November 22, 1943, in the outskirts of Berlin, Germany. Two German officers and their lady friends arrive at a railway station. Before German guards have time to check their papers, the Lancaster ‘Ruhr Express’ arrives overhead during its dash back to England. Even though it’s running on three engines, the aircraft had trouble sustaining altitude.
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Lieutenant-General R.J. Lane, DSO, DFC, C.D. joined the RCAF in 1940 and after being commissioned, went overseas in 1941. He then did three tours of operations from England with Bomber Command, including two tours with the Pathfinder Force, one as Officer Commanding 405 Squadron RCAF. His first operation was an attack on Berlin in November 1941. Early trips also included two daylight attacks on Brest and two low-level night attacks on the German battleship Tirpitz, in Norway. In July 1943 he returned to Canada and flew the first Canadian-built Lancaster ‘Ruhr Express’ to England, where it went to 405 Squadron RCAF at Gransden Lodge near Cambridge. While Group Captain Lane was C/O of 405, he completed his third tour of operations, including several as ‘Master Bomber.’ He finally returned to Canada in 1946 with a permanent commission in the RCAF.
F/Lt. W. Ernest Towne joined the RCAF in 1940. He was sent overseas in 1944 and commenced operations on Halifaxes with 427 Squadron at Leeming. In early 1945 he converted to Lancasters and flew 13 ops on the type. Post-war, he flew B-25′s and C-45′s.
F/Lt. Harry Haxby, DFM joined the RAF in 1938 and trained as an aero-engine fitter. He volunteered for Flight Engineer in 1942 and joined 35 Squadron. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal in 1942. By 1943, he was commissioned and completed his second tour with the pathfinders. Forty-six of his operations were with Reg Lane as his captain.
F/Lt. Bill Blackwood was accepted into the RCAF in 1937. He flew with 426 Squadron as Flight Engineer, where he did two hours of operations. Sorties included strikes on power stations in northern Germany. Postwar, he was with NATO forces for five years in France, and was finally on Hercules aircraft.
F/O Joe Speare joined the RCAF in 1942 at the age of seventeen and a half. After receiving his Bomb Aimer Wing in Edmonton, Alberta, he flew from England on Lancasters with 514 Squadron. He was with a number of crews, most of whom went missing. He completed 21 operational sorties.
F/Lt. Nick W. Stroich, DFC. Rear Gunner Nick Stroich served as a gunnery instructor at #3 B and G Macdonald, Manitoba, before being shipped to England in January 1944. He flew with 429 Squadron at Leeming on Halifaxes for 13 ops . His crew were selected for Pathfinder training and he was then posted to 405 Pathfinder Squadron, where he did 39 ops on Lancasters for a total of 52 missions.
F/O Bill Duff joined the RCAF in 1942. After being awarded his Bomb Aimer Wing as a P/O, he went to Nova Scotia for a Commando course. Posted to 427 Squadron at Leeming, England, he completed 29 ops on Halifaxes and Lancasters, with his last trip on a raid to Breemen, Germany. He finished his tour with 189 hours and 50 minutes of operational flying. Skipper on all his trips was Ernie Towne.
F/O Gilbert Dewitt enlisted in the RCAF at Calgary, Alberta, in 1942 at the age of seventeen. After receiving his wings, he was commissioned in 1944. Gilbert converted to heavy bombers (Lancasters) at Langar, England. With 514 Squadron RAF at Waterbeach, he then flew operational missions. By May 1945 he had completed 20 missions, and then volunteered in the war against Japan.
The Avro Lancaster bomber was an awesome weapon of war. Developed from the Avro Manchester, the Lancaster came to represent the will of Commonwealth nations to carry the air war into Germany and occupied Europe. Able to carry four times the bomb load of a B-17, it flew by night across enemy territory, defying the Luftwaffe and destroying factories and cities.
KB700 ‘Ruhr Express’ was the first Canadian-built Lancaster, and flew with 405 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force. Designated ‘Q’ for Queenie, it was flown from Canada to England by Reg Lane, who then became C/O of 405 Squadron.
On the night of November 22, 1943, P/O H. A. Floren turned ‘Ruhr Express’ away from Berlin when the port outer engine failed. On December 20, the aircraft was transferred to 419 Squadron RCAF, which already had started to convert to Canadian-built Lancasters. It was thought that there were too many differences between the British- and Canadian-built Lancasters, causing maintenance problems. So they were separated for logistical reasons.
‘Ruhr Express’ ended up being totally destroyed when it struck a ground vehicle during landing. The crew survived.