Australian War Memorial: Avro Lancaster “G for George”

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.

Avro Lancaster "G for George" Striking by Night at the Australian War Memorial - ANZAC Hall
“G for George” Striking by Night at the Australian War Memorial – ANZAC Hall (photo taken during my January 2016 visit)

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.

Avro Lancaster "G for George" of RAAF No. 460 Squadron
Avro Lancaster “G for George” of RAAF No. 460 Squadron (Photo Source: AWM)
Avro Lancaster bomber "G for George" (W4783) of RAAF No. 460 Squadron on the tarmac at RAF Station Binbrook, Lincolnshire, UK circa March 1944
Avro Lancaster bomber “G for George” (W4783) of RAAF No. 460 Squadron on the tarmac at RAF Station Binbrook, Lincolnshire, UK circa March 1944 (Photo Source: AWM)
Female intelligence officer at the Royal Air Force Station receiving a report from members of the crew of "G George", Avro Lancaster of RAAF No. 460 Squadron, after an attack on Berlin, Germany on November 26th, 1943. This was the 71st successful operation over enemy territory for "G for George". Identified are (left to right) 421030 Flying Officer (FO) Gordon Peters, RAAF Navigator (later awarded DFC); FO J Howarth, RAF, (DFM) Mid-Upper Gunner; 413528 Warrant Officer (WO) Harold George "Cherry" Carter, RAAF, Pilot; Sergeant (Sgt) L Regan, RAF, Flight Engineer; 430734 Flight Sergeant (Flt Sgt) Keith Harris, RAAF, Bomb Aimer; 412914 Pilot Officer Robert Charles Coveny, RAAF, Wireless Operator, Air Gunner; Sgt L Burrows, RAAF, Rear Gunner.
Female intelligence officer at the Royal Air Force Station receiving a report from members of the crew of “G George”, Avro Lancaster of RAAF No. 460 Squadron, after an attack on Berlin, Germany on November 26th, 1943. This was the 71st successful operation over enemy territory for “G for George”. Identified are (left to right) 421030 Flying Officer (FO) Gordon Peters, RAAF Navigator (later awarded DFC); FO J Howarth, RAF, (DFM) Mid-Upper Gunner; 413528 Warrant Officer (WO) Harold George “Cherry” Carter, RAAF, Pilot; Sergeant (Sgt) L Regan, RAF, Flight Engineer; 430734 Flight Sergeant (Flt Sgt) Keith Harris, RAAF, Bomb Aimer; 412914 Pilot Officer Robert Charles Coveny, RAAF, Wireless Operator, Air Gunner; Sgt L Burrows, RAAF, Rear Gunner. (Photo Source: AWM)
Avro Lancaster bomber "G for George" of RAAF No. 460 Squadron at Binbrook, Lincolnshire, England. in December 1943, with the air and ground crews. Left to right: Unidentified ground crew member; unidentified; 412914 Pilot Officer R. C. Coveny RAAF, Wireless Operator and Air Gunner; Flight Sergeant Harry Tickle RAAF, Non Commissioned Officer in Charge of the aircraft; Sergeant L. Regan RAF, Flight Engineer; Warrant Officer H. G. Carter RAAF, Pilot; unidentified; Corporal J. Nuttall RAAF, Second in Charge, Ground Crew; Flight Sergeant K. Harris RAAF, Bomb Aimer; 421030 Flying Officer G. Peters RAAF, Navigator; Flying Officer J. Howarth DFM RAF, Mid Upper Gunner; Warrant Officer F. G. Brown RAAF, Rear Gunner. The other air crew member was in hospital when this photograph was taken. (Photo Source: AWM)
Avro Lancaster bomber “G for George” of RAAF No. 460 Squadron at Binbrook, Lincolnshire, England. in December 1943, with the air and ground crews.
Left to right: Unidentified ground crew member; unidentified; 412914 Pilot Officer R. C. Coveny RAAF, Wireless Operator and Air Gunner; Flight Sergeant Harry Tickle RAAF, Non Commissioned Officer in Charge of the aircraft; Sergeant L. Regan RAF, Flight Engineer; Warrant Officer H. G. Carter RAAF, Pilot; unidentified; Corporal J. Nuttall RAAF, Second in Charge, Ground Crew; Flight Sergeant K. Harris RAAF, Bomb Aimer; 421030 Flying Officer G. Peters RAAF, Navigator; Flying Officer J. Howarth DFM RAF, Mid Upper Gunner; Warrant Officer F. G. Brown RAAF, Rear Gunner. The other air crew member was in hospital when this photograph was taken. (Photo Source: AWM)
Armourers of RAAF No. 460 Squadron bombing up Avro Lancaster "G for George" at Binbrook, Lincolnshire, UK in December 1943 (Photo Source: AWM)
Armourers of RAAF No. 460 Squadron bombing up Avro Lancaster “G for George” at Binbrook, Lincolnshire, UK in December 1943 (Photo Source: AWM)

