Yagodnik. Two 511 Squadron Liberators, carrying several experienced ground crew, a medical officer and spare parts flew there to await the strike force’s arrival.

Thirty-eight Lancasters set off on the operation – 20 from 617 Squadron and 18 from 9 Squadron. Another Lancaster carried an RAF film unit and two journalists. Despite good weather forecasts, the force encountered thick clouds after entering Finnish airspace and this continued for the remainder of the flight. The conditions made navigation difficult, and forced the pilots to fly at a low altitude. Only 26 of the Lancasters were able to locate Yagodnik and land there; the remainder landed at other airfields or crash landed in open spaces. Amongst those that crash landed was ME559, piloted by Sqn Ldr Drew Wyness. The two photographs below show the damage which it incurred.

Two pictures of ME559 after it crash landed in Russia. [Top: IWM MH30798. Bottom: Alternative History.] 

After two days, enough of the force had been repaired and on 15 September the Tirpitz was attacked with a mixture of Tallboy bombs and ‘Johnny Walker’ mines. A large explosion was observed but it seemed as though the ship was still afloat. No Lancasters were lost over the target and they all returned to Yagodnik. They flew back to their UK bases over the next few days, although Plt Off Levy and his crew crashed in Norway en route, and all on board were killed.

Of the Lancasters left behind, two of the least damaged were delivered to Kegostrov, where the repaired in the workshops of the Air Force of the Belomorsky Flotilla, under the leadership of the chief engineer Kiryanov.

All weapons were removed and the rear turret was sewn up with duralumin sheets. The damaged nose was changed: the bomb aimer’s blister and front turret were replaced with a single Perspex construction. According to the Russian language blog: “The colour remained the same, English (brown-green top and black bottom), only the identification marks were painted over with our green paint (which differed in tone) and red stars in a black border were applied on top. Both aircraft were redone the same way.”

ME559 was given the number 01 and went to the 16th Transport Detachment (TRAO), where it operated from the end of January 1945. The commander of the aircraft was V. Evdokimov and the navigator V. Andreev. The 16th TRAO was the successor to the 2nd air group, I.T. Mazuruk, formed at the beginning of the war from polar pilots. Although this was described as a transport unit, it was used not so much for transporting people and goods, but for escorting convoys, ice reconnaissance, and on patrols. The only known photograph of Lancaster 01 (ME559) is shown at the top of this article and this illustration recreates its colour scheme:

Pic: Alternative History

The Russian/Estonian blog tells us what is known about the aircraft’s final days: “In August 1945, this machine was sent to the Pacific Ocean, but in Krasnoyarsk it got stuck due to lack of fuel. While waiting for gas, the war with Japan ended. In the summer of 1946 this “Lancaster” was transferred to Riga, to the aviation technical school, as a visual aid. Its further fate is unknown.”

[Thanks to Frank Pleszak for this story.]

What happened to the Dams Raid Lancasters: a definitive list

Lancaster ED825/G, one of the 23 Type 464 aircraft built for Operation Chastise. This was given the code AJ-T and was slated to be the spare. Because ED915/G AJ-Q was found to be faulty while preparing for take-off, Joe McCarthy and his crew eventually flew this aircraft on the raid, and attacked the Sorpe Dam. [Pic: IWM ATP 11384C]

Frank Pleszak has done a great service to other Dams Raid researchers by compiling a definitive list of the fate of the 23 aircraft built for Operation Chastise. These were all constructed over a period of two months in 1943 as a variation of the production run of Model BIII Lancasters taking place at the Avro headquarters factory at Chadderton, with final assembly at Woodford, both in Greater Manchester. The special model was given the name of Type 464 (Provisioning).

In total 23 Lancaster Type 464 conversions were produced. Nineteen of these flew on the Dams raid and eight were lost, leaving fifteen. None were ever fully returned to standard Lancaster BIII configuration (although some were part-modified) as it was too difficult or too costly to refit the bomb bay doors and mid-upper turret.

