No. 460 Squadron (RAAF) att No. 4 Gp, RAF Bomber Command - "Strike and Return"

About This Unit

Main image

460 Squadron was an "Article XV Squadron" created as an adjunct to the Empire Air Training Scheme during WW II. As such it was one of a number of national squadrons (Australian Canadian, New Zealand and South African) formed to augment the RAF; all were "400" series designation. Crewing was multi-national but 460 like the other Australian Squadrons had a predominance of Australian crew, particularly towards the end of the war.

The Squadron was raised in England at West Malling in 1941.  It was initially equipped with the robust twin-engined Wellington bomber, then briefly with four engined Halifaxes.  It was ,re-equipped with the Lancaster in 1942 and it was with this aircraft that its reputation was forged.   For most of the rest of the war, 460 Squadron was based at RAF Binbrook in Lincolnshire.

460 Squadron's record was superlative; one of the most efficient in terms of serviceability ratios, most missions flown and greatest tonnage of bombs dropped in Bomber Command. 

However these records exacted a grim price; 181 aircraft and more than 1,000 crew lost.  Enemy anti aircraft fire, or 'flak' as it was known, and enemy night fighters were the principal adversaries.

Perhaps the most effective form of attack on a Lancaster was carried out by twin engined night fighters fitted with upward firing automatic 20mm cannon.  The fighter would approach from below and position itself under the Lancaster where it could not be seen from any of the defensive positions.  An unheralded,  furious burst of cannon fire into the belly of the aircraft would generally have fatal consequences for the Lancaster. Weather navigation and collisions could also exact losses.  

A Lancaster was crewed by seven men.  The Pilot, Flight Engineer, Bomb Aimer/Forward gunner, Navigator, Wireless Operator, Mid Upper Gunner and Tail Gunner.  The crew stations were concentrated immediately behind the pilot.  The tail and mid upper gunners were located towards the rear of the aircraft and separated from the rest of the crew by the main wing spar.  The pilot was 'on his own' although the Flight Engineer had a 'dickey seat', a folding canvas arrangement, alongside the pilot where he could sit for take-off and landing  when engine management  was at its most demanding.

In the event of calamity, getting out of a stricken Lancaster was not easy.  The tail gunner in particular had to open the rear door to his turret to get to his parachute, put it on and then wind the turret at 90 degrees to exit the aircraft through the rear turret door.

Aircraft were designated by two mechanisms; the squadron designation (in 460's case, the letters 'AR' and the aircraft identifier (potentially A through Z) and a unique 'tail number'. Throughout the text, aircraft will be referred to as 'A2' or 'J2' - the digit signifies the number of aircraft that had borne this designation implying that predecessor aircraft had been lost. However the unique identifier was what was known as the 'tail number' or manufacturer's number, generally a combination of letters and digits painted on the rear fuselage or tail.

The iconic "G for George" Lancaster in the Australian War Memorial Canberra, was a 460 Squadron aircraft. 460 Squadron was reformed in 2010 as an air intelligence unit, to perpetuate the squadron designation in honour of the men who had built its reputation.

More content under development.............


 We would particularly like to encourage individual historians researchers or members of unit associations to contribute to the development of a more detailed history and photographs pertaining to this unit and its members.

Please contact [email protected] (mailto:[email protected])  for details on how to contribute.



