The Avro Manchester bomber was the forerunner of the Avro Lancaster. What shortcomings the Manchester had were rectified when the Lancaster first flew. The Manchester was the result of the Air Ministry’s specification P.13/36. This called for a twin-engine medium bomber using two Rolls-Royce Vulture in-line engines. The Vulture was in fact two Rolls-Royce Peregrine engines placed one on top of the other.
The Manchester prototype made its first flight on July 25th, 1939. It was found to suffer from directional instability. To counter this a central third fin was fitted to the rear fuselage. By the time of the second version, known as the Mark 1A, the third fin had been removed and replaced with bigger fins and a larger tailplane. No 207 Squadron was the primary user of the Manchester and these were based at RAF Waddington.
The Manchester first saw action against Nazi Germany on February 24th, 1941. This was a raid by six Manchester’s on Brest Harbour. The raid was a failure mainly because the Vulture engines were so unreliable and the aircrafts performance suffered accordingly. The Vulture engines were the Manchester’s primary weak point as they frequently overheated and suffered from lubrication problems. These problems were never fully rectified while the Manchester was in service. It was no coincidence that the Manchester was the only RAF bomber to be fitted with them.
Production of the Manchester was suspended in November 1941. 202 of the bombers had been built. It last flew in anger on June 25th 1942 in a raid against factories based in Bremen.
While the Manchester had shown some structural issues, it was decided by the Air Ministry that the basic form of the aircraft’s structure was something that could be improved on rather than discarded. However, the Vulture engines clearly had little future. Therefore, the basic structure, with improvements, remained the same but the new bomber that came from the Manchester was equipped with four Rolls-Royce Merlin engines that were reliable and powerful.
What was originally the Manchester Mark III first flew on January 9th 1941. It was so different to the Manchester that it was renamed the Lancaster and became one of the most successful bombers of World War Two.
- Powered by two 1,760 hp Rolls-Royce Vulture engines.
- Span = 90 feet 1 inch; Length = 68 feet 10 inches; Height = 19 feet 6 inches.
- Maximum speed = 284 mph at 17,200 feet.
- Range = 1,630 miles with a bomb load of 8,100 lbs.
- Maximum ceiling = 19,200 feet.
- Armament = 8 x .303 Browning machine guns
Maximum bomb load = 10,250 lbs.