Tag Archives: Avro Lancaster B Mk.I Special

19 March 1945

Pilot Officer P. Martin's Avro Lancaster B Mk.I Special, PB996, YZ-C, releases the 22,000-pound Grand Slam earth-penetrating bomb over teh railway viaduct at Arnsberg, Germany, 19 March 1945. (Imperial War Museum)
Pilot Officer P. Martin’s Avro Lancaster B Mk.I Special, PB996, YZ-C, releases the 22,000-pound Grand Slam earth-penetrating bomb over the railway viaduct at Arnsberg, Germany, 19 March 1945. © IWM (CH 15735)
The Grand Slam bomb drops away from the No. 617 Squadron Lancaster B Mk.I Special, YZ-C, 19 March 1945. (Imperial War Museum)
The Grand Slam bomb drops away from the No. 617 Squadron Lancaster B Mk.I Special, YZ-C, 19 March 1945. © IWM (CH 15374)

19 March 1945: Modified Avro Lancaster B Mk.I Special heavy bombers of No. 617 Squadron, Royal Air Force, attacked the railway viaduct at Arnsberg, Germany, using the 22,000 pound (9,979 kilogram) Grand Slam earth-penetrating bomb. The bomb had been first used just days before, 14 March, against another railway viaduct.

The Grand Slam was the largest and heaviest aerial bomb used during World War II. It was designed by aircraft engineer Barnes Neville Wallis, and was scaled up from his earlier, smaller “Tallboy.” (Wallis also designed the “Upkeep” Special Mine used to attack hydroelectric dams in the Ruhr Valley in 1943.)

The Grand Slam bomb dropped by Flying Officer Martin's Avro Lancaster exploeds underneath the railway viaduct at Arnsberg, Germany. (Imperial War Museum)
The Grand Slam bomb dropped by Flying Officer Martin’s Avro Lancaster explodes underneath the railway viaduct at Arnsberg, Germany. Bomb craters from previous unsuccessful attacks are visible in this RAF photograph. © IWM (CH 15378)

Wallis’ idea was that a very heavy, supersonic bomb could penetrate deep into the earth and detonate, causing an “earthquake” which could destroy nearby heavily protected targets.

Tall Boy and Grand Slam Deep Penetration Bombs (British Explosive Ordnance, Part 1, Chapter 7)

The Grand Slam bomb (officially, “Bomb, D.P. , 22,000-lb., Mk I”) was 25 feet, 5 inches (7.747 meters) long and had a maximum diameter of 3 feet, 10 inches (1.168 meters). When fully loaded with the explosive material, Torpex, the bomb weighed 22,400 pounds (10,160 kilograms).

Completed bomb casings for Wallis’ smaller 12,000-pound “Tallboy” deep penetration bomb. The individual weight is stenciled on each casing. (Tyne & Wear Archives)

The bomb case was cast of steel at the Clyde Alloy and Steel Company, Glasgow, Scotland, then, after several days of cooling, machined to its precise shape. The casing made up approximately 60% of the bomb’s total weight. At the nose, the casing had a wall thickness of 7.75 inches (19.685 centimeters).

A "Bomb, Medium Capacity, 22,000 Pounds, lifted by a crane at a Royal Air Force bomb dump. (Imperial War Museum)
A “Bomb, Deep Penetration, 22,000 Pounds”—the Grand Slam—lifted by a crane at a Royal Air Force bomb dump. © IWM (CH 15369)

The bomb case was filled with approximately 9,200 pounds (4,173 kilograms) of molten Torpex, with a 1 inch (2.54 centimeters) topping of TNT. Torpex was an explosive designed for torpedo warheads and depth charges. It was made up of approximately equal quantities of two other explosives, Research Department Formula X (RDX), 42%, and trinitrotoluol (TNT), 40%, mixed with 18% powdered aluminum and wax. The resulting combination was approximately 1.4 times more powerful than TNT alone. About one month was required for the explosive to cool after being poured into the bomb case.

Because of its size and weight, the only Allied bomber capable of carrying the Grand Slam was a specially modified Avro Lancaster B.I Special, flown by No. 617 Squadron, Royal Air Force, “The Dambusters.”

Wallis intended for the Grand Slam to be dropped from very high altitudes so that during its fall, it would go supersonic. The bomb had large fins that were offset 5° to the right of the centerline to cause it to rotate for stability. However, the bombers could not carry it to the planned release altitude, and it was typically dropped from approximately 9,000 feet (2,743 meters). Its very sleek design did allow it to come close to the speed of sound, however, and its stability made it a very accurate weapon. The bomb was capable of penetrating 20-foot-thick (6 meters) reinforced concrete roofs of submarine bases. ¹

Arnsberg railway viaduct following Grand Slam bombing attack.

Barnes Neville Wallis, Esq., M. Inst. C.E., F.R.Ae.S., Assistant Chief Designer Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd., was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (Civil Division), by His Majesty, King George VI, 2 June 1943.

Sir Barnes Neville Wallis C.B.E., was knighted by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, 13 December 1968.

Sir Barnes Neville Wallis C.B.E.