An Eventful Homecoming

Late on the night of 26 April 1944, 25 Lancasters from No 460 Squadron headed for Essen in the middle of the Ruhr. Almost over the target, Vic, our bomb aimer took over and began the familiar, "Left, left, steady, right, steady, bomb doors open, steady, right, steady, bombs gone, steady for photo". When the 14,000 lbs of bombs fell away the aircraft leapt upwards as it was relieved of the weight. A moment later, with the bomb doors still open and the aircraft steady on course, the plane rocked as a shower of bombs hit us from a Lancaster just over our heads. Fortunately, the 4,000 lb bomb missed us or we would have been blown to Kingdom Come. We were hit by a shower of incendiaries which immediately knocked out one engine and badly damaged another so that it was useless and the propeller could not be feathered, greatly increasing the drag on one side of the plane. A third motor was hit but kept going on reduced power. Another incendiary damaged the starboard fuel tank but did not set it alight. Yet another smashed the hydraulic system which operated the bomb doors, undercarriage and flaps. By a miracle no one was hit.
The Lancaster had started to dive away to port and the pilot and engineer struggled and brought the plane under control. With limited control and lack of speed giving us a much reduced airspeed, the skipper opted for a direct flight to base, even though we would be on our own across Germany. Losing altitude as we approached the Dutch coast we decided on the long sea crossing hoping to maintain enough height to make England. As we crossed the sea in the early hours of the morning the aircraft gradually lost height. With the bomb doors wide open, the bomb inspection covers had blown off and an icy gale whistled through the cabin. On two motors and the third propeller uselessly windmilling adding to the drag, we could go no faster than 140mph.
At 0345 we crossed the darkened coast of Lincolnshire at 1500 feet and turned for the short leg to Binbrook. In sight of the base beacon the third motor stopped. Bob, at once, feathered the engine and we began to lose what little altitude we had. We were now down to 600 feet above the Wolds. Bob called up flying control and asked for an emergency landing. To our incredulity and disgust, we were refused and told to go away to an emergency airfield in East Anglia.
Because we were arriving at the same time as the rest of 460 squadron aircraft flying control didn't want the runway blocked by a crashed aircraft. Bob Wade, with an understandably temper outburst at this callous unconcern by flying control for a Lancaster in such dire straits, told flying control with a few Australian adjectives included ignored the instructions and continued the approach telling Harry to operate the emergency lever to lower the undercarriage.
Just imagine coming in on a wing and a prayer. One motor, one wheel, and one ambition to get down in one try. ( a wartime song 'Comin' In On a Wing and a Prayer')
The only difference in this picture is that 460 squadron Lancs had Rolls Royce in line motors.
Only the right wheel came down and when an attempt was made to retract it, it remained down. With one engine working, one propeller windmilling, the bomb doors open, no flaps and one wheel up and one wheel down, and too low to bail out our only option was to ride the Lancaster to the ground.
Not wanting to block the runway, after telling control he was coming in whether they liked it or not, Bob lined up some 300 yards to the right. Even though it was very dark off to the side of the runway, he began the short final approach with no flaps to maintain lift at our low speed and holding the right wing low to counter balance the dead engines.
The Lancaster "B2" touched down on one wheel and ran along the grass at about 100 mph while Bob fought in the dark to keep the left wing up as long as possible. Gradually the wing sank lower and as the speed dropped shut off the last throttle. Suddenly the left wing tip touched the ground and immediately the aircraft ground–looped violently, spinning across the grass and finally coming to rest in the middle of the runway, right in the path of another Lancaster which was on the point of touching down.
As our aircraft came to rest there was a wild scramble to get clear in case the damaged fuel tank caught fire. First man out got stuck in the escape hatch but was quickly shoved out by those following.
Scrambling down the fuselage we ran for our lives. In the glow of the searchlight, the fire truck and ambulance raced across the grass, but we did not hear them because of the shattering roar of the engines of the Lancaster which had just touched down. Faced with a wrecked Lancaster in the middle of the runway, the pilot gunned his motors to emergency power and slowly struggled over our heads to safety. As the roar of the climbing aircraft died away, even though I was about 40 yards away, I knew Bob was still alive as I could hear him cursing and swearing as he turned off the switches.
Arthur Hoyle,


"Somewhere in France"

On the evening of 14th July 1944, with the D Day invasion in full swing, a massive air effort was being mounted to disrupt German transport links.

Having taken off from Binbrock (Lincolnshire-UK) on July 14, 1944, around 9:38 pm, for a bombing mission on the Révigny-sur-Ornain (Meuse) railroad, Lancaster ME755 AR-Z was shot down by a night fighter on the 15th. July 1944 around 02:05, near Chevillon Haute Marne in eastern France..

Only two crew members managed to escape:
F / Sgt Brian Francis RAFTERY, Wireless Operator, RAAF,
Sgt David WADE, AIr Gunner, of the RAF.

The rest died in the crash and are buried at Chevillon Communal Cemetery.

ALLAN, ALEXANDER, Sergeant, 562335, RAFVR, Flight Engineer,

DICKERSON, KEVIN LESLIE THOMAS, Flight Sergeant, 421578, RAAF, Age 20, Bomb Aimer

JEFFRIES, FREDERICK, Flight Sergeant, 1323904, RAFVR, Age 33, Navigator

KILSBY, HORACE SIDNEY, Sergeant, 1575038, RAFVR, Age 21, Air Gunner

VAUGHAN, WILLIAM ALAN HENRY, Pilot Officer, 421774, RAAF, Age 25, Pilot


G for George - a survivor. Started her career with 460 Squadron on 22 October 1942

Mk 1 Lancaster W4783 was built by Metropolitan-Vickers Limited in Manchester in the United Kingdom in mid-1942. It was taken on charge by the RAF on 22 October 1942 and then allocated to A Flight of No 460 Squadron as 'G for George' on this day.
During its 17 month operational career with No 460 Squadron, W4783 flew 89 missions. The first was on the night of 5 December 1942 to attack Mannheim, and the last on the night of 20 April 1944 against Cologne. When 'G for George' retired from operational service after this raid it had completed more operations than almost any other aircraft in RAF Bomber Command.
Having been identified for the purpose as early as November 1943, W4783 was flown to Australia in late 1944 to publicise the Victory Loans drive. It left the United Kingdom on 11 October and, flying via Iceland, Canada, the United States and various Pacific Islands, arrived at Amberley outside of Brisbane on 8 November.
W4783 toured Australia during 1945, and made its last flight, to RAAF Base Canberra, on 24 September 1945. W4738 spent almost ten years -- most of them exposed to the elements -- at RAAF Canberra before being installed at the Australian War Memorial (AWM) in Canberra where it was the centrepiece of Aircraft Hall for 44 years before being disassembled and removed for an extensive conservation program in March 1999. In the second half of 2003 it was reassembled, and returned to display, in Anzac Hall.
One of the icons of the AWM's collection, it is now one of only 17 Lancasters left in the world from the 7,378 originally manufactured.


