The RAF BBMF Lancaster, PA474, has taken on a new ‘identity’ as 617 Squadron Lancaster B1, DV385, “Thumper Mk III”. This aircraft was one of the brand-new standard Lancasters issued to 617 Squadron as replacements after the ‘Dams Raid’ in 1943.

DV385 was delivered to 617 Squadron in November 1943, whilst the unit was based at Coningsby, and then moved with the Squadron to Woodhall Spa in January 1944. The aircraft was retro-fitted with bulged bomb bay doors to enable it to carry a 12,000-lb ‘Tallboy’ ‘earthquake’ bomb internally, and it initially wore the code letters ‘KC-A’ (later on it was also coded ‘KC-V’ and then ‘KV-T’).

The “Thumper” nose art features the cartoon rabbit – from the 1942 Walt Disney cartoon ‘Bambi’ – holding a foaming pint of beer.

DV385 flew a total of 50 ‘ops’, of which 37 were successful (bombs dropped). 35 ‘ops’ are shown on the ‘bomb log’ under the cockpit as per a wartime photograph. The bomb symbols include one with a ‘D’ for Operation ‘Taxable’ (the ‘spoof’ D-Day chaff mission on 5/6 June 1944) and one with a swastika denoting a kill against a German fighter.

“Thumper Mk III” dropped a total of 15 ‘Tallboys’ and also dropped five 12,000-lb HC blast bombs. It was involved in many important missions, including the first ‘Tallboy’ raid against the Saumur railway tunnel on 8 June 1944 and many raids against ‘V’ weapon sites.

Between February and August 1944, the aircraft was mostly flown by then Flying Officer (later Flight Lieutenant) Bob Knights DSO DFC and his crew (they flew 28 ‘ops’in “Thumper” of which 23 successful). On 7 August 1944, a ‘skeleton crew’ of Bob Knights and his Flight Engineer (Fg Off Twells) delivered the aircraft to Coningsby for modifications to be carried out (after this Bob Knights flew Lancaster LM492 ‘KC-Q’).

“Thumper Mk III” was modified with the fitment of long range fuel tanks (increasing its fuel capacity to 2406 gals) and the removal of its mid-upper turret. Subsequently, it took part in the two raids against the battleship Tirpitz in Tromso Fjord on 28 October and 12 November 1944, flown by Flying Officer John Castagnola, who claimed a direct hit against the ship on the last raid.

The mid-upper turret was then re-fitted to “Thumper Mk III” for its remaining ‘ops’ up to March 1945. It survived the war and was scrapped after the war
had ended.

The BBMF Lancaster’s new identity provides a link to different events of importance during World War Two and the people whose courage and skill made them possible.

The nose art was carried out by Clive Denny from Vintage Fabrics whilst it was based at the Eastern Airways Hangar at Humberside Airport.