Over several days in August 1943 nine of the aircraft were used for trials with forward-rotating Upkeep mines at the Ashley Walk bombing range in the New Forest. During the trials ED765 was caught in the slipstream of others as it flew in close formation and crashed. The pilot (Flt Lt William Kellaway) and bomb aimer were seriously injured while the rest of the crew had more minor injuries.

Over the following six months some of the aircraft were used on occasional operations, as well as for training and other trials. On 10 December 1943, on an operation to drop supplies to members of the SOE, ED825 and ED886 were both lost. The crews were skippered by Wrt Off G Bull and Flg Off Gordon Weeden. Weeden and all his crew were killed, but Bull and four of his crew managed to bale out and were captured. The final wartime loss of a Dams Raid Lancaster occurred on 20 January 1944 when ED918 crashed on a night training flight near Snettisham in Norfolk. The pilot, Flt Lt Thomas O’Shaughnessy, was killed along with his bomb aimer.

Three were used after the war, in August and December 1946, in an mission which was given the name Operation Guzzle: the disposal of the remaining 37 live Upkeep mines in the Atlantic Ocean about 280 miles west of Glasgow. The eleven Type 464 Lancasters which survived the war were all finally scrapped in 1946-7.

Here is Frank Pleszak’s list:

You can read Frank’s full post on his blog here.

Goodbye and good luck

BBMF Derwent
Pic: BBMF

A little later this morning the Mynarski Lancaster, affectionately known as VeRA, will take off from RAF Coningsby and begin the long journey home to Hamilton, Ontario. Its stay in the UK is over, but it has left an indelible memory with its many appearances alongside its cousin from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The last six weeks have seen the world’s only two flying Avro Lancasters make stately progress through the skies at airshows and other events up and down the land. The public has responded by turning out in their thousands at each event, thrilled to see the pair and experience at first hand the roar of eight Merlin engines.
Where better to make a final appearance together than flying down the Derwent valley in Derbyshire? In the spring and early summer of 1943, the Ladybower Dam was one of those used by the newly formed 617 Squadron as it practised low flying over water for the Dams Raid. It has become a traditional place for salutes to those who took part in the Dams Raid and the other aircrew of Bomber Command, 55,000 of whom were to die during the Second World War. They hailed from all parts of the UK, and from many other countries both inside and out of the Commonwealth. Chief amongst these were the Canadians, who provided 30 of the 133 aircrew who flew on the Dams Raid.
Last Sunday afternoon, the pair flew down the valley together and made three passes over the dam. Flying as a passenger in VeRA was 90 year old Sydney Marshall, a wartime member of 103 Squadron, who is a volunteer guide at the BBMF. A report about his experience is on the BBC website, here. There was also good coverage in the Telegraph and the Mail.
Most remarkable of all, is this video, shot from inside the BBMF Lancaster by Tim Dunlop (one of the flight’s Lancaster pilots), and also available on Youtube:

Have a safe journey home, VeRA, and many thanks for taking the trouble to visit and provide so many people with so many memories this wonderful late summer season.

