In September 1936 the Air Ministry
published specifications calling for a twin-engine bomber to be powered
by Rolls Royce engines. A. V. Roe & Company took up the challenge
and developed the Avro Manchester. The company built 200 but it was not
In 1940 the aircraft was redesigned.
The new aircraft, called the Avro Lancaster Mk I, made its first flight
on 9th January, 1941. Powered by four Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, it had
a maximum speed of 287 mph (462 km) and had a range of 1,660 miles
(2,670 km). Armed with ten machine-guns it could carry 22,000 lb (9,980
kg) of bombs. It was 69 ft 6 in (21.18 m) long with a wingspan of 102 ft
The Lancaster soon became Britain's
most successful strategic bomber of the Second World War. The demand was
so great that A. V. Roe & Company could not cope and Austin Motors,
Vickers-Armstrong and Armstrong-Whitworth also began producing the
plane. Over the next five years a total of 7,377 aircraft were built.
In 1943 A. V. Roe & Company
introduced the Avro Lancaster Mk II. The new aircraft, with its Bristol
Hercules engine, was slower than the original version, but importantly
now had a range of 2,250 miles (3,620 km). The company also built the
Lancaster Mk IB Special that had modified bomb-bays that enabled it to
carry 10 ton bombs such as the Grand Slam.
During the war Lancasters carried out
a total of 156,000 missions and dropped 608,612 tons of bombs. This was
double what the Handley Page Halifax, the other major bomber used by the
Royal Air Force achieved. In the four years of combat service
3,249 Lancasters were lost in action and
another 487 were destroyed or damaged while on the ground. Only 24
Lancasters completed more than 100 successful missions.