What happened to the Lancasters used on the Dambuster Raid?

The Dambuster Raids, or more correctly Operation Chastise is without doubt the most famous bombing mission of the Second World War (at least here in Britain). Over 75 years on everybody has heard about the ‘bouncing bomb’ and the hero pilot Guy Gibson. Most people, if they only know of one RAF Squadron, it will be the Dambuster 617 Squadron with their moto Apres Moi le Deluge (After me the flood).

The raid is well known with lots written about it, but in brief, it took place during the night of 16-17 May 1943. Nineteen specially modified Lancaster bombers took off from their Lincolnshire base at RAF Scampton in an attempt to breach the Möhne, Eder, Sorpe and three secondary target dams around Germany’s industrial Ruhr Valley.

The Möhne and Eder attacks were successful, the Sorpe Dam was a different type of dam requiring a different bombing technique and remained intact, and there was only a single unsuccessful attempt on one of the secondary target dams. Eight of the Lancasters were lost in the raid and 53 of the 133 crew members lost their lives. But the event, and a film made in 1955  has immortalised them forever. See my blog Testing and training for the Dambuster Raids – what’s left to see? (https://pleszak.blog/2018/06/13/testing-and-training-for-the-dambuster-raids-whats-left-to-see/).

The design, the bombing, the myth, the legend and the subsequent adulation is well documented, but the fate of the actual aeroplanes which made the raid such a success, less so.

Before receiving their purpose built Dambusting Lancasters 617 Squadron ‘borrowed’ 10 standard Lancasters from other 5 Bomber Group squadrons (as below) so they could immediately start their low levellow-level training. All were returned to their original squadrons as 617 Squadron received their dedicated modified Lancasters.

initial 10

763
ED763 – Avro Lancaster BIII showing ‘Two Stage Blue’ Navigation training perspex on front section of the cockpit to simulate night flying during the day when used with orange coloured flying goggles

The Avro Lancasters used were specially converted Lancaster BIII (S)’s delivered straight from the production line at Avro’s Woodford site. The ‘S’ denoted that they were B.III Specials but they were also known as Lancaster Type 464 Provisioning to denote that they had been provisioned for the specific task of carrying the Vickers Type 464 ‘Upkeep’ Mine (better known as Barnes Wallis’s bouncing bomb). It is thought that they would (potentially) be returned to standard Lancaster B.III configuration – none were. For a bit more on Lancaster versions see my blog From Manchester to Lincoln via Lancaster – An aviation aristocracy family tree (https://pleszak.blog/2019/05/07/from-manchester-to-lincoln-via-lancaster-an-aviation-aristocracy-family-tree/).

In total 23 Avro Lancaster Type 464 conversions were produced, initially their registrations were suffixed with a /G to denote that these were secret and would have had an armed guard at all times when not flying.

As stated above, 19 flew on the Dams raid and 8 of them were sadly lost. Following the raid none were fully returned to standard Lancaster B.III configuration as it was too difficult or too costly to refit the bomb bay doors.

I’ve listed below each of the 23 converted with pertinent details from delivery to their final fate, but in summary 15 continued to be used by 617 Squadron or other units, without bomb bay doors, for trials or training, some on bombing operations or SOE (Special Operations Executive) drops.

A further 2 were lost on operations after the Dams Raid and 2 more destroyed in training crashes.

8 were used in August 1943 for trials with forward rotating Upkeep mines at the Ashley Walk bombing range in the New Forrest near to Fordingbridge. The idea was that a sea launched Upkeep mine could roll up the beach and penetrate coastal defences and also potentially be used to attack strategic canals. Though the trials were successful the idea was taken no further. During the trial one of the Lancasters was caught in the slipstream of others in close formation and crashed.

3 of the Lancasters were also used on Operation Guzzle in August and December 1946 for disposing of the remaining 37 live upkeep mines in the Atlantic Ocean about 280 miles west of Glasgow.

All the remaining 11 were all unceremoniously scrapped post war.

table summary3

 

765

817

ed817_2
Avro Lancaster B.III(S) – ED817

825

ed825 iwm
Avro Lancaster B.III(S) – ED825 during trials at Boscombe Down (note /G registration)

ed864_865_886

ed887_906

906

ED906-Op-Guzzle
Avro Lancaster B.III(S) – ED906 showing later code YF-A

ed909_910

ed909.jpg
Avro Lancaster B.III(S) – ED909 showing later code YF-B

 

910

912

ed912
Avro Lancaster B.III(S) – ED912 post Dambusters

915 text

915
Avro Lancaster B.III(S) – ED915 showing ‘Queenie Chuck Chuck’ nose art

918

921

924

ED925_927_929

929

932

 

ed932
Avro Lancaster B.III(S) – ED932 showing later code YF-C

933

ED933
Possibly Lancaster B.III(S) -ED933 at Reculver

ed934_936_937

936

937


Updates

  1.  Minor corrections provided by Dr Robert Owen: 617 Archivist
  2. Details of 10 initial standard Avro Lancasters added and additional images

References

Lancaster
http://www.lancaster-archive.com/bc_damsraid6.htm
https://forum.keypublishing.com/forum/historic-aviation/127317-dambusters-lancasters
http://www.breakingthedams.com/damsraidaircraft.html

Operation Guzzle
https://dambustersblog.com/category/operation-guzzle/

Ashley Walk Bombing Range
http://www.thenewforestguide.co.uk/history/new-forest-explosives/ashley-walk-bombing-range/
https://www.urbanghostsmedia.com/2016/07/ashley-walk-bombing-range-new-forest/
https://www.airshowspresent.com/ashley-walk-bombing-range.html

From Manchester to Lincoln via Lancaster – An aviation aristocracy family tree
https://pleszak.blog/2019/05/07/from-manchester-to-lincoln-via-lancaster-an-aviation-aristocracy-family-tree/

Testing and training for the Dambuster Raids – what’s left to see?
https://pleszak.blog/2018/06/13/testing-and-training-for-the-dambuster-raids-whats-left-to-see/

Lancaster ED915 / AZ-Q Nose Art
https://www.bombercommandmuseum.ca/art/the-nose-art-on-joe-mccarthys-lancasters/

 

 

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