Lancaster duo a double hit

Portrush5 crop
Yesterday morning dawned bright and clear across most of Britain and Ireland, but apparently not in deepest darkest Lincolnshire. This must have caused great despondency amongst the planners at the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at RAF Coningsby because yesterday, Saturday 6 September, was the first day in a weekend which had been scheduled for months to be the one of the busiest for the world’s last two flying Lancaster bombers. One of these (nicknamed Thumper) belongs to the BBMF and lives at Coningsby, the other (Vera) is owned by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, and has been over in Britain for the last month visiting its cousin and participating in a number of joint displays. Crowds up and down the country have oohed and aahed as the pair have swooped low over wartime airfields. Black tie dinners have been held under their wings. Grown men have been seen in tears.
But yesterday, all flying had to be cancelled as it was far too foggy and wet for the pair to be allowed to take off. Much consternation up and down the land. Twitter was abuzz. Facebook was full of queries.
Fortunately, there is nothing that our chaps in the services like more than a challenge. Could they shoehorn most of the BBMF’s scheduled appearances over two days into one busier-than-ever Sunday? Well, of course they could. Here is a map showing just how much of northern England, southern Scotland and northern Ireland the elderly pair covered just this afternoon. Bear in mind they had done a similar loop between 0900 and 1300 this morning.
15413_713272228727793_6607481261428346691_n
From my point of view, I was particularly pleased that the hour taken to fly the two Lancasters and their Spitfire escorts across the Irish Sea to display to a huge crowd on Portrush Strand had remained in the schedule. This was the only chance that anyone living on the island of Ireland would have to see them – and their appearance this side of the water was a fitting tribute to the hundreds of aircrew from north and south who had served in the RAF during the Second World War. One of these was a native of Derry, rear gunner Richard Bolitho, who took part in the Dams Raid and was killed when his aircraft, piloted by Bill Astell, collided with a pylon near Marbeck in Germany, en route to the Möhne Dam.
SG1L7859 lores
Richard Bolitho on the left, pictured with colleagues during his gunnery training. [Pic: Bate family]
Was it worth the 300 mile round trip to spend 15 minutes on a beachfront staring into the sky at two aircraft built some 70 years ago? Like hell it was. It was a chance to connect with my family’s history as well as that of the nation, and to reflect on both. The Lancaster bomber has rightly become a symbol of the triumph of freedom over tyranny in a war whose shared memory is now fading from view, as those who fought in it – or even recall it – pass on. Long may this elderly pair soar in the skies – above our islands, and also above the vast Canadian plains and mountains. It was a privilege to see them both on this day, 7 September 2014, and many thanks are due to all those who made it possible.
Portrush3A crop
Portrush4 crop
More pictures from today at Airwaves Portrush from the organisers, Coleraine Borough Council.

She’s on her way

Canadian Lanc
Photo: Derek Mickeloff

Slowly and sedately, as befits its mature years, the Canadian “Mynarski” Lancaster, VR-A, is making its way to Britain. It left its home base in Hamilton, Ontario, on Tuesday, a day later than intended after some engine problems. But after a night on the far edge of Canada, in Goose Bay, Labrador, it has skipped past Greenland and landed in Iceland. It is expected to arrive at RAF Coningsby, the home of the BBMF and its Lancaster, at 1.30pm on Friday. Over 100 Bomber Command Veterans are expected to be in attendance as special guests for the arrival.
The Lancaster belongs to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum and is a Mk X model built in July 1945. It is dedicated to the memory of Plt Off Andrew Mynarski and is referred to as the “Mynarski Memorial Lancaster”. It is painted in the colours of his aircraft KB726, coded VR-A, which flew with RCAF No. 419 (Moose) Squadron. Andrew Mynarski won the Victoria Cross on 13 June 1944, when his Lancaster was shot down in flames, by a German night fighter. As the bomber fell, he attempted to free the tail gunner trapped in the rear turret of the blazing and out of control aircraft. The tail gunner miraculously survived the crash and lived to tell the story, but sadly Andrew Mynarski died from his severe burns.
Shortly after arriving, the Lancaster will undergo a scheduled maintenance inspection and then the Canadian crews will complete a short training programme with the BBMF. The two Lancasters will participate in several air displays together starting on 14 August.
VR-A will leave the UK on 22 September.
The full schedule can be found here.

