HK’s new Lancaster is worth the effort: for the most part it goes together well and the exterior detail in particular is very nice.
Manufacturer: HK Models
Subject: Avro Lancaster
Extras: Kitsworld 3d-printed seatbelts, ASK Models canopy masks
Fit: 3/5 generally ok, but there are a few places where it just doesn’t quite go
Engineering: 3/5 the wing attachment is really nice, the turrets and landing gear… not. The rest is just straightforward
Detail: 4/5 the interior is okay, the outside is really nice.
Accuracy: 3/5 for me, it’s fine, but I heard comments from some guys who really know the Lancaster that there are some little mistakes here and there, especially with regard to the Lancaster examples that the box schemes should represent.
If you want a big Lancaster that can still fit on the shelf, there’s really no reason not to get HK’s latest effort.
They say you go to war with the army you have, not the one you want: while this was certainly true of RAF Bomber Command which entered the Second World War with an incredible variety of aircraft which would almost all prove lethally deficient in one area or another, by 1942 a new generation of heavy bombers had arrived which were capable of taking the war to Germany. The most famous of these was the Lancaster, the other two being the Stirling and Halifax which had both entered service earlier and were to a degree rendered obsolete by the new arrival, though both would remain in service in other roles.
The Lancaster’s outstanding feature was its huge bomb bay, which gave the ability to carry a very large 14,000lb bomb load internally, and this was later enlarged through bulging or removing the bomb bay doors and fitting later, more powerful Merlin engines. It is worth noting that while this bomb load is often compared to the 8,000lb figure of the American B-17, it is little-known that the B-17 was able to carry further bombs externally, to a maximum take-off load of almost 18,000lbs. Though the B-17 rarely used this capability in service, it was these fittings which allowed maritime patrol bombers to carry a lifeboat under the hull which could be dropped to downed aircrews.
While we’re on the comparison between the B-17 and Lancaster, there is one area that is very significant: although the B-17’s typical wartime internal bomb load was much smaller than the Lancaster’s, it was able to carry it higher and faster. This turned out to be just high enough to reduce the effectiveness of heavy flak guns and where Luftwaffe fighters were running out of power. This in turn meant that long-range, high-altitude fighters like the P-47 and P-51 were able to provide effective air cover, while losses to flak on the terminal run to bomb release were not as severe as they would have been just a few thousand feet lower. Consider for a moment the awful loss rate among 8th AF bomber crews and you’ll appreciate just how marginal this capability was, but it permitted daylight precision bombing. This might also explain why the Luftwaffe was so determined to produce aircraft like the Ta 152 which could operate effectively at much higher altitudes: had the B-29 been sent to Europe, hardly anything in the inventory could have reached it.
The Lancaster, on the other hand, while providing much better capability for Bomber Command’s night-time area bombing, was not a design capable of permitting an alternative strategy. It would not have been possible to effectively escort the slower, lower-flying Lancasters in daylight, their defensive armament was too light to protect themselves, and the bomber streams would have been torn apart by flak. If you thought the 8th AF losses were bad (and they are), spare a thought for the Bomber Command aircrews who suffered a 44% death rate. That’s not the loss rate, which would include wounded and POWs, just mortality. The loss rate for a single tour of duty is estimated at 73%.
These horrific losses are caused by a multitude of factors: night formation flying is inherently dangerous and collisions happened (though maybe less frequently than thought: it is possible that many aircraft hit by upward-firing “Schraege Musik” cannon were attributed to collisions because no defensive fire was seen); night fighters were a massive hazard as they were able to approach unseen and deliver massive damage in a short salvo; flak barrages did not require precise targeting and the lower altitude and speed of British bombers made them relatively easy targets; and finally, the bombers themselves were deathtraps.
That is perhaps a controversial statement, but consider the following:
- There was no pilot redundancy, with all flying done by a single pilot, so a single piece of shrapnel could doom a bomber.
- The liquid-cooled Merlin engine was inherently more vulnerable than the American radials, because it relied on easily-damaged liquid circuits for cooling.
