The Avro Lancaster brought the bombing war to Germany. Because the eldest brother of the Patton family died in such a machine, the Pattons have been restoring the “Just Jane” for 40 years. She should be able to fly again soon.
In March 1944, 19-year-old Chris Patton died over Germany. His squadron laid Nuremberg in ruins. Over the burning city, a German night fighter approached the Avro Lancaster bomber. The four-engined bomber was torn apart by a sheaf and exploded. Patton didn’t make it out. 534 Britons fell in one night – never again did the Royal Airforce suffer such losses.
The family dealt with the loss very differently. The father is said not to have spoken about death for decades. For the younger brothers, Fred and Harold, Chris was their hero. After the war they wanted to buy one of the decommissioned bombers and set it up in the yard. That would have been possible at the time, but her father forbade it.
It was not until 1971 that Fred went to Germany at his father’s request and visited his brother’s grave near Munich. He was overcome with his feelings. And then he learned that a Lancaster was for sale. In a terrible state, but at least it had survived the decades after the war. The brothers were outbid on the first attempt, but were able to buy the bomber from the first buyer about ten years later.
40 years of work
They christened the bomber “Just Jane” after a comic from the war years – the work lasted 40 years and cost more than 4 million pounds. A new generation has now taken over the project. Fred died in 2013 and Harold is almost 90. The family has long since opened its own museum, the “Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre”. The bomber earns a little bit of his own money. In the summer it attracts visitors to the museum, and work is being done on it in the winter months. An RAF engineer restored the four Merlin engines and got them running in the 1990s. Today, the bomber regularly drives out of its hangar under its own power – it just can’t fly.
The Avro 683 Lancaster was the British heavy bomber of World War II. From March 1942 it was the backbone of the strategic air offensive with which the British bombed German cities. The Lancaster is a beauty – but it’s always been overshadowed by its American counterpart, the B-17. The American “Flying Fortress” was far more heavily armed than the British bomber. The British equipped their bomber with eight machine guns in the “small” caliber of 7.7 mm. They were housed in the bow, stern and upper part of the hull. The “belly” of the bomber was left unprotected. The B-17 carried 13 heavy caliber .50 BMG (12.7 mm) machine guns. A turret with a twin machine gun secured the underside and the two machine guns in the bow could aim far down. In addition, the B-17 was designed with armor plates and other innovations in such a way that it could also survive severe damage.
The bomber of the night
The imbalance led to a serious division of labor. The Americans followed by day and attacked on sight – so they were exposed to heavy German attacks, but they were able to engage individual targets. Factories, railway stations and equal systems. The Lancaster was mainly used at night. Under cover of night it was not easy for the German defenses to spot the bombers, and at the beginning of the offensive German night fighters were not developed. But in the night and darkness even the bombers could not see anything – they did not attack factories, they destroyed entire cities and tried to set the densely built-up working-class areas on fire. The aim was to kill mostly civilians in order to break the German will to go to war.
During the war, the men of Bomber Command were heroes. For a long time they were the only ones who carried the horrors of war to Germany. And their losses were enormous. 55,573 of them fell. Statically, each Lancaster and its crew survived 21 sorties before being shot down. The Germans put great anti-aircraft bars around their cities, and the planes chasing the bombers at night became deadlier and deadlier.
The enemy was aware that the bomber could not fire downwards. So they attacked from there. Some of their onboard weapons did not fire forward, but diagonally upwards. The fighter just had to pass the bomber below. Only the rear gunner briefly sighted the German fighter. Once a fighter spotted a bomber, there was no escape. The B-17 bombers also suffered heavy casualties. 46,500 crew members were killed or wounded in action. But the vulnerable Lancaster would not have stood a chance that day.
A shaky memory
The perception of the bomb offensive changes towards the end of the war. It turned out that the attacks had cost enormous victims, but had not led to a revolt. And it became obvious that the targeted bombing raids by the US Air Force had done more to the German war economy than the British carpet bombing. In addition, Commander-in-Chief of the Bomber Fleets, Sir Arthur Harris, wished nothing to do with these problems, defiantly insisting that his brutal form of warfare had led to victory. Even Churchill distanced himself from “Bomber” Harris.
After the war, “The Few” of the Battle of Britain stood in the spotlight of admiration. Only spectacular individual actions such as the attacks on the battleship “Tirpitz” or the dams were remembered by the bombers. The bloody bomber war was passed over in silence. The families and survivors of Bomber Command suffered.
Even during the war, the Lancaster bomber failed to meet the requirements. 7,377 were built, but after 1945 and the dawn of the jet engine era, the remaining bombers were quickly scrapped. Today there are only 17 examples left, and only two of them are still airworthy.
It could be three soon. In 2009 work began on getting “Just Jane” airworthy again. After a complicated ring swap for wing parts, the Panton family and their supporters are now hoping to get “Just Jane” off the ground while the brother of 1944 dead man Harold Patton is still alive.