The Rear Gunner
The rear gunner, and his job is arguably the most dangerous, and certainly the coldest, the most lonely and isolated, of any Lancaster crewman. His parachute was Stowed outside the armoured doors that shut him in a cold cramped position until the end of the mission, his only human contact was that of the disembodied voices of other crew members over the intercom. He was here for how many hours the mission took. The call to bale out was 'Abracadabra Jump, Jump! Abracadabra Jump, Jump!'. It sounded silly, but it had one advantage. It couldn't have possibly been misunderstood. Nevertheless, it was often not used, and the order was given in plain language. On hearing the command to bale out, the rear gunner opened his armoured doors at the rear of his turret, reached back for his parachute and cliped it onto his chest harness. He swiveled his turret right round until the open doors were facing outwards, then did a backward roll out into the night sky above a hostile country. This was of course presupposing that his parachute had not been burnt or shot to pieces, that he was still able to turn his turret to the escape position, and that the centrifugal forces exerted by his out-of-control bomber would have allowed him to make these necessary moves.
The rear gunner's turret. As well as trying to shoot down enemy aircraft, the rear gunner was a vital lookout, alerting the pilot to fighters approaching from the rear. The turret was highly exposed and many aircraft returned to base with them sheared off.
The mid-upper gunner, after stowing his parachute in its place high on the right of him climbed into his turret via a step on the left of the fuselage. Access was not easy, due to the seat design which forced him to squeeze past it before he could enter. The mid-upper gunner had only two machine guns, although his turret could traverse through 360 degrees, which gave him a grandstand view all round. His field of fire was obstructed, however, to the rear by the tailplane and fins, on each side by the wings, engines and propellors, and straight ahead by the navigator's astrodome. The turret was surrounded by a fairing which contained a cam track. By restricting the movement of the guns, this ensured that he couldn't damage his own aircraft when firing. When the guns were elevated at 20 degrees or more, turret traverse was fast and smooth, but below this it was much slower. This was to avoid damage to the turret firing at full depression, but in action, it was a senous disadvantage as it made tracking a fast moving enemy fighter very difficult. In an emergency the mid-upper gunner had to squirm out of the turret, retrieve his parachute from stowage, and depart through the door by which he entered. Just ahead of the mid-upper turret was an escape hatch in the fuselage roof, which was used in the event of a crash landing or a ditching at sea. In the latter event, a dinghy was housed in the upper surface of the starboard wingroot, which could be released manually from inside the aircraft, and which should have inflated automatically if the Lancaster came down in the 'drink', as it was generally known. The walls in this area of the fuselage were cluttered with fire extinguishers and flame float and sea marker canisters.
The mid-upper turret, showing the fairing which prevented the gunner from damaging his own aircraft.
Further up the fuselage was an obstacle, the rear wing spar carry-through, with a step on the far side which contained more parachute stowage. To the left of this was the rest bunk, which was normally used only for casualties.
A few feet along on the left via a 7mm-thick armoured door was situated the wireless operator's post. He sat at a small table with his radio and his pencils and pads. He had a small window which was level with the leading edge of the wing, but at night kept a curtain drawn across it. This was mainly because he needed artificial light by which to work, and this must not have been allowed to betray the presence of the bomber to any roving fighters which might have been in the area. In any case, over blacked-out enemy territory there was little to see, while above a heavily defended area the view could sometimes be a little too exciting for someone who had no immediate task to occupy him. The wireless operator had the warmest place in the aircraft; often he was overheated while other crew members were freezing.
The Wireless Operator.
In front of the wireless operator sat the navigator, sideways on. He also had a table, but larger than that of the wireless operator, on which he spread out his charts, pencils, protractors, computer (not quite like our modern variety), and all the other paraphernalia needed to find a specific location in a blacked-out and hostile Europe. Almost overhead was an astrodome, through which the navigator could 'shoot' the stars to arrive at a very approximate position, but in this machine he had something better and very different.
This was a H2S, a blind bombing aid which showed a radar picture of the ground below on a television-type screen. It needed a fair bit of interpretation to get good results, and like all electronic aids of this era, it was temperamental. But it helped. Like the wireless operator, the navigator had a window, out of which he rarely looked, and he was partitioned off from the pilot by another curtain which kept light out of the main cabin .