- Defensive armament was woefully inadequate: the RAF stuck with the 0.303” machine gun long after it was shown to lack punch and effective range. Granted, the four of these guns in the tail turret look impressive and the streams of tracer would probably cause a significant emotional event if they were pointed toward you, but these actually produce less weight of shot (per unit burst time) than a pair of the American 0.50” guns (64400 g/min vs 67200). Further, each 0.50” bullet has about five times the kinetic energy, which is a better measure of its ability to wreck what it hits. Meanwhile, the RAF had decided against mounting a ventral turret, allowing upward-firing cannon an easy target: it is worth noting that some Canadian aircraft had a very rudimentary ventral position and suffered significantly fewer losses (relating to the point above about mis-attribution of night-time losses).
- Escape hatches were small and inadequate, even compared to other British aircraft: the B-17 had a few lethal crew positions like the ball turret and tail gun, but on a Lancaster hardly anyone had an opportunity to escape. It’s not just me saying this either: on average, 50% of aircrew successfully bailed out of American bombers (note again that daylight must have helped survivability here), 25% from other British heavy bombers, and only 15% from the Lancaster. (One thing I found shocking while researching this, is that there was a real and enduring callousness in RAF Bomber Command about aircrew survivability: in the 1950s Avro’s Vulcan nuclear jet bomber only had ejection seats for the two pilots, who were both officers, while the enlisted crew had to jump out from a hatch.)
The sad thing is it didn’t have to be this way. The British Air Ministry had refused to consider building aircraft that were too large for existing hangars, and despite going all-in on strategic bombing, also rejected single-task aircraft. In a tragic “here’s what you could have had,” consider Barnes Wallis’s (the designer of the Wellington bomber, Upkeep dam-busting mine, and earthquake bombs) proposal for the Victory Bomber. This would have been a six-engined, 50-ton monster flying at 45,000 feet and 320 mph with a range of 4,000 miles and carrying a 22,000 lb bomb (the design that would eventually see service as first the smaller Tallboy and later the full-size Grand Slam earthquake bombs).
The earthquake bomb alone was one of the few weapons to have an operational effect during WW2: single hits demolished railway bridges and tunnels, collapsed U-Boat pens, and shifted the vast concrete domes protecting V-2 factories off their foundations. Combined with the incredible precision offered by highly-trained crews armed with the new analogue computing bombsights like SABS and Norden, had these bombs been available in numbers and capable of being delivered from above the range of German fighters and flak (in our reality, these missions were undertaken by massively overburdened Lancasters with massive air cover, and even then, only once the Luftwaffe was largely spent), the factories and rail yards that were hit month after month without catastrophic effect would have been damaged possibly beyond economic repair.
To get a sense of just how radical the Victory Bomber concept was, consider the B-29 cruised at 220 mph and 31,000 feet. This project predated the world’s only comparable aircraft: the vast B-36. That plane was designed to a specification of 4,000 mile range, 10,000lb bombload, able to fly between 240 and 300 mph at 40,000 feet. The B-36’s huge wing and the eventual addition of jet engines on top of the six R-4360 Wasp Major 28-cylinder radials actually allowed some versions to exceed 400 mph and fly at over 55,000 feet while carrying 86,000lbs of bombs, but this is into the 1950s and no longer contemporary with Victory or Lancaster.
Could the Victory Bomber have been built to Barnes Wallis’ imagined ability? We will never know. However it is worth noting that Wallis’ other visionary projects worked better than expected even when technological constraints meant they had to be scaled down, and that when it was mentioned, following the Tizard Mission, that the Americans had been working on pressurisation for bombers, Wallis revealed that he had already done all the same work independently. The man was a genius, and even if the Victory Bomber had only matched the performance of, say, a B-29, that would still have put it out of range of almost all German air defences and saved many lives both in British airmen and German civilians.
That’s the other thing: Bomber Command engaged in a systematic and enthusiastic campaign to destroy German cities, deliberately targeting civilians in a campaign of “dehousing.” It’s an aspect of the Lancaster’s history that is difficult for me to reconcile.