¹ “The striking velocity of the bomb, when released at an altitude of 16,000 ft. and an air speed of 200 m.p.h., is stated at 1,097 ft./sec., at which speed is has developed a rotational velocity of 60 r.p.m.” —British Explosive Ordnance, Part 1, Chapter 7

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 November 1944

Tirpitz
KMS Tirpitz anchored in Bogen Bay, Ofotfjord, near Narvik, Norway, circa 1943–1944. (U.S. Navy Historical Center)

12 November 1944: No. 9 Squadron and No. 617 Squadron (Dambusters), Royal Air Force, sent a force of 32 Avro Lancaster long range heavy bombers to attack the 49,948 metric-ton-displacement Kriegsmarine battleship KMS Tirpitz at Tromsø Fjord, Norway. The attack was filmed by a photo aircraft of No. 463 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force.

The Lancasters were armed with 12,030 pound (5,457 kilogram) Tallboy bombs. They bombed from altitudes from 12,000 to 16,000 feet (3,658–4,877 meters). Two of the bombs hit the battleship, one was a very near miss and another three also were close enough that they probably contributed to the overall damage. Many other Tallboys landed within the torpedo nets that surrounded the ship and cratered the seabed, removing the sandy bottom which had been built up under Tirpitz‘ hull to prevent her from sinking. Tirpitz immediately began to list and was then rocked by an internal explosion. It capsized and sank to the sea bed. As many as 1,204 sailors were killed.

KMS Tirpitz under attack, 12 November 1944. The battleship is visible to the left of the bomb splashes and is firing its main guns at the bombers. (Unattributed)
KMS Tirpitz under attack, 12 November 1944. The battleship is visible to the right of the bomb splashes and is firing its main guns at the bombers. (Unattributed)

Tirpitz was a Bismarck-class battleship armed with a main battery of eight 38-centimeter (15-inch/52-caliber) guns in four turrets. These guns had a maximum range of 22.7 miles (36.5 kilometers) when firing a 1,800 pound (816 kilogram) projectile. The German Navy did not use its heavy warships to directly engage the British fleet, but instead to raid the Atlantic convoys.  The merchant ships with their destroyer escorts were defenseless against a battleship or battle cruiser. Allied forces expended tremendous effort and resources to contain or destroy Tirpitz throughout the war.

A Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster being "bombed up" with a 12,000 pound Tallboy earth-penetrating bomb.
A Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster being “bombed up” with a 12,030 pound (5,456.7 kilogram) Tallboy earth-penetrating bomb. (Royal Air Force)

The Avro Lancaster was a four-engine long range heavy bomber. It wasn’t as fast as the American B-17 Flying Fortress, but was capable of flying longer distances with a heavier bomb load. It was operated by a crew of seven: Pilot, flight engineer, navigator, radio operator, bomb aimer/nose gunner, top gunner and tail gunner. The “Lanc” was 69 feet, 4 inches (21.133 meters) long, with a wingspan of 102 feet (31.090 meters) and had an overall height of 20 feet, 6 inches (6.248 meters). It had a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 72,000 pounds (32,657 kilograms) when carrying a 22,000 pound (9,979 kilogram) Grand Slam bomb.

The Lancaster was powered by four liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,648.96-cubic-inch-displacement (27.01 liter), Rolls Royce Merlin XX or Packard V-1650 single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines, which were rated at 1,480 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. to 6,000 feet (1,829 meters). They turned three-bladed de Havilland Hydromatic constant-speed propellers which had a diameter of 13 feet (3.962 meters) through a 0.420:1 gear reduction.

These Merlin engines, the same as those powering Supermarine Spitfire, Hawker Hurricane and North American P-51 Mustang fighters, gave the Lancaster a maximum speed of 282 miles per hour (456 kilometers per hour) at 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) at a weight of 63,000 pounds (28,576 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 21,400 feet (6,523 meters) and maximum range was 2,530 miles (4,073 kilometers).

Defensive armament for a standard Lancaster consisted of eight Browning Mark II .303-caliber machine guns in three power turrets, nose, dorsal and tail. Modified bombers deleted various combinations of guns to reduce weight.

The Tallboy (Bomb, Medium Capacity, 12,000 lb) was a special demolition bomb designed to be dropped from high altitude, reach supersonic speeds, then penetrate as far as 90 feet (27 meters) into the ground before detonating. It was built of a specially hardened steel casing filled with 5,200 pounds (2,358 kilograms) of Torpex explosive. The bomb was designed by Barnes Wallis, who had also designed the special bomb used by the Dambusters in their famous 1943 attack on the Ruhr Valley hydroelectric dams, as well as the Grand Slam, a 22,000-pound (10,000 kilogram) scaled-up version of the Tallboy. The Tallboy and Grand Slam bombs were very successfully used against U-boat pens and heavily fortified underground rocket facilities.

A flight of three Avro Lancaster bombers of No. 617 Squadron, Royal Air Force, photographed 8 May 1945. The airplane closest to the camera, marked KC-B, is a Lancaster B Mk.I. The other two are Lancaster B Mk.I Specials modified to carry the 22,000 pound Grand Slam bomb. They are identified by the "YZ" fuselage codes. Photograph from the collection of Mrs. Cresswell, © IWM MH-30796.
A flight of three Avro Lancaster bombers of No. 617 Squadron, Royal Air Force, photographed 8 May 1945. The airplane closest to the camera, marked KC-B, is a Lancaster B Mk.I. The other two are Lancaster B Mk.I Specials modified to carry the 22,000 pound Grand Slam bomb. They are identified by the “YZ” fuselage codes. Photograph from the collection of Mrs. Cresswell, © IWM MH-30796.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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