Up front, his seat on a raised floor section to the left of the main cabin, was the pilot, who was also the aircraft captain. He had a good all-round view through the framed canopy, albeit slightly restricted to the rear and to starboard. There was a direct-vision panel on either side of the windshield, and in the canopy roof was an escape hatch, for use in a crash-landing or ditching. Behind him was a 4mm-thick sheet of armour, the top part of which could be folded down. Straight in front of the pilot was the control column, topped with a wheel type yoke. The column moved backwards and forwards to control the elevators in the tail, causing the aircraft to climb or dive, while the yoke moved like a car steering wheel, controlling the ailerons in the wings to make the aircraft bank to left or right. At his feet were the rudder pedals, which were used for flat turns to either side. Low to the pilot's left was the compass, but to allow him to steer without constantly having to glance inside the cockpit, a compass repeater was mounted on the centre strut of the divided windshield. On the dash in front of him were many dials and switches, which included the essential flying instruments; air speed indicator, artificial horizon, turn and bank indicator and rate of climb/descent indicator among them, while the throttle levers and propellor speed controls were mounted on a central console where they could be reached by both the pilot and the flight engineer.
Lancaster pilot's position, showing the sliding hatch through which escape was barely possible. However, the extensively glazed cabin gave a good all round view.
The flight engineer sat to the right of the pilot. He had a folding seat, which was necessary to allow access to the bomb aimer's and front gunner's positions, and a tubular footrest which pulled out from under the raised floor section beneath the pilot's position. His task was to look after the engines, throttle settings and propellor pitch settings, fuel flow, and generally act as the pilot's assistant. He had two panels to monitor. The first on the starboard side, that contained oil and fuel gauges, booster pump switches, fuel pressure warning lights, fuel tank selector cocks, and many other things. The second was part of the main dash, which could also be seen by the pilot. This contained revolution counters, boost gauges, ignition switches, engine fire extinguisher buttons and propellor feathering buttons, plus much else. All in all, the flight engineer was a pretty busy man .
Up the ladder and in. A crew from No. 9 Squadron board their Lancaster ready for a mission.
Squeezing past the flight engineer's station, down into the nose was the territory of the bomb aimer, who usually manned the nose turret when not actually on the bombing run, although he could also be called upon to assist the navigator by map-reading, always assuming that the ground was in sight. The bomb aimer lied prone, his chest propped on an adjustable support. Beneath him was the forward escape hatch, which would also be used by the flight engineer and the pilot, in the latter case if he could reach it in time before the aircraft went completely out of control.
To the right of the bomb aimer was the bomb fusing and selection panel. It was essential that the bombs were released in a predetermined order from the long bay if unwanted changes of trim were to be avoided. For this, a selector box was used. The bombs themselves were released by a hand-held 'tit', which had a small guard above the button to prevent accidents. Also featured were camera controls and photo-flares which enabled a picture to be taken of the aim point. The bomb sight itself was of the vector type, into which the aircraft speed and altitude were set, together with the ballistic data for the type of bombs carried, and the estimated wind speed and direction. The sight was gyro-stabilized, which allowed banked turns to be made during the run up to the target. Two lines of light on a reflecting screen form a cross which indicated where the bomb will drop at any given moment. Over the intercom, the bomb aimer guided the pilot to a position where the extension of the vertical line passed through the aim point. When the bomber was lined up correctly, the aim point appeared to slide gradually down the vertical line. Then when the cross touched the target, the bomb aimer pressed the button and down went the bombs, bringing destruction to the target below. When not engaged in dropping the bombs, the bomb aimer occupied the nose turret, with its two machine guns. At night he probably had little to do; rarely was visibility clear enough to allow the night fighters to attack from head-on. In daylight or at low level the situation may well had been different, and it may had even been that the turret must have be occupied even on the bombing run. This gave rise to a problem; the gunner had no footrest, and in moments of excitement could have trod on the bomb aimer's head, to say nothing of showering him with hot 'empties' when he fired.
Bomb release switch in hand, the bomb aimer lies prone facing his Mk XIV vector sight.
This then is the Lancaster and its Crew, a bomber in which many thousands of men went to war, and for which many thousands of crewmen had affection, and faith that she was the best.