On the night of July 12,1943, Lancaster LM311, better known as Liz’beth, lumbered into the air from Bottlesford airfield in England for a flight that would end in tragedy.
She had apparently acquired her name from the fiancée of one the crew, who served as a WAAF driver on the base.
Another version of the story is that she was named after the mum of the youngest crew member, Sgt Patrick Donlevy, a 19-year-old wireless operator from Pathhead.
The aircraft, although Australian, was mainly crewed by Scotsmen, the pilot Sergeant Cedric Chapman was the only Aussie onboard, the others were bomb aimer Sergeant Norman Smith (21), from Edinburgh; flight engineer Sergeant Jack Greenwood (25), from Yorkshire; gunner Sergeant William Buchanan (20), from Glasgow; navigator Sergeant Albert Edwards (20) from Glasgow; gunner Sergeant William Bruce (22), from Renfrewshire; and Pat Donlevy from Midlothian.
The target for that night was a distant one, the Italian city of Turin.
On the flight to Turin, one aircraft crashed in neutral Switzerland, killing everyone on-board, another was shot down near the Italian frontier.
On the bombing run itself, Liz’beth took a direct hit from an anti-aircraft gun which caused damage to the tail section.
After checks were made, the pilot decided that he could fly the damaged plane back to England.
Back at Bottlesford, the aircraft returned to base one by one.
X-Ray, Able and Yorker flew back in rapid succession until all remaining aircraft were back bar Liz’beth.
The tension in the control tower could be cut with a knife.
Chapman asked for permission to ‘pancake’ or land.
He received the reply “Bedrock to Liz’beth , you may pancake, over” .
Chapman responded “Liz’beth to Bedrock, Roger thanks. Out.”
It would be the last words he would utter. As the Lancaster lined up on the runway, the pilot went through all his pre-landing drill, everything seemed fine.
Wheels-check, Gyro – check, Mixture – Check, Flaps – Check.
Just as the flaps lowered, a shudder went through the aircraft and, to their horror, they felt the tail of the plane break off, sending it into a vertical dive from a few hundred feet. A parachute was seen to come out of the tail just as she hit the ground – it was too late.
Liz’beth struck the ground and exploded in a massive fireball.
The crash alarm screamed out across the base and fire engines descended on the burning plane, sadly it was obvious no one could have survived the impact or the fire.