The centrepiece of the Striking by Night exhibition at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra is the multimedia sound and light show which re-creates a night bombing operation over Berlin in December 1943 featuring the beautifully restored World War Two era Avro Lancaster Mk.I bomber with the call sign “G for George“. This bomber (serial number W4783) was constructed by Metropolitan Vickers Ltd in Manchester, UK in 1942 and delivered to RAAF No. 460 Squadron based at Breighton in Yorkshire on October 27th. 1942. Its first mission was on December 6th, 1942 over Mannheim, Germany.
No. 460 Squadron was formed in November 1941, flying as part of the RAF Bomber Command in Europe. The squadron was originally equipped with Vickers Wellington bombers (20 were lost in just 3 months), then briefly converted to four engine Handley Page Halifax bombers before re-equipping with the Avro Lancaster in October 1942. In August 1943 they became the first Bomber Command squadron to fly 1,000 sorties in Lancaster’s. The squadron disbanded on October 2nd, 1945 after completing 6,264 operational sorties. In those 4 years of operation the squadron lost 188 aircraft and sadly nearly 1,000 airmen were killed.
27 RAAF crews flew “G for George” on an impressive 89 missions over occupied Europe and Germany between 1942 and 1944, including 15 raids on Berlin and on August 17th, 1943 bombing secret German facilities at Peenemunde, where their Vergeltungswaffe (vengeance weapons) were being developed (i.e. V-1 Flying Bombs and V-2 rockets). Curiously the bomb log painted underneath the cockpit shows 90 completed operations but the aircraft’s log book only records 89. From Australian War Memorial information the key RAAF pilots to captain “G for George” during all those missions were Pilot Officer H. Carter (21 missions), Flight Sergeant J. A. Saint-Smith (13 missions), Flight Sergeant J. Murray (13 missions) and Flying Officer Henderson (10 missions).
Given its longevity and operation during the peak of the Allied bomber offensive, “G for George” was understandably considered a “lucky” aircraft by its air crews. Imagine though, flying mission after mission into the dark night sky, suddenly engulfed in the bright beam of a searchlight with flak exploding shrapnel all around and Luftwaffe night fighters stalking you like a hungry wolf. The whole time not knowing if you were going to survive the mission or even make it back to base. Absolutely terrifying!
“G for George” was a tough bird and although the old girl got her crews home safely each time, sadly over thirty of its former crew members were killed when flying other aircraft. Her last combat mission was a bombing run over Cologne, Germany on April 20th, 1944 which upon safe return to the UK to enter retirement, saw “G for George” complete more operations than almost any other aircraft in RAF Bomber Command.
A big aircraft for its day, this particular Avro Lancaster had a crew of seven: Pilot, Navigator, Wireless Operator, Bomb Aimer, Flight Engineer, Mid-Upper Gunner and Rear Gunner. A typical weapons payload was 6,350 kilograms / 14,000 pounds of bombs or incendiary devices. “G for George” was not fitted with a H2S radar and the mid-under defensive gun position was not retained from the original factory fit out (this would have required an additional gunner crew member). Originally powered by 4 Rolls-Royce Merlin XX 12 cylinder liquid-cooled engines, the Avro Lancaster’s maximum speed was 467 km/h / 287mph but the typical cruising speed was a much slower 322 km/h / 200mph.
Given its significance, in June 1944 “G for George” was designated as a museum piece to be sent to Australia. Following an overhaul to be readied for flight and manned by an all Australian crew (captained by Flight Lieutenant E. A. Hudson DFC and Bar), the Lancaster flew out of the UK, bound for Australia on October 11th, 1944. Almost a month later on November 8th, 1944 the famous bomber arrived in Brisbane, Queensland and was transferred the next day to the nearby No. 3 Aircraft Depot at Amberley where it was registered as RAAF A66-2.
In 1945 the aircraft toured eastern Australia as part of the Australian Governments Third Victory Loan drive to drum up interest with the public to support the war effort and buy war bonds to help fund government military operations and other war-time activities (during this period the bomber was fitted with Rolls-Royce Merlin 22 engines). Following this tour the aircraft was declared surplus and became part of the Australian War Memorial collection but sat out in the open, exposed to the elements at RAAF Fairbairn, Canberra for ten years!
Following restoration “G for George” was finally put on display at the Australian War Memorial in 1955. In the years that followed some further restorative work was done on the interior and the aircraft was repainted in 1978, but it was not until 1999 that the aircraft was removed from display and underwent extensive offsite conservation work (including complete disassembly, cleaning, washing, chemical treatment for corrosion, replacement of missing parts and repainting) at the Treloar Technology Centre until 2003. Now preserved for generations to come, the mighty Avro Lancaster looks fantastic today as the key exhibit in ANZAC Hall (opened in December 2003) at the war memorial.