The Lancaster which knew its way home



The Lancaster which knew its way home


Story of Lancaster Number R 5868 once the gate guard at RAF Scampton. Relates that it flew 137 operational sorties and suffered only minor damage. Served on 83 Squadron in 1942 at RAF Scampton and mentions some of its operations including Wilhelmshaven, Genoa and other German and French targets. Then flew from RAF Wyton as pathfinder. After overhaul, joined 467 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force at RAF Waddington. Relates other stories concerning the aircraft. Completed its 100th operation to Bourg Leopold in Belgium on 11 May 1944. Tells of encounter with Ju-88. Last operation to Flensburg on 23 April 1945.

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[underlined] THE LANCASTER WHICH KNEW ITS OWN WAY HOME [/underlined]

One of the most famous Lancasters of the Royal Air Force – Number R 5868 – which was stored at a Maintenance Unit at the end of the war – is now located at the main gate at RAF Scampton.

Lancaster R 5868 flew 137 sorties over enemy territory during the world war. Some years ago it was selected by Bomber Command for preservation, because it was believed to have completed more operations than any other surviving heavy bomber belonging to the Command. It suffered only minor damage from enemy causes and strangely the most hazardous moments of its career occurred during accidental encounters with other friendly aircraft. It was affectionately said to be able to find its own way back from any target in Europe. In spite of its distinguished record, little of the aircraft’s history has previously been related.

It joined No 83 Squadron at Scampton, Lincs, as ‘Q’ for “Queenie” in the summer of 1942. Its first operation was on July 8th, against Wilhelmshaven. Three days later it took part in the famous dusk raid on Danzig, up to that time the most distant target attacked by Bomber Command. In the following weeks it attacked a variety of targets in Germany and on September 14th, returning from Wilhelmshaven, had the first of its several narrow escapes, being fired on from the rear turret of another four-engined twin-tailed aircraft – presumably another Lancaster – the wireless operator being wounded.

On November 6th it made its first trip to Italy, dropping a 4,000 lb “cookie” on a target at Genoa. On January 16th, 1943 it made the first of its night sorties to Berlin. Then followed raids on many other targets, whose names became almost household words from the Bomber Command Communiques – Cologne, Stuttgart, Dortmund, Dusseldorf, Munster, Lorient, St Nazaire and others. During the latter part of its service with No 83 Squadron “Queenie” flew from Wyton, Hunts, with the Pathfinder Force.

In November, 1943 after a thorough overhaul, Lancaster R 5868 joined No 467 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, at Waddington, Lincs, becoming “S for Sugar”. On the 26th day of that month returning from Berlin, it was involved in an incident which nearly ended its career. This is best described in the breezy style of the Australian squadron’s operations diary:

“Flying Officer J.A. Colpus tried Aussie rules football with another Lancaster and tried to bump it out of the sky. The aircraft went into a severe dive to port, but by applying full rudder and aileron trim the aircraft straightened, but it still needed a lot of pressure on both the rudder pedals and the control column to maintain height. The aircraft was our old reliable “S for Sugar” and it had completed 80 trips. In this kite the pilot and navigator go to sleep coming home, for it knows its own way back from almost any target”.

On May 11th, 1944 “Sugar” completed its 100th operation – against Bourg Leopold in Belgium. Many officers and airmen at Waddington waited up to toast the veteran on completing the century. As it happened “Sugar” may be counted lucky to have returned on this occasion. There was intense activity by enemy fighters, and in nine-and-a-half minutes two JU 88s made ten determined attacks. By skilful crew co-ordination and evasive action, “Sugar” escapes unscathed. Its last sortie of the war was on April 23rd, 1945 against Flensburg, but owing to thick cloud no bombs were dropped.

On the side of R 5868, beneath the port windows are 137 bomb silhouettes painted on by the ground crew, one for each sortie, and emblems of a DSO and three DFCs won by aircrews who flew it. Below is inscribed without comment the memorable boast – “No enemy planes will fly over Reich territory – Hermann Goering.”



“The Lancaster which knew its way home,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 24, 2024,

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