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).

The Avro Lancaster bomber "G for George" (W4783) of RAAF No. 460 Squadron and the crew members who flew the aircraft on its last operation against Cologne, Germany on April 20th, 1944. The bomb log is visible underneath the cockpit showing 90 completed operations (however the aircraft's log book only records 89). Identified from left: Sergeant (Sgt) George Knott, RAF, Flight Engineer; Sgt Leo Armstrong, RAAF, Navigator; Flying Officer Jack Critchley, RAAF, Pilot; unidentified ground crew, Pilot Officer Roy Samson, RAAF, Wireless Operator; Squadron Chaplain; Squadron Administrative Officer; Sgt Fred Shaw, RAF, Rear Gunner; unidentified Womens' Auxiliary Air Force Sgt and Sgt Wilf Starkey, RAF, Mid Upper Gunner.
The Avro Lancaster bomber “G for George” (W4783) of RAAF No. 460 Squadron and the crew members who flew the aircraft on its last operation against Cologne, Germany on April 20th, 1944. The bomb log is visible underneath the cockpit showing 90 completed operations (however the aircraft’s log book only records 89).
Identified from left: Sergeant (Sgt) George Knott, RAF, Flight Engineer; Sgt Leo Armstrong, RAAF, Navigator; Flying Officer Jack Critchley, RAAF, Pilot; unidentified ground crew, Pilot Officer Roy Samson, RAAF, Wireless Operator; Squadron Chaplain; Squadron Administrative Officer; Sgt Fred Shaw, RAF, Rear Gunner; unidentified Womens’ Auxiliary Air Force Sgt and Sgt Wilf Starkey, RAF, Mid Upper Gunner. (Photo Source: AWM)
Group portrait of "G for George" air crew of RAAF No. 460 Squadron taken at Binbrook, Lincolnshire. Identified from left to right, back row: 34041 Keith Harris, bomb aimer of Murrami, NSW; Douglas Stones Hodge, mid-upper gunner of; Robert Coveny, wireless operator. Front row: 413528 Flying Officer Harold George 'Cherry' Carter, pilot of Campsie, NSW, (later Pilot Officer, DFC); 421030 Gordon Peters, navigator of Mortlake, NSW; Gerald (Gerry) Brown, rear gunner. PO Carter and his crew flew more operations in "G for George" than any other crew in No. 460 Squadron during the Second World War.
Group portrait of “G for George” air crew of RAAF No. 460 Squadron taken at Binbrook, Lincolnshire. Identified from left to right, back row: 34041 Keith Harris, bomb aimer of Murrami, NSW; Douglas Stones Hodge, mid-upper gunner of; Robert Coveny, wireless operator. Front row: 413528 Flying Officer Harold George ‘Cherry’ Carter, pilot of Campsie, NSW, (later Pilot Officer, DFC); 421030 Gordon Peters, navigator of Mortlake, NSW; Gerald (Gerry) Brown, rear gunner. PO Carter and his crew flew more operations in “G for George” than any other crew in No. 460 Squadron during the Second World War. (Photo Source: AWM)
Australian Prime Minister John Curtin getting out of the veteran Lancaster "G for George" during his visit to RAAF No. 460 Squadron circa April 1944
Australian Prime Minister John Curtin getting out of the veteran Lancaster “G for George” during his visit to RAAF No. 460 Squadron circa April 1944 (Photo Source: AWM)

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!

