On the road from Lancaster to Lincoln…..

It was deep in World War Two, Air Chief Marshall Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris, the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief (AOC-in-C) of RAF Bomber Command, was busy trying to win the war HIS way- that is, bludgeon the German people into submission by the use of ‘area bombing’ at night. Many could just NOT understand why this was happening; if the Luftwaffe had failed to do this against a much smaller target area, and at dramatically shorter distances (many of their bases were just across the English Channel in 1940) and against less efficient night defenses in the skies over London during the 1940/41 ‘Blitz’, then why on Earth did Harris think he could win the war against Germany, THIS way?

All he was doing was taking the lion’s share of British, Canadian, Free French, Polish, New Zealand, Czech and Australian youth, and feeding them into a meat grinder over the Ruhr Valley, Berlin and other targets in Occupied Europe. There was only ONE branch of any military service of ANY fighting power where the chances of being killed were higher. It wasn’t the U.S Parachute Infantry, it wasn’t the British Commandos – it was the Submarine Service of the Kriegsmarine, Germany’s U-Boat arm! Harris’s single-minded obsession meant that Britain ‘spent’ many thousands more lives than she should have, and diverted the efforts of hundreds of thousands of others either directly (groundcrew, radio technicians, drivers, etc) or indirectly (aeronautical engineers, ammunition workers, aircraft fitters, etc) into the support of his stubborn goal. The end result? Probably the prolongation of the war – he should have just used mainly the Mosquito, as with Bennett’s Light Night Striking Force, and a few specialist heavy bomber squadrons. Instead, Britain was so drained of manpower that the moment her forces hit the Normandy beaches they began to suffer terminal attrition, with damaged regiments not being brought up to strength, but broken up to act as reinforcements for other units. This meant that Field Marshal Montgomery of the British Army had to be even MORE cautious, because he could not afford casualties, which probably explains how we almost lost the Battle of Normandy. As you can gather, I do NOT like what Harris did to one of the most gallant commands of the Royal Air Force!

An event seemingly of little importance took part on the 9th June, just 3 days after D-Day. An unarmed four-engine bomber prototype took off from Ringway Airfield, near the Avro Works. It looked like a large Lancaster, indeed, it had been originally named Lancaster IV. but in reality ‘PW925’ it was a different ‘beast’, with a much longer fuselage and a wing seemingly influenced by the high-aspect Davis wing of the B-24, and much more powerful, 1,750 hp, Rolls-Royce Merlin 85 engines in unusual annular nacelles. Unfortunately, the urgent need for replacement Lancasters meant that the Lincoln had to be delayed. Consequently, the first production aircraft did not reach 57 Squadron at RAF East Kirkby in Lincolnshire until August, 1945. These first Lincolns had a maximum speed of 295 mph and a range, when carrying a bomb load (14,000 lb, or 1 x 22,000 lb bomb) of 1,470 miles or 2,930 miles with maximum fuel. Defensive armament was – at long last in RAF Bomber Command – to consist of 2 x .5″ Browning machine guns in all positions (tail, nose and dorsal turrets). There was some variation, in that some dorsal turrets contained 2 x 20mm cannon, and other aircraft had a single Browning in a ventral position.

57 Squadron, along with many other squadrons were slated to form ‘Tiger Force’, a combination of bomber, fighter and reconnaissance units intended to join in the final assault on the Japanese homeland in 1946. Before ‘Tiger Force’ could be dispatched, the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan brought the war to an abrupt end. Following the end of hostilities, 617 Squadron, the famous ‘Dambusters’, toured the USA with their new Lincolns.

