avro lancaster

As nations prepare for war, they must also prepare the weapons of warfare. These days, and really since airplanes became reliable enough to be used in war, manufacturers have been building better and better airplanes for war. The Wright brothers, Wilber and Orville made the first airplane, which they successfully flew in 1903. Planes were first used in war in 1911, but it was in World War I, 1914-1918, that their use became commonplace. Since then, we have seen an avalanche of progress is the types and capabilities of planes.

For me, there is no greater warplane than the B-17, but I suppose I am a bit biased because my dad served on a B-17 during World War II. That mkes me very partial to the B-17. It really was a Flying Fortress, and it was that fortress that brought my dad back home. In my book, that makes it the greatest plane ever.

During World War II, the United States had the B-17, otherwise known as the Flying Fortress…among other planes, of course. There was a plane used by Britain, that would have been the similar, to a degree to the abilities to the B-17. The Lancaster was a heavy bomber “workhorse” of a plane. When compared to the B-17, it could carry a heavier payload and fly further than the B-17. The B-17 had higher flight ceiling and better defensive firepower. Speed was about even. Those things are important, but when it came to survivability, the B-17 was the better plane in that it was far easier to bail out of than the Lancaster, meaning that the crew of a plane that was going down would really hope it was a B-17. Only 15% of shot down crewmen survived from the Lancaster, while it was around 50% for B-17s. The Lancaster bomber had only one emergency exit…at the front of the aircraft, as opposed to four (counting the bomb bays) for the B-17.

Both of these planes were amazing weapons of war. They were just developed, designed, and built by different companies, and different countries. They served somewhat different purposes, but they were both designed to end the murderous Axis of Evil nations, of which Hitler’s Third Reich and Japan’s evil empire were a huge part. These planes were different, but both were on the side of good and not evil. I think that I am just glad they were on the same side of the war.

In April of 1943, during a raid on a Czechoslovakian arms factory, a British bomber crashed in Germany, going down with seven crew members on board. At the time of the crash, German soldiers recovered two of the bodies, but somehow they didn’t find or recover the bodies of the other five crewmen. It seems odd to me that they couldn’t find them, or that they somehow just chose not to bury the remaining five crewmen. Because the extensive search, following the war, produced nothing, the British Air Ministry assumed that the plane had ditched in the sea.

The plane, an Avro Lancaster, piloted by Alec Bone, took off from Lincolnshire, England, almost 76 years ago. Their target was a munitions plant in German-occupied Czechoslovakia. A total of 327 bombers took off that day, and 36 would never return. Bone’s plane was one of those unfortunate 36 planes. It is believed that he and his crew battled German antiaircraft fire before plunging into a field outside Laumersheim in southwestern Germany. As it searched in vain for the missing crew in the years following World War II, the British Air Ministry had no idea that German troops had already buried two of the men in Mannheim.

There was, however, one person who knew the location of the plane…Peter Menges, who was a teenager at the time he witnessed the fiery crash of the British bomber. It was a site he would ever forget, but I’m sure he assumed that the Germans had found it too, and gone to remove the bodies or any survivors. This whole situation made me wonder why the other five men were not buried too. Upon researching this crash, I think I have discovered why. Most of us picture a plane crash with a broken plane and the bodies of the dead lying almost peacefully nearby, but most often it isn’t like that at all. When airplanes crash, they hit the ground going very fast, and the human body doesn’t handle that kind of impact very well. In fact it reacts much like an explosion, with pieces scattered all over the place. And when a plane nose dives into the ground, burying itself deep in the ground, like this one did, those body parts are often buried too.

Menges who was 83 in 2012, when he told the tale of the fiery crash of Alec Bone’s plane. He had joined forces with Uwe Benkel, a health insurance clerk, who moonlighted as a military history researcher. Together they have helped to recover more than 100 planes. Upon learning of the exact location of the crash, a team of men used metal detectors and ground-penetrating radar to confirm the crash location near Laumersheim. Their search first unearthed the bomber’s engine and landing gear, along with hundreds of bone fragments thought to be the remains of the missing men. My guess is that because of the planes burial at the site, and the fact that most of the bodies were blown to bits at the time of the impact, the German soldiers who were at the scene to bury the bodies that day, simply could not find the other bodies.

Because no one knew where to look, the families never knew what happened for sure. They could only speculate. Now, the remains of the five British airmen have been found. Their relatives have been notified and plans are being made to bury the men in a shared coffin at Germany’s Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery. Benkel told British news sources that area residents wondered why he was searching for former enemies who had bombed German cities. “It doesn’t make a difference if they are German or British,” he told The Telegraph. “They were young men who fought and died for their country for which they deserve a proper burial in a cemetery.” I agree. No matter which side of a battle a soldier fought on, he fought to the best of his or her abilities, and that deserves respect, and a proper burial. “They flew together and died together,” says Mr Benkel. “It is only right that they should stay together.”

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