Lancaster: The Second World War's Greatest Bomber

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Press: John Murray Publishers Ltd (June 10, 2010)
Publication Date:2010-6
Author Name:McKinstry, Leo


The Spitfire and the Lancaster were the two RAF weapons of victory in the Second World War, but the glamour of the fighter has tended to overshadow the performance of the heavy bomber. 
Yet without the Lancaster, Britain would never have been able to take the fight to the German homeland.
Highlights the scale of the bomber's achievements, including the famous Dambusters attacks.
With its vast bomb bay, ease of handling and surprising speed, the mighty Lancaster transformed the effectiveness of the Bomber Command.
Whilst addressing the political controversy surrounding the bombing offensive against Germany, Leo McKinstry also weaves individual tales into this compelling narrative.
Rich characters are brought to life, such as Roy Chadwick the designer, who taught himself engineering at night school and Sir Arthur Harris, the austere head of the Bomber Command.
This is a rich saga, a story of triumph over disaster and the history of an iconic plane.

About the Author

Leo McKinstry writes regularly for the Daily Mail, Sunday Telegraph and The Spectator . 
He has also written six books including Spitfire and a best-selling biography of the footballing Charlton brothers.
Born in Belfast he was educated in Ireland and at Cambridge University.


Engineering & Transportation,Transportation,Aviation,History,Military,World War II

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Comment List (Total:13)