The principal production version was the Lincoln B.2, built at Avro factories in Manchester and Yeadon (Leeds) and under sub-contract by Armstrong-Whitworth and Metropolitan-Vickers. A grand total of 528 Lincolns were built, but despite their rugged construction, the jet fighters coming into service in Warsaw Pact countries meant that they were rapidly becoming obsolete. To help out, the RAF acquired 88 B-29 and B-29A aircraft (as the Washington B.1) from USAF stocks in 1950. No less than 23 Bomber Command squadrons used the Lincoln (many powered by Packard Merlin 68 or 300 engines) as well as No. 116, 151, 192, 199 and 527 Squadrons in No 90 Group on signals and calibration work. Probably the most spectacular display by Lincolns was a massed flypast by no less 15 squadrons at the Farnborough Show in 1950. Canada, which had successfully built Avro Lancaster during WW2, built a single example of the Lincoln.

The Lincoln did see action, but just not where the defence planners expected it to do so!
From 1947 to 1955 a detachment of Lincolns were based on Changi and Tengah airfields in Singapore. From there, they reached out and bombed jungle hide-outs of the Communist guerillas of the Malayan National Liberation Army, fighting British and Commonwealth forces in Malaya; this conflict lasted from 1948 to 1960, and Lincolns of both the RAF and the Royal Australian Air Force (Australian-built, no less) gave a low-key equivalent of the ‘Arc Light’ missions to be undertaken some years later in Vietnam by the USAF B52 force. Strangely, unlike Vietnam, the Communist forces were eventually defeated in Malaya.

Other actions included the bombing of Mau Mau terrorist forces in Kenya, from the base at Eastleigh near Nairobi, from 1953 to 1955, and also raids against insurgents in Aden from RAF Khormaksar from 1956 to 1957 by No 1426 Flight.

RAF Bomber Command finally withdrew its last front-line Lincolns in 1955, when the V-Force jet bombers came into service in quantity. However, a number continued with No. 90 Group on signals, radar and electronic countermeasures duties. The last flight overseas by a Lincoln took place in February 1963 when a single aircraft visited Cyprus, Libya and Malta. When Bomber Command finally retired these aircraft, some were transferred to the Central Signals Establishment, where they joined Canberra, Hastings and Varsity aircraft in undertaking many classified tasks, including providing anti-jamming training for ground radar operators. It is said that a single Lincoln, orbiting at 15,000 feet could black out – electronically – the whole of the East Coast of England!

On 12th March, 1963 – just ten days before the ‘Beatles’ debut album, ‘Please, Please Me’ was released – three Lincolns performed a last formation flight over bases in East Anglia, to mark the withdrawal of the type.

Above, you can see the only complete Lincoln in Europe. RF398, a B.2 Mk IV, was built by Armstrong-Whitworth at Baginton near Coventry, as part of an order of 200, and first flew in September, 1945; ‘A-W’ eventually built 281 out of the total of 528 Lincolns. It was sent back and forth between modification centres and Maintenance Units from 1945 until 1957! Finally, in November, 1957, it was assigned to Bomber Command Bombing School at RAF Lindholme in South Yorkshire, where it joined a fleet of Hastings and Varsity aircraft, and wore the blue spinners of ‘B’ Squadron. In 1960, when Bomber Command retired all Lincolns, RF398 was sent to the Central Signals Establishment at RAF Watton, to take part in classified signals and radar work. Forming part of the initial equipment of No 151 Squadron (the renamed CSE), this aircraft was retired with the last survivors of the Lincoln fleet in 1963, and selected for preservation for the new RAF Museum, and assigned to the Cosford site.

Fully restored, and with its rear turret refurbished courtesy of the West Midlands Branch of the Air Gunners Association, the Lincoln is one of only four complete aircraft of this type left in the world (as well as some other sections and components). There is an Australian-built Mk.30 under restoration ‘Down Under’ and two complete examples in Argentina! Yes, the Fuerza Aérea Argentina operated 30 Lincolns, alongside their 15 Lancasters and has made a good job of preserving a couple.

There is one interesting twist to this story. In the early 1980s, there were persistent reports that RF398 might be haunted, and a series of tests were undertaken by local psychic groups and Wolverhampton Polytechnic. There are many reports of strange happenings – a dropped spanner was thrust back into the hand of an engineer who was working on the aircraft, and perhaps most amazing of all, another member of staff fell towards the hangar floor from a height of 15 feet – and found himself lowered gently the last few feet to the concrete floor!