On one hand, I believe that deliberately targeting civilians in war is wrong. Drive a tank into a village and shoot people: that’s a war crime. Fly a plane overhead and drop incendiary bombs onto houses: is it any different? The bombings of German cities were calculated to cause maximum civilian casualties and misery, loadouts were configured across bomb waves to maximise the chance of a firestorm. It was wrong in Dresden, Cologne, and Hamburg. It was wrong in Tokyo. It was also wrong in London, Coventry, Liverpool, Hull, Swansea, Cardiff, Bristol, Portsmouth, Glasgow, Southampton, Manchester, and Sheffield. It was wrong in Warsaw, Stalingrad, Moscow, Leningrad, Rotterdam, Guernica, Nanking, and so many others.
That’s the other hand: the Second World War was a brutal war in which all prior standards of behaviour toward civilians and soldiers were frequently abandoned. The Nazi-Soviet front was a genocidal war of annihilation (against the Slavic as well as Jewish peoples) where the daily atrocities committed by both sides would be unparalleled, if it weren’t for what the Japanese were up to (perhaps they should erect a statue of Stalin in Tokyo: without him, their war crimes would never have been so easily swept under the carpet).
While “but they indiscriminately murdered us first” is not a defence I would want to rely upon, maybe we do have to take that into account. Even at the time, Bomber Command’s mission seems to have been seen as a grim revenge for the German attacks on civilians, summed up by Air Marshal Harris’ (who I must say I suspect did often seem a bit overly enthusiastic) speech,
“The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw, and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naïve theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind. We are going to scourge the Third Reich from end to end. We are bombing Germany city by city and ever more terribly in order to make it impossible for them to go on with the war.” – Sir Arthur Harris, 1942
Sorry, that history bit rather got away from me there.
Overall, I enjoyed building this new HK kit. I expected a similar experience to their 1/48 B-17, and I think that’s fair.
When you open this kit up and start looking at the parts, there is a general sense that everything would benefit from a bit of detail painting, maybe some extras. I would say though that unlike the B-17, there is no element that you look at and think “oh dear, this just isn’t good enough.” To be fair, on the B-17, that part is the weird half-moulded lifeboats behind the cockpit, and those are actually invisible once it’s built.
Much like the B-17, very little of the interior can be seen once the kit is closed up. I knew this would be the case, only bothered nicely painting the parts I thought would be visible, and still found most of that was invisible. The pilot’s station and the navigator’s station are visible, there’s a little of the bombardier’s station visible, but there’s stuff like the radio station and interior walkway that are not.
I was disappointed again with the Kits-World 3D-printed decal seatbelts. I don’t know if I’m doing something wrong, but I find they are very unwilling to conform to curved surfaces or drape in a realistic way. They do not respond well to any setting solutions that I have tried (Micro Sol / Set, Solvaset, TET).
I tried a new company for canopy masks: ASK Models. These get a big thumbs-up from me, as they gave both interior and exterior masks, and they print the parts number on each mask. This makes it very easy to keep track of where you are, and this kit has so many tiny windows that it is really, really welcome.
The fuselage halves don’t close neatly. There seem to be two, separate problems: one is that the halves lack strong, positive locating and that leads to an unnecessary step along a lot of the length. Meanwhile, a surprising amount of pressure was needed to get the two halves to actually touch: surprising, because it’s not as if there were any full bulkheads along much of that stretch. I suspect the halves are either moulded slightly warped, or they can bend inwards and take a set while you’re messing around with the interior.
The bomb bay doors are clearly not intended to be posed closed. They don’t want to touch and lack solidity. Would it have been that hard to either mould them closed (and let you cut them), or to offer both?
The wings have a bit of a step – about half a millimetre – along the leading edge. However, the wing locking mechanism to the fuselage lines up really well on this kit, which was a bit of a let-down on the B-17. The engine nacelles are a tight fit along the wing chord. On one wing, the nacelles have poor fit along the leading edge, but the other wing is perfect. The nacelle tops (moulded into the wing) do not fit neatly with the nacelle sides, which is a tricky fix with the exhausts and shrouds already in place.
The landing gear is clumsy to assemble, but solid once in place. Meanwhile the turret assemblies are terrible houses of cards: the parts are just very floppy and hard to keep aligned until you finally get the glass on.
One last odd thing: one tail mass damper’s locating point seems to be rotated 90 degrees. Not a big deal, but weirdly reminiscent of Kitty Hawk and not up to the standards HK usually sets.