Continued from previous post, RAF and USAAF, Allies in the World War II Air War…
Recap: During my father’s (George Edwin Farrar, waist gunner of the 384th Bomb Group during WWII) confinement as a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft IV, he had a British roommate in the POW camp named Lawrence Newbold. Dad and Lawrence were also companions on the 86-day, 500-mile march of POW’s across Germany from 6 February 1945 to their liberation on 2 May 1945.
Lawrence Newbold, an enlistee in the British Royal Air Force (RAF), served as a wireless operator on an Avro Lancaster heavy bomber with the 50 Squadron based at Skelllingthorpe, England in the East Midlands.
Because of this personal connection my father had to a member of the RAF, I will, in a series of posts, take a look at an overview of the RAF in World War II, the Avro Lancaster heavy bomber that Lawrence Newbold flew in, and the mission on which he became a prisoner of war.
The British Imperial War Museum’s website helped me learn about the differences between an RAF Avro Lancaster heavy bomber crew and a USAAF B-17 heavy bomber crew.
From the Imperial War Museum – Who’s Who In An RAF Bomber Crew
The typical RAF Avro Lancaster heavy bomber operated with seven crew members where a USAAF B-17 heavy bomber crew typically had nine or ten.
- Pilot. On the RAF Avro Lancaster, the Pilot flew the aircraft and was the captain who coordinated the actions of the entire crew. In case of emergency bailout of the crew, he stayed at the controls as the last of the crew to leave the aircraft. The Lancaster did not have a co-pilot. The USAAF B-17 crew had both pilot and co-pilot, two trained pilots in the cockpit.
- Navigator. On the Lancaster, the Navigator was responsible for keeping the aircraft on course both to the target and on the return flight to base. Until 1942, the Navigator also aimed and released the bombs. The B-17 similarly had a navigator.
- Bomb-Aimer. The Lancaster Bomb-Aimer was a new position in 1942. The Bomb-Aimer controlled the aircraft on the bomb run, lying flat in the nose of the plane. He directed the pilot until bomb release and the bombing photograph was taken. A mission was credited to the airmen based on the photo as proof that the operation was completed. The Bomb-Aimer also had some pilot training and could fill in as a reserve pilot if needed. Where the B-17 had two pilots, both a pilot and co-pilot, the Lancaster had only a pilot with his backup being the Bomb-Aimer. The B-17 similarly had a bombardier, although the B-17 bombardier could not act as a reserve pilot.
- Flight Engineer. The Lancaster Flight Engineer position was also a new position in 1942. He controlled the mechanical, hydraulic, electrical, and fuel systems, assisted the pilot with take-offs and landings, and provided fuel calculations in an emergency. He was also the reserve Bomb-Aimer, the lookout for enemy fighters, and the coordinator with the ground crew. The B-17 similarly had an engineer who was also the top turret gunner.
- Wireless Operator. The Lancaster Wireless Operator was responsible for transmitting messages to and from the crew’s base and position signals. He also served as a reserve gunner and addressed minor emergencies aboard the aircraft. He also was required to remain at his post, sending out distress signals, in the event of a ditching into the sea. The B-17 similarly had a radio operator.
- Mid-Upper Turret Gunner. The Lancaster Mid-Upper Turret Gunner was confined to his turret for the entire mission and was separated from the other crew members. His primary duty other than as a gunner was to advise the pilot of enemy aircraft. The B-17 similarly had a crew member who was a top turret gunner, but he was also the engineer. On the B-17, his turret was directly behind the pilot and co-pilot in the cockpit.
- Rear Turret Gunner. The Lancaster Rear Turret Gunner was confined to his turret for the entire mission and was separated from the other crew members. His primary duty other than as a gunner was to advise the pilot of enemy aircraft. The B-17 similarly had a tail gunner, although he could come forward into the fuselage if necessary.
The RAF Avro Lancaster did not have a ball turret, and therefore, no ball turret gunner on the crew. The Lancaster also had no waist gunners, where the B-17 had two – one at each waist window – early in the war, but reduced to one gunner who manned the waist guns on both sides of the B-17 later in the war.
So, in comparison,
|Crew Position||RAF Lancaster||USAAF B-17||Notes|
|Pilot||1||2||B-17 – pilot and co-pilot|
|Bomb Aimer/Bombardier||1||1||Lancaster – also reserve pilot|
|Mid-Upper/Top Turret Gunner||1||0||B-17 – flight engineer was top turret gunner|
|Rear Turret/Tail Gunner||1||1|
|Ball Turret Gunner||0||1||No ball turret on the Lancaster|
|Waist Gunners||0||1 or 2||No waist gunners on the Lancaster|
|Total Crew||7||9 or 10|
To learn more about what it was like for the young airmen who served on a British Lancaster heavy bomber during World War II and to see inside the aircraft, visit the Lancaster Experience at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford in Cambridgeshire, England. Or from the comfort of your home, watch this fourteen-minute video, Lancaster Bomber: The Incredible Ability of the Dambuster’s Heavy Bomber.
To be continued…
Previous post, Laurie Newbold
Previous post, RAF and USAAF, Allies in the World War II Air War
Imperial War Museum – Who’s Who In An RAF Bomber Crew
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022
Cindy, thanks for all this information. I really appreciate all your dedication to history and to detail.
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I thought they had a flaw in the manning of the bomber with only one pilot. But very clever using the bomb-aimer if needed. They could fly a bomber with fewer personnel. Interesting they had to photograph the bombs away to have credit for the mission. I guess, because they flew alone there would be no other proof. No formation bombing with many eyes. Interesting post.
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