The legendary Avro Lancaster bomber first saw service with the Royal Air Force in February 1942, becoming one of the most iconic aircraft in aviation history, and of World War II. Undoubtably the aircraft’s most famous role was in the 617 Squadron’s Dambusters Raid, however, the aircraft was the mainstay of Britain’s bomber fleet in World War II and carried the biggest bomb load of any bomber in service in the conflict. Approximately 7,000 Lancasters were built and the aircraft had a crew of seven. As well as night bombing, the Lancaster was a precision day bomber. Facing the full strength of the German anti-craft forces and the day and night fighters, the Lancaster crew’s missions were long and dangerous. Bomber Command suffered a 44.4% casualty rate; out of a total of 125,000 aircrew some 55,573 were killed, 8,403 wounded and 9,838 survived being shot down to become prisoners of war. Their average age was a mere 19-21 years old. This scene depicts a Lancaster DS734 of 115 Squadron setting off on its last mission to Karlsruhe, Germany, from RAF Witchford on 25th April 1944. DS734 completed 34 operations until it was shot down on 25th April 1944 at Sant-Katelijine-Waver by a German night fighter piloted by Oblt. Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer; aged 22 of Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 (1st night fighter wing) flying a Messerschmitt Bf 110. Nicknamed the “The Night Ghost of St Trond”, Schnaufer had 121 kills by the wars end, mostly against British four-engine bombers. He was the highest scoring night fighter ace in aerial history and was the holder of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves, Germany’s highest military decoration of the time. DS734 was crewed by pilot Robert Cagienard (age 24), flight engineer Charles Kelly (age 20), flight sergeant Fredrick Foster (age 20), air bombardier Joseph MacLeod (age 23), air gunner William Shorten (age 23), air gunner Albert Letcher (age 19) and air gunner Frank King (age 19). They were all tragically lost.
Keith Burns is an award winning aviation artist and commercial illustrator. He has illustrated comics for the past decade with Johnny Red being the most recent. In 2012 he joined the Guild of Aviation Artists. In 2015 he won the Messier Dowty award for best acrylic painting in show, in 2016 he was made a full member of the Guild, had his first solo exhibition at the RAF Club in London and won Aviation Painting of the Year. He is currently illustrating the Ladybird WW2 series written by James Holland.
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