Sunday, March 23, 2008

Bomber Country

Like the first time you see the blue whale in the Natural History Museum, it's the sheer size that gets you. Roy Chadwick's masterpiece is enormous and brutally gorgeous, the way many heavyweight boxers are. I was up at the RAF Museum in North London, gawping just as I would have done as a 12 year old. I just can't get enough of WW2 aircraft. I can always identify a British or American 'plane, though I struggle with some of the German ones. The Lancaster and the Spitfire are my favourites. Is it overdoing it to say that the sound of a Rolls-Royce Merlin is the sound of freedom?

The Avro Lancaster was introduced in 1942. Since we'd been booted out of Europe in 1940, aerial bombing was the only way to take the fight directly back to Germany. Bomber Command paid an expensive price in blood. A crew's tour of operations was 30 missions, but the typical life expectancy of a crew was about six – and of the bomber itself, about 10. 77 Squadron which flew Halifax Bombers from Elvington in Yorkshire (and now a museum) lost 22 aircraft from November 1943 to February 1944. 117 aircrew were killed in action, or missing presumed dead, 39 were taken prisoner of war and 3 evaded capture. A total of 159, equivalent to losing 80-90% of the squadron over the 4 month period. These statistics were by no means unusual. The Lanc here survived 117 missions, which is astonishing. I got chatting to one of the curators, who told me that some of the night staff believe it's haunted. Some have heard voices coming from the fore section and cockpit. It's hardly surprising.

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