Lancaster: The Biography

Lancaster – The Biography

By Sqdn Ldr Tony Iveson DFC and Brian Milton
Published by Andre Deutsche

The Avro Lancaster was the greatest heavy bomber on any side in World War II. Dubbed ‘My Shining Sword’ by Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris, it was introduced into RAF service in 1942 after two years of night bombing by the Luftwaffe had killed 43,000 people on these islands. It carried twice the bomb load of its compatriot, the Handley Page Halifax, and was involved in all the great actions that finally turned the tide of war against Nazi Germany.

Tony Iveson started the war as a 19-year old sergeant pilot who flew Spitfires during the Battle of Britain, thrown in with just 10 hours experience at the height of the battle, and shot down over the North Sea just after his 21st birthday, ditching close to a home-bound convoy. Four years later, now a commissioned officer, he went on to complete 20 operations with the fabulous 617 Dambuster Squadron, including all three raids against the German battleship Tirpitz where he served as flight commander to the great James Tait, DSO and 3 bars. Brian Milton is an historian and pilot who made his name in epic adventurers in tiny open-cockpit microlight aircraft, in which he found common ground talking to the wartime generation who took the risks he aspired to as a matter of course.

The book tells the Lancaster story through the men who flew it, the ‘Last Witnesses’ – when they go, so their stories will too. These accounts include the stories of all eleven brave men who won Victoria Crosses flying Lancasters, most of who did not survive the experience. The book traces the aircraft’s origin in the Avro Manchester, which could so easily have been cancelled because of its poor performance, through the tough experiments with four engines (‘Oh, boy! Oh, boy! What an aircraft!’), and then the reckless risk of the 1942 Augsburg Raid, in which they heard from one surviving co-pilot, Patrick Dorhill of the single Lancaster of 44 Squadron – out of 6 sent out – among all the other crews killed. Dorhill’s pilot, John Nettleton, won the VC. They trace the history and execution of the Dambuster Raid, of the Battles of the Ruhr and of Hamburg, of Peenemunde against Hitler’s V1 and V2 rockets , including the death-ground that was the Battle of Berlin, through the survivors’ stories.

Tony Iveson brings a unique personal note with his experiences against the Tirpitz, and his epic flight in early 1945 against the Norwegian city of Bergen in which he had an engine fire, three of his crew took to their parachutes, and Iveson and his remaining crew nursed their stricken Lancaster back to Britain over 350 miles of open sea. It won him an immediate DFC.

They tell the stories, not just of the RAF, but of the Germans, too. The pilot who shot up Iveson over Bergen – and claimed him as a kill – tells his story, and they found a second German ace who was within 90 seconds of killing Iveson as the Tirpitz rolled over and died – they are now close friends. They also carried the detailed story of the German secret weapon Schrage Musik – Jazz Music – in which, just ten weeks before the war ended, a single German night-fighter ace shot down 7 Lancasters in 21 minutes. Even today, little has been told of that extraordinary story in which the downing of Lancasters was compared to shooting fish in a barrel.

‘Lancaster – The Biography’ has already been called a definitive history of a great aircraft, as reviews confirm.

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A fascinating study of the Lancaster, one of the most iconic aircraft to take to the skies. The book chronicles all the major operations in which it fought. It is very readable, contains lots of well chosen illustrations, it is also well-written, thoroughly researched, and will stand the test of time as a leading authority on a memorable aircraft.
Angela Youngman – Monsters & Critics

Tony Iveson is ideally qualified to tell the gripping story of the heavy bomber who took the fight to Nazi Germany in World War II. Iveson, who won the DFC, and Milton have spoken to many of the survivors, dubbed the Last Witnesses, of the Lancaster crews. Their stories tell of uncomplaining heroism and make for a thrilling page-turner.
Paul MacNamara – News of the World

Tony Iveson was a Lancaster pilot in 617 Dambuster Squadron who flew on all three raids on the German pocket battleship Tirpitz, and he, with legendary microlight pilot Brian Milton, has produced a fascinating study of the Lancaster that combines detailed research with spell-binding personal reminiscences. These make it one of those books you simply can’t put down. There is testimony from German fighter pilots pitted against the Lancaster – including the one who shot up Tony Iveson. Highly recommended.
David Bremner – Editor, Microlight Flying

‘Lancaster – The Biography’ is a new book that tells the magnificent story of the bomber that tore the heart out of Nazi Germany. It is a story of the finest bomber of the war, both in performance and in the way it could be saddled with ever-increasing loads without breaking the camel’s back. But it was not that alone. It was also the outstanding courage, dedication and determination of quiet heroes such as Squadron Leader Tony Iveson DFC.
Paul Callan – Daily Express