PA474 is one of only two Lancaster aircraft remaining in airworthy condition out of the 7,377 that were built (the other is in Canada with the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum at Hamilton, Ontario). PA474 rolled off the production line at the Vickers Armstrong Broughton factory at Hawarden Airfield, Chester on 31 May 1945, just after the war in Europe came to an end, so she was prepared for use against the Japanese as part of the ‘Tiger Force’. However, the war in the Far East also ended before she was deployed and she did not take part in any hostilities. After a period in storage, PA474 was converted for photo reconnaissance work; modifications for these duties included being stripped back to a bare metal (silver) finish and the removal of all her gun turrets. She was then assigned to aerial survey duties with No 82 Squadron in East and South Africa from September 1948 until February 1952.
On return to the United Kingdom, PA474 was loaned to Flight Refuelling Ltd at Tarrant Rushton to be used as a pilotless drone, an uncertain future, which would likely have led to her loss. Fortunately, however, before the conversion started, the Air Ministry decided to use a different type of aircraft for the drone programme (a Lincoln) and PA474 was reprieved. She was then transferred to the Royal College of Aeronautics at Cranfield where she was used as a trial platform for the testing of various experimental aerofoil sections between 1954 and 1964; the trial wings being mounted vertically on the upper rear fuselage.
In 1964 PA474 was adopted by the Air Historical Branch with a view to putting the aircraft on display as a static exhibit in the proposed RAF Museum at Hendon. She was flown to Wroughton where she was painted in a camouflage paint scheme, though without squadron markings, and it was during this period that the aircraft took part in two films, ‘Operation Crossbow’ and ‘The Guns of Navarone’. Later in 1964, she was moved to RAF Henlow and grounded in preparation for display at the RAF Museum.
In 1965, Wing Commader D’Arcy, the Commanding Officer of 44 Squadron (then flying Vulcans at RAF Waddington) asked permission for PA474 to be transferred into the care of the Squadron. An inspection found that the aircraft was structurally sound so permission was granted for PA474 to make a single flight from Henlow to Waddington, which it completed in August 1965. At Waddington a restoration programme began on the Lancaster and by 1966 work was progressing well with both the front and rear turrets in place. Permission to fly PA474 regularly was granted in 1967, whilst restoration continued. The Lancaster joined the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight in November 1973 and restoration work on various parts of the aircraft has continued ever since. A mid-upper turret was discovered in Argentina and was brought to Britain aboard HMS HAMPSHIRE; it was fitted to PA474 in 1975. In the same year, the aircraft was adopted by the City of Lincoln, permission being granted for her to display the City’s coat of arms, which will always be displayed on PA474 regardless of what colour scheme she wears.
PA474 is currently painted to represent Lancaster DV385, “Thumper Mk III” of 617 (‘Dambuster’) Squadron, with the code letters ‘KC-A’. This aircraft was one of the brand-new standard Lancasters issued to 617 Squadron as replacements after the ‘Dams Raid’ in 1943. It was delivered to the Squadron in November 1943, whilst the unit was based at Coningsby, and it flew 4 ‘ops’ from Coningsby before 617 Squadron moved to Woodhall Spa in January 1944. The “Thumper” nose art features the cartoon rabbit – from the 1942 Walt Disney cartoon ‘Bambi’ – holding a foaming pint of beer.
Although the real “Thumper Mk III” flew a total of 50 ‘ops’, the ‘bomb log’ under the cockpit on PA474 displays 35 ‘ops’ as shown in a wartime photograph. The bomb symbols include one with a ‘D’ for Operation ‘Taxable’ (the ‘spoof’ D-Day chaff mission on 5/6th June 1944) and one with a swastika denoting a kill against a German fighter. “Thumper Mk III” dropped a total of 15 of the huge ‘Tallboy’ ‘earthquake’ bombs; it was involved in many important missions, including the first ‘Tallboy’ raid against the Saumur railway tunnel on 8th June 1944 and many raids against ‘V’ weapon sites. Between February and August 1944, the aircraft was mostly flown by Flying Officer (later Flight Lieutenant) Bob Knights DSO DFC and his crew.
Later, “Thumper” took part in the two raids against the battleship Tirpitz in Tromso Fjord on 28th October and 12th November 1944, flown by Flying Officer John Castagnola, who claimed a direct hit against the ship on the last raid. DV385 survived the war and was
To read the full story of ‘Thumper Mk III’, click here.
Header Image: Lancaster “Thumper”, Sept 2012 (© Richard Paver).
Image 1: Lancaster “Thumper” over trees, 2013 (© Grahame Wills).
Image 2: Lancaster nose with “Thumper” artwork (© Ian Savage).