Two Lancasters on show in UK this summer as Canada sends plane

640px-Lancaster_VR-A

Lancaster fans in Britain are in for a treat this summer as the Canadian ‘Mynarski’ Lancaster heads over to the UK in August. The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, Ontario revealed today that it plans to fly its vintage Avro Lancaster to England in August. Together with the Royal Air Force’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster, it will be involved in a month-long flying tour in the UK before returning home in September.
The Lancaster is scheduled to leave Canada on 4 August. The five-day transatlantic trip to England is being done in four to five-hour hops, with refuelling and rest stops in Goose Bay, Labrador; Narsarsuaq, Greenland; and Keflavik, Iceland. It will land in Coningsby, home of the BBMF, on 8 August and start a schedule of display flights in the UK on 14 August, flying out of Humberside Airport. According to the Canadian broadcaster, CBC:

The last time Lancasters flew together was 50 years ago over Toronto, at RCAF Station Downsview. The RCAF flew a special formation of three of the bombers in April 1964 to mark their retirement from service. The sight of two Lancasters flying in formation once more is a “once in a lifetime opportunity, something that will never happen again,” said Al Mickeloff, spokesman for the museum in Hamilton, which owns the Canadian Lancaster. “We don’t expect to ever do another trip like this.”
Hamilton’s WWII bomber, known as the Mynarski Memorial Lancaster, is an Avro Mk X built in 1945 at Victory Aircraft in Malton, Ont. Used to train air crews and later for coastal patrols and search-and-rescue work, it was retired in 1963. The museum bought it in 1977 for about $10,000 and a team of volunteers restored it and returned the plane to the air on Sept. 24, 1988.
Museum president and CEO David Rohrer said he and the RAF have talked about the possibility of bringing the planes together for more than a decade, but serious discussions started just a few months ago – partly because both groups wanted to do something to mark the 100th anniversary of WWI and 70th anniversary of D-Day this year.  The RAF wanted to arrange a formation flight before its own Lancaster is grounded next year for a planned overhaul. The Hamilton Lancaster was at a perfect point in its maintenance cycle to take on a trip like this, so the museum sent a planning team to the U.K. in January. “A window of opportunity was identified to bring the last two flying Lancasters in the world together in tribute to the crews who flew it, the people at Victory Aircraft who built it, and all the veterans of the war,” Rohrer told CBC News. “We always would have regretted it if we hadn’t tried our best to make this happen when the window presented itself.”
Mickeloff said big audiences are expected at appearances in the U.K., pointing out that the BBMF is a military plane and off-limits to the public, whereas the museum’s Lancaster is a flying exhibit that people can get up close to and even book a flight on. “We are going to give the general public that same access in the U.K. – access that they’ve never had to a Lancaster before. They’ll be able to get right up to it.” “It’s a real honour to be invited to fly with the Royal Air Force,” Rohrer added. “It’s a recognition of the confidence they have in the museum, and in the talent and dedication of the staff and volunteers, that they’re willing to be our host.”

The exact UK schedule will not be released for sometime, but you can bet the crowds will be enormous whenever the two aircraft make a joint appearance. Great news! [Hat tip: Paul Morley]

Filming “The Dam Busters” – two new pictures

This is the second post running featuring the son of a member of the RAF who took part in the filming of “The Dam Busters” in 1954. This time it is Jan Kmiecik, whose father was Flt Sgt Joe Kmiecik, a Second World war veteran who was by then a pilot in 83 Squadron. Jan has kindly sent me these two photos.

The first shows ground level filming of one of the two Lancasters which was modified for the film to resemble the “real” Dambuster aircraft more closely, with its mid upper gun turret and bomb bay doors removed. It has also had its squadron code changed to AJ-M, the code of the aircraft flown on the actual raid by Flt Lt John Hopgood.

The second picture shows the three Lancasters used in the film flying together probably for the last time. This was taken at a Battle of Britain Day tribute in Cumbria. The caption on the reverse says that this was taken at Silloth, but in Jonathan Falconer’s Filming the Dam Busters, this is mentioned as taking place at nearby Anthorn. (If anyone can confirm which airfield this is, please let me know. Cumbria resident Dom Howard reckons that it is Silloth– see this link .)
Note in the picture that only two of the aircraft have been modified to the “Dambuster” configuration. The central one must be NX782, which was left as standard and used in an early sequence where Gibson is completing his final flight as CO of 106 Squadron.
Note also how low the three Lancasters are flying, and how close they are to the members of the public wandering across the runway. Modern air displays have much stricter health and safety rules!