I have had ONE experience myself with RF398. Back in the 1980s, when Cosford was far less popular than it is now, I decided to make a visit one June in mid-week, when there would be fewer people about and therefore a better chance for undisturbed photography. I entered the hangar where the Lincoln was and found just two other people there. I was busy taking many shots, when things fell very silent. I looked up to find myself alone – I was quite close to the Lincoln – and I swear that the temperature dropped 20 degrees in a matter of seconds! The hair stood up on the back of my head, and I inched slowly away from RF398, to slide quickly through the small door into the next hangar. An unusual experience, and one that I have never experienced with any other aircraft.

The Lincoln – son of Lancaster – did not fulfil the mission it was designed for, but as the very last piston-engine heavy bomber of the RAF deserves its place in history.


5 comments on “On the road from Lancaster to Lincoln…..”

  1. Very interesting Ross. Love the creepy ending!


    • Yes, Nick….I felt VERY uneasy around this aircraft (something that NEVER happens, normally, even inside aircraft I know there have been casualties in).


  2. I concur with your opinion regarding Air Marshall Harris and no doubt you may receive flak from “believers” but good for you. The brief on the Lincoln is excellent, per your usual writing and research. Thanks much.


  3. actually the two haunting stories are wrong I was stationed at RAF Cosford in 1980 whilst doing training for Ground photography at the Joint School of Photography now DSOP and used to work voluntarily at the Museum and I am the Mechanic mentioned in the story about the Spanner. the story is wrong in very many levels at the time the spanner went missing I was working on the rear gun turret of the Lincoln along with another volunteer John Small, whilst servicing the turret I placed the spanner behind me whilst working which according to RAF protocol is numbered so that it can be traced and is accountable when I came to account for the tools at the end of the day the Spanner was found to be missing, a search of the vicinity showed that the spanner was missing and could not be found. an entry to show that the spanner had been lost was entered in the Aircraft F700 to show that the tool had been lost, later that same year I was working on the same aircraft with John Small yet again but in the radio operators position this is some way ahead of the rear gun turret and is past the main spar of the wing whilst working in the area we had to remove a small rest bed that covered the oxygen tanks, once the seat was removed we discovered the spanner that had gone missing some weeks before nestled amongst the oxygen bottles, we were able to ascertain that it was the same spanner as the serial number as recorded in the F700 was the same this photograph of an identical main spar on a Lancaster gives an idea of the height of the spar http://s374444733.websitehome.co.uk/lanc/rear-spar.htm and the seat can be seen in the photograph on this page labelled ret bed http://www.lancaster-archive.com/lanc_interior.htm. strangely enough John Small is the Member of Staff mentioned in the fall from the wing John was an ex RAF mechanic who worked on the Lincoln as an engine mechanic whilst it was in active service during the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, in the fall incident mentioned he was working on the engines on the port wing when he slipped on the engine cover he should have fallen onto the concrete surface but said that he instead felt he was pushed onto the wing of the Aircraft instead of falling to the concrete below.

    However at the time of these incidents there was a proposal to move RF398 from Cosford to the Science Museum in Manchester in a later interview John Small and others admitted that the incidents mentioned were invented to prevent the moving of RF398 to Manchester


    • Thank you for this clarification….I took several people at their word, and I am grateful that ‘the truth is out there’. Obviously, fabricating a series of incidents to ensure that the Lincoln did NOT move to Manchester was hardly fair! However, since the Lincoln would have had to occupy the space that is now occupied by the AEW Shackleton in old Market Hall, I can understand. The ‘space’ at MOSI is incredibly crowded, and very difficult to work in. Plus, the RAF Museum is busy stripping airframes OUT of MOSI, the latest example being the VERY ‘appropriate’ Spitfire FR.XIV, which had seen service with the local RAFVR Squadron!


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