Odds On

Courtesy of RAAF History Unit

'Air crew knew – or could know – what the losses were. They were quickly broadcast on the BBC and printed in newspapers. The only losses omitted were those unknown to the enemy – those “operational crashes” that took place in or close to England. In any case, the losses on an operating station were only too obvious to other crews as they waited in hope for friends late to land, and then saw the quick work of the Committee of Adjustment removing the possessions of those “missing as a result of air operations” so the rooms could be occupied quickly by a new crew. Before setting off on a raid experienced crew could make a quick assessment of the key factors – length of the flight, strength of the defences, the weather, the moon, and what had happened on previous raids to that target – and make a fairly accurate guess about how many were “for the chop”. So here was a strange situation where men going into battle could make a fairly accurate assessment of the likely losses.

For the men who did think about the odds they faced, a 3 per cent chance of dying on any one raid might seem reasonable. But they had to do this 30 times, and any air man could do the simple calculation that 30 times 3 per cent was 90 per cent. A 90 per cent chance of being among the missing was near enough to a certainty. If the tour was in the tough times of the Battle of Berlin, then the average loss on a raid was more like 4 per cent, and 30 times 4 per cent was 120 per cent. That was no chance. In fact, that simple multiplication does not give the odds of survival. A 3 per cent chance repeated 30 times gives a 40 per cent of completing a tour, still less than half but a lot better than 90 per cent. If the average loss rate was 5 per cent, then 21.5 per cent would complete a tour. Crews asked to fly a tour faced the probability of death, and all could know this.

The loss rate can be looked at another way. If a squadron was able to put into the air an average of twenty bombers on operating nights, and that was often the case with 460 Squadron, then over five operating nights it had to expect to lose three aircraft. In just three months (December 1943, and January and February 1944) 460 Squadron lost twenty aircraft, equal to its average fighting force. In the entire war 460 Squadron lost 1,083 aircrew. No Australian army battalion in the Second World War had anything like those battle losses, and the fighting force of a battalion is four or five times that of a bomber squadron.

In summary, the Australians who served in Bomber Command were:

Subjected to the most stringent selection and most demanding and dangerous training of any large group of servicemen to leave Australia;
Young compared with the men in other services and with those of equivalent rank;
Equipped with the most advanced technology then available and they used it in ways that were unknown even three years into the war;
Trained in a highly structured sequence of schools where others decided what they did and where they went, but they themselves chose who went into battle with them;
Sent into battle in crews that operated alone, were mutually dependent, and responsible for decisions that could kill themselves or large numbers of others;
Required to go into action when the odds of survival were known and consistent;
Committed to a tour of thirty operations when the cumulative losses over a tour meant that death was more likely than survival;
Engaged in the longest and most closely contested battles of the Second World War;
From their training days were often in situations of extreme danger, and all who survived knew many close colleagues who were killed in accidents and air battles;
Shifted sharply between peace and war;
In closer and more numerous associations with women than any other large group of servicemen in action in the Second World War;
In units that suffered the greatest battle losses of any Australian units in the Second World War, and whose total losses made up over 20 per cent of all Australian battle deaths;
Dispersed widely through RAF training and operating squadrons;
Directed to implement policies subjected to greater scrutiny for their morality and effectiveness than those of any other major Allied force; and
Appropriately remembered in the immediate postwar period, but since then have been given slight official and popular recognition.
The sum of all those points confirms that those in Bomber Command had a different war: it had no precedent and it will not recur. The disjunction lies between the last point and all those that go before it. A nation that asked so much of its citizens should remember them.'


If the enemy doesn't get you........................

A No 460 Squadron Lancaster was returning to Binbrook from a raid over Europe. The mid-upper gunner was leaving his turret when he accidentally trod on the aileron cables.
The aircraft was at 18,000 feet and suddenly went into a power dive.
The pilot and most of the crew were not strapped in and for a few seconds were pinned to the roof of the diving aircraft. One of the front Browning machine guns flew out of its mounting and went through the cockpit canopy. The pilot tried to order the crew to bale out but his intercom connection had been pulled out. He finally managed to bring the aircraft under control by using his foot on the aileron wheel when they were down to just 6,000 feet.
When they arrived back at Binbrook it was discovered the force of the dive had bent the wings while the prop blades were deeply pitted. The aircraft was later struck off charge as unairworthy and a few choice words were said to the mid upper gunner.

Airforce History Unit

Showing 5 of 5 stories