On 13th February 1943, a Lancaster heavy bomber crashed at the west end of Plymouth breakwater after hitting a barrage balloon cable.
Avro Lancaster Mk III
Lancaster III ED450 (EA-G) was one of 620 Lancaster heavy bombers ordered from A.V. Roe (Avro) in 1941 and was delivered to 49 Squadron on 8th January 1943.
The Lancaster B III was powered by four 1420hp Packard Merlin 28 engines, which had been built under license in the United States by the Packard Motor Car Company, but was otherwise identical to contemporary B Is that were fitted with four Rolls-Royce Merlin XX engines. The Packard Merlin 28 was a version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin XX and was also known as the V-1650-1 by the American military. A Lancaster B I could be converted to a B III or vice-versa by changing the engines used, which was occasionally done in practice. Other modifications included changing from de Havilland "needle blade" propellers to Hamilton Standard or Nash Kelvinator made "paddle blade" propellers.
The U-boat base at Lorient provided a forward base for German submarines operating in the Atlantic; it was a crucial resource that meant the submarines did not have to travel back to Germany for refit. Destruction of this base was an essential requirement if the Allies were to win the Battle of the Atlantic so a huge amount of effort and resources were put into it. However, the Lorient base included a series of enclosed pens protected by bomb-proof concrete roofs which by February 1943 had withstood many attacks by heavy bombers. Since they could not destroy the base and its submarine pens, the Allies had decided to flatten the city and port of Lorient with the intention of cutting the supply lines to the U-boat base and so rendering it ineffective.
On the night of 13 February, 422 Stirlings, Halifaxes and Lancasters out of the 476 planned, dropped in excess of 500 tons of high explosive bombs and 26,168 incendiary bombs on Lorient. Fiskerton’s 49 squadron supplied 10 aircraft on the 10th but largest attack on the Lorient base that year. The attack was done in two waves on a bright moonlit night, with the first wave arriving at 8:15pm dropping high explosive and incendiaries amongst heavy ground fire. The first wave bombing was so intense that the second wave could see the fires burning 160 miles away. The second wave found the dock area was a mass of flame with smoke rising to 15000ft, by now the flak had reduced with only six heavy guns, a few light guns and five searchlights still operational. The last bomb was dropped around 10pm.
The Allies lost 11 aircraft in the raid with 48 aircrew killed or missing, 6 taken prisoner and 6 others who evaded capture and made it back to England. Two Lancasters were lost, ED450 in Plymouth and ED484 from 50 Squadron at RAF Skellingthorpe which probably crashed in the Bay of Biscay.
Flight Sergeant Gifford Miller piloted the severely damaged ED450 back from Lorient and was aiming for an emergency landing at RAF Harrowbeer on the hills to the north of Plymouth. Coming in too low, the aircraft collided with the steel cable of a barrage balloon attached to a ship anchored to the south of the Breakwater. The balloons and cables were used to defend Plymouth against low flying aircraft coming in from the sea. The Lancaster came down on the western end of the breakwater and broke up, the crew all perished in the crash and their bodies were never recovered.
The last crew of ED450 are:
F/Sgt Gifford Benjamin Coles Miller, Pilot (1205929)
F/O R. Allin NAV (113902)
Sgt K. Hands W/AG (1065511)
Sgt W. Noble B/A (1059835)
Sgt S. Young F/E (572343)
Sgt W. Halsall A/G (991197)
Sgt F.H. Allen A/G (1332207)
The well scattered remains of the Lancaster bomber were found by Exeter BSAC on 13th April 1975, on the south side of the Breakwater at the western end in a depth of 15m. On 22nd November 1975 the Devon Aircraft Research & Recovery Team (DARTT) assisted by local divers recovered one of the Packard Merlin engines and one of the front oleo legs with an intact and inflated tyre.
The engines and pieces of airframe were visible in the sand amongst the boulders that make up the breakwater but are now mostly gone, some buried by the recent addition of more blocks used to reinforce the breakwater. In recent years divers have reported seeing the remains of a gun turret and another propeller and gear unit on the sand nearby.
Please note that all aircraft in UK waters that have crashed during military service are protected under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.
Last updated 15 Feb 2022
Position GPS: 50° 19.998 N 004° 09.240 W
13th February 1943
Avro Lancaster Mk III
A.V. Roe & Co, Avro
F/Sgt Gifford Benjamin Coles Miller
Four 1420hp Packard Merlin 28 12 cylinder inline engines
Located, partly salvaged
Lancaster Bomber on Plymouth Breakwater
By Peter Mitchell, Submerged
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