Avro Lancaster AWM Canberra 88mm flak gun
An old enemy in the form of a dreaded German 88mm flak gun (photo taken at the Australian War Memorial during my January 2016 visit)

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.

RAAF No. 460 Squadron ground crew in front of the famous Avro Lancaster "G for George" at Binbrook, Lincolnshire, UK circa May 1944 after the aircraft had been retired from operational flying (Photo Source: AWM)
RAAF No. 460 Squadron ground crew in front of the famous Avro Lancaster “G for George” at Binbrook, Lincolnshire, UK circa May 1944 after the aircraft had been retired from operational flying (Photo Source: AWM)

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.

Avro Lancaster "G for George" Australian War Memorial
Avro Lancaster “G for George” completed 89 missions with RAAF No. 460 Squadron over Europe from 1942 to 1944 (photo taken at the Australian War Memorial during my January 2016 visit)
Avro Lancaster "G for George" Australian War Memorial
“G for George” looks resplendent in 2016 – I had never noticed before but the propellers have little red swastikas painted on them for some reason
Avro Lancaster "G for George" Australian War Memorial
The famous “G for George” Avro Lancaster of RAAF No. 460 Squadron (photo taken during my January 2016 visit to the Australian War Memorial)

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.

Avro Lancaster bomber "G for George" on the airfield at RAAF Laverton in Victoria November 1944
Avro Lancaster bomber “G for George” on the airfield at RAAF Laverton in Victoria November 1944 (Photo Source: AWM)
Avro Lancaster "G for George" at RAAF Laverton in Victoria November 1944
“G for George” at RAAF Laverton in Victoria November 1944 (Photo Source: AWM)

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!

Avro Lancaster "G for George" flying over a circuit area at RAAF No. 2 OAS Mount Gambier, South Australia on March 14th, 1945
Avro Lancaster “G for George” flying over a circuit area at RAAF No. 2 OAS Mount Gambier, South Australia on March 14th, 1945 (Photo Source: AWM)
The restored Avro Lancaster "G for George" on the tarmac outside a hangar at RAAF Fairbairn in 1955
The restored Avro Lancaster “G for George” on the tarmac outside a hangar at RAAF Fairbairn in 1955 (Photo Source: AWM)
Avro Lancaster "G for George" Australian War Memorial
Avro Lancaster “G for George” at the Australian War Memorial (photo taken during my January 2016 visit)
Avro Lancaster "G for George" Australian War Memorial
“G for George” in ANZAC Hall in 2016
Avro Lancaster "G for George" Australian War Memorial
The mission markings under the cockpit of “G for George” indicate 90 missions were flown but the aircraft log book curiously only lists 89 (photo taken during my visit to the Australian War Memorial in January 2016)
Avro Lancaster "G for George" Australian War Memorial
Striking by Night

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.

Avro Lancaster "G for George" Australian War Memorial
Avro Lancaster “G for George” in 2016
Advertisements

10 thoughts on “Australian War Memorial: Avro Lancaster “G for George”

  1. Deano, thanks for the post. I had no idea of the aircraft’s mission success–89 is unbelievable. Good catch too on the swastikas on the prop hubs. Wonderful info and pics 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fascinating piece of history. It’s a shame they didn’t think a little when she arrived and keep her indoors to prevent her deterioration. That way she could have flown in their honour. Nevertheless it a fabulous display and an honour to those brave young men of the RAAF.

    Like

    1. Unfortunately the thought of a warbird flying memorial was far from their planning back then. Only one other Lancaster is on display in Australia at Bull Creek, WA. Believe it or not all the Avro Lincolns operated by the RAAF in the late 40’s and 50’s were scrapped!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s