  •     Nicely written, informative and interesting history of what the title truly says, if not the greatest bomber of WWII then equal to whatever else is considered first.
  •     Don't be put off by the book's comic style cover, this is a serious and comprehensive study of the Avro Lancaster heavy bomber of WWII. Not only is the development and use of the Lancaster described in great detail but the book also presents a detailed study of the operations of Bomber Command throughout the war. The rights and wrongs of the area bombing strategy are discussed in a balanced way as are the strengths and weaknesses of the head of bomber command (and just one of the strategy's main proponents), Sir Arthur Harris. Despite the breadth of the material, Leo McKinstry manages to present it in an easy to read style that is always fresh. A must for all those interested in WWII aircraft and the strategy and tactics of the air war.
  •     My ex wife's father was a Lancster navigator, it was really interesting to see what he must have gone through as a young man.
  •     This I think is one of the best books written on the famous AVRoe World War II bomber. It's highly detailed in all aspects, not only on the plane's development, and construction...
  •     Excellent and detailed insight in to the origins and success of an aircraft but much more insight in to the politics and strategy of Bomber Command during WW2
  •     Seems to be a well researched and well written book. Now, be aware, the print is minuscule to the extreme. This book should be twice as big in order to be read comfortably.
  •     Great account of the machine and those who made them. Contains a lot of surprise information about strikes amongst the workforce and a new look at Bomber Harris' influences on...
  •     Having dealt with the legendary Supermarine Spitfire in a previous book, British author Leo McKinstry examines the other iconic RAF warplane of World War II - the Avro Lancaster - in this 2009 release from John Murray Publishers. McKinstry details the development and combat career of Avro's mighty four-engined bomber - which one wit christened 'The Flying Bomb Bay' - against the backdrop of the RAF evolving strategic bombing campaign and the military career of the head of Bomber Command, Arthur Harris. The thrust of McKinstry's exhaustively-researched yet eminently readable book might be judged by the book's sub-title: THE SECOND WORLD WAR'S GREATEST BOMBER. Ironically, by the end of this 581-page tome, it seems evident that the Lancaster might have achieved that 'Greatest Bomber' status but for the inflexibility of Harris, its foremost champion!Without the efforts of Avro's chief designer, Roy Chadwick, there would have been no Lancaster. It evolved from the failed Manchester and, in time, became THE RAF heavy bomber of the European war. The Lancaster was a superb design capable of carrying prodigious amounts of bombs of all sizes and was both structurally strong and very maneuverable. Unfortunately, like other British bombers, it was armed with popgun .303 machine-guns, a major flaw that Harris was never able to rectify. As was proved in later daylight missions, the Lancaster could do an admirable job of precision bombing...but Harris wanted only to use it as an aerial bludgeon to flatten Germany's cities. Likewise Bomber Command crews, all of whom were volunteers, were talented, committed and courageous 'press on' individuals capable of greatness - witness the Dams Raid - yet, here again, they existed only to serve Harris' aerial strategy.Utilizing previously untapped sources, McKinstry presents a wide-ranging account of the creation and combat ops of the Lanc including many first-person reminiscences. The top RAF commanders were firm believers that bombers would decide the course of the war. Harris, in particular, believed his Bomber Command bombers could win the war and would brook no arguments in his singleminded direction of Bomber Command 'area bombing' ops that called for the destruction of Germany's cities by night. The single-minded use Harris made of Avro's mighty bomber, his endless squabbles with the RAF high command, Air Ministry, Ministry of Aircraft Production, etc. and the on-going debate over the efficacy and morality of area bombing - which some characterized as 'terror bombing' - are all interwoven with the combat missions flown by Lanc crews.Prior to reading McKinstry's book, I had thought LANCASTER would be a straightforward technical/operational history. I soon found the author was painting on a far larger canvas. I did find the other story elements fascinating. However I also felt the Lanc's story was sometimes lost in the endless details of the ongoing political civilian-military command infighting, Harris' latest antic, etc.While the Lancaster was undoubtedly a superb bomber, neither it nor any bomber existant could have ended the war as Harris believed. Had it been deployed against POL targets rather than mindless destruction of cities, the Lancasters of Bomber Command could conceivably have ended the war SOONER but they could never win the war singlehandedly.In summary, LANCASTER interweaves various storylines to tell a fascinating tale of one bomber's development and how that warplane played a major role in defeating the Third Reich. Bomber Command Lancaster crews compiled a record of bravery and devotion second to none. Sadly, their commander was their own worst enemy, his inflexibility preventing them from realizing their full potential. It's a complex tale well-told in Leo McKinstry's book. Recommended.
  •     Rich in technical detail about the plane and a scholarly history of the bombing campaign. This well researched, beautifully written book is much needed, given the continuing,...
  •     The story of the Lancaster is also the story of the strategic air war over Europe. A well written and well researched book. Recommended to all world War 2 and aviation buffs.
  •     Quite a wonderful history of the Lancaster and of RAF Bomber Command during the Lancaster years.
  •     The title of Leo McKinstry's book, "Lancaster: The Second World War's Greatest Bomber", is quite deceptive. It is not really a narrow nuts & bolts history of another warplane. Instead McKinstry has provided a comprehensive survey and analysis of the role, effectiveness and morality of the British strategic bombing offensive against the Reich. The development and use of the Lancaster bomber is the leitmotif providing central continuity for the account, just as it was the central component of the offensive.As well as considering past official reports and research as well as the earliest accounts of the bombing such as David Irvings 1960's work, McKinstry has made clear use of new research, especially into the effectiveness of the strategy in 1944-45. In doing so he provides a valuable and very readable campaign history making good use of the now rich seam of witness accounts and memoirs collected from the survivors of the bombing as well as RAF crews to illustrate aspects of the unfolding story (although at times, just as with any good student of history, he also provides information to qualify and place in context several of these insertions).The key thread may be the Lancaster, but the figure who is most dominant in the account is not Chadwick, the Lancaster's designer, but Sir Arthur Harris, Commander in Chief of bomber command from 1942 onwards. He is behind the policy of area bombing, focusing on the means of production (ie the civilian population), rather than the precision bombing of key strategic targets such as oil stores and arms factories, believing that the destruction and collapse of morale created could bring victory on its own. With the deliberate bombing of civilian areas in raids with up to 1000 bombers officially called "dehousing", this shows that spin is nothing new. Whilst it is possible to argue that Harris's policy was most justifiable in 1942-3 when Britain had no other way of returning the fight to Germany and of taking pressure off the Red Army in the east, McKinstry shows clearly the flaws in Harris's stubborn refusal to amend this policy in 1944-45 when precision bombing of military targets alone, he believes, could have shortened the war by several months. The US daylight raids had taken this approach in 1944 (as had the RAF in assistance of the D Day landings) and it was later shown to be more effective than the RAF night attacks on cities such as Berlin and Dresden. What is surprising from the book is how little Harris's superiors did to force him to change policy when they were clearly unhappy with it. It is clear Harris bullied them, they themselves were too weak. (Churchill however, appears duplicitous, especially over Dresden, presented here as a means of the UK hoping to use the attack to seek favour/respect with Stalin at Yalta.).The victims of this inability to manage the C in C were obviously the civilians who continued to die in the ever increasing raids (By 1945 the US is also into area bombing), but also the bomber crews themselves. The irony is that Harris saw the bomber offensive as a way to ensure victory without the horrors of another Western Front, yet by sending his men out night after night to bomb heavily defended targets he ensured their casualty rates were the highest of any of the western theatres of war (over 50,000 killed out of a total of 125,000 aircrew, a 44% death rate, a further 8,000 were wounded in action and nearly 10,000 taken prisoner).Towards the end of the book I began to feel that too much was being devoted to the context, too little on the final (postwar) years of the Lancaster, yet it was soon clear the end of the war was the end of the Lancaster. It's sole purpose was to bomb Germany. It was not well suited to conversion to the Japanese theatre, yet the atomic bombs stopped the conversion being done. However those atomic bombs also meant that huge bomber fleets were now redundant. More depressingly perhaps, their threat for the future rested completely on Harris's belief in the significance of indiscriminate area bombing. Dehousing indeed..
  •     This nearly 600 page book (in the paperback version) is a MUST READ for those interested in WW2; for those who love aviation, especially the military variety; and for all those...

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