View Full Version : Lancaster corkscrew manoeuvre over-rated?

Tee Emm
23rd Feb 2007, 11:10
The standard evasive manoeuvre by bomber command aircraft in WW2 to avoid fighter attacks was the corkscrew manaoevre. This consisted basically of a series of steep diving and climbing turns in alternate directions and was thought to make it difficult for a fighter to bring its fixed guns to bear.

Having flown Lincolns on fighter affiliation, I found the manoeuvre required a fair amount of strength on the controls and the dangerous part was when the controls were reversed at top and bottom part of the manoeuvre where for a few seconds the aircraft was a sitting duck.

I had the privilige a few years ago of listening to a talk by a well known highly decorated British Spitfire pilot involved in operations over Europe from 1942 onwards. He stated that the corkscrew manoeuvre used by RAF heavy bombers was generally ineffective against enemy fighters because of the lag that was apparent when the bomber was rolled through level flight on it's way to the steep reversal. His view being that it was easy to hit the bomber if you just waited until it passed through wings level. He said he could never understand why the manoeuvre was used in the first place and that bomber casualties could have been minimised if the corkscrew had never been adopted.

Obviously a bomber couldn't just sit there while being attacked so one wonders what other action it could do to give the enemy fighter a difficult shot. Comments appreciated.

23rd Feb 2007, 11:23
My Dad swears that the Spitfires and Hurricanes that they did fighter affiliation with in their Halifax III couldn't get a camera gun on them when doing corkscrews. Dad's pilot had already done a tour on Hurricanes so maybe that gave him an edge over somebody who came from a purely "bomber" flying background.

23rd Feb 2007, 11:32
I may be wrong here, but I always thought the corkscrew was meant to get the aircraft out of searchlight cones. This would also have had validity in escaping from the early AI systems which had limited range and azimuth capabilities. Not so sure your spitfire pilot was operating as a night fighter pilot over Europe to offer a truly informed comment. For the big 3 bombers, (Lancaster, Halifax, Stirling) there was a criminal lack of ventral defence, IIRC very few ever had a credible installation to discourage the Nachtjagdgeschwader from attacking from below the aircraft. One suspects that the development of schragemusik installations and the increasingly skillful use of GCI and AI was indeed the cause for the high rate of loss amongst the bomber streams.
Just a thought, respects to all who fell

23rd Feb 2007, 18:06
The corkscrew manoeuvre was evolved as a defence against radar equipped night fighters or those operating visually (Wilde Sau) on dark or poor vis nights. Bearing in mind that RAF heavies only operated at night until very late in the war. The idea being that it was difficult for the fighter to pick up the change in direction quickly enough and ended up swinging around like a ball on the end of a string. The manoeuvre could be quite effective. A German night fighter pilot under interrogation said that once he followed a corkscrewing Lancaster for half an hour and never once got into a position for a burst. The success depended of course on the gunners sighting the night fighter early enough - not easy. When the Germans started to use the upward firing Schrage Musik installations, this became even more difficult
I cannot believe however that in daylight or bright moonlight, a fighter with its much greater available roll and pitch capability would have difficulty getting a sighting solution. The only tactic then I would have thought would be a last second hard turn towards the fighter to maximise the deflection angle and give the gunners a chance for a shot.
The idea of the day fighter affiliation practices was for the bomber crew to practice their handling and crew coordination and for the fighter to practice his deflection estimation.

henry crun
23rd Feb 2007, 19:10
rotorfossil and Kit bag have given the right answer.

Following an evading aircraft with the early AI radar was no easy matter, and if contact was lost the chances of regaining it would be slim.

I can speak from experience when I say that trying to keep an illuminated gunsight on an evading target at night is also no easy task.

It is a different matter in bright moonlight if one can position and keep the target upmoon.

25th Feb 2007, 17:49
Nobody's mentioned it, so I suppose I must. Fighter affiliation exercises were more for training the bomber gunners, rather than the fighter pilot. In such exercises the fighter pilot wasn't receiving return fire, so he wouldn't be in a position to judge how well the manouvre was succeeding in engaging him.

The Lancaster - and other 'heavies' - didn't simply use the corkscrew as an evasive manouvre. It was initiated by the gunners and gave them a better shot at an attacking fighter than the fighter had at them. It would generally be the gunner who spotted the approaching fighter who gave the "Corkscrew left (or right)" instruction to the pilot and who would engage the other aircraft knowing in advance which way the turns would be going.

26th Feb 2007, 11:03
The Lancaster - and other 'heavies' - didn't simply use the corkscrew as an evasive manouvre. It was initiated by the gunners and gave them a better shot at an attacking fighter than the fighter had at them.
I am not sure of the above statement. The reason perhaps was the gunners saw the attackers first since they were looking backwards and would warn the pilot to turn into the attack rather than guide the pilot to turn so that they (the gunners) could get a better shot at the attacker? There is no way the bomber pilot could see the fighter coming up behind the tail and therefore he relied on an alert gunner to warn you when to turn hard toward the threat.

PPRuNe Pop
26th Feb 2007, 13:29
In essence quite right it seems to me.

There is a book called "617 Squadron" by Tom Bennett in which one chapter is devoted entirely to one Flight Sergeant McLean who had already won the DFM and had mastered the corkscrew technique providing the pilot acted at his command. Tom joined 617 Squadron from 4 Grp at the time Leonard Cheshire was the CO. The CO decided he would put Tom McLean in the crew of a Canadian, Flt.Lt Bill Duffy, the crew being affectionately known as "Duffy's Mob."

The initial action was what Tom called "ready to corkscrew port/starboard" just before the fighter was trying to get into effective minimum range and then use the word "drop" which then required the pilot to haul the throttles back which would cause the aircraft to slow rapidly and suddenly bring the fighter into range and a terrible surprise. At this point the corkscrew would commence under the gunner's commands. Then the pilot would open the throttles again to where they were previously.

They practiced the manouver many times over The Wash with Mustangs who could not get the hang of it at all, and were 'beaten' each time.

The night that went down in history for 617, amongst its many other achievements, was its attack on Metz in March 1944, or it would have been if the weather had been OK, but they were re-called and it was soon after that three Me 110's and one Me109 attacked the Lancaster. After "brilliant" corkscrewing, as Tom McLean called it, he shot down ALL four - with the technique being used to great effect.

Now, it may be that others had not practiced it to the quality of "Duffy's Mob" but it was certainly used most effectively in the space of 35 minutes!

Tom McLean was awarded the DFC for that action and was also promoted to Warrant Officer.

So, it seems by and large, that the corkscrew was VERY effective if performed the way it was in March 1944 by that particular crew.

I am afraid I may not have given the true flavour of such a truly remarkable action, and reflected so well in Tom Bennett's book, so I would recommend you get it if you can. There are other sensational chapters to buzz the mind!


26th Feb 2007, 15:26
As told to me by a long-retired, now passed-away, RAF Lancaster pilot, there were plenty of anxious moments while waiting for the command "ready to corkscrew port/starboard". A certain tail-gunner on his crew had a stress induced stutter, and with a mix of humour and gut-wrenching fear, they awaited his command, "c-c-corkscrew p-port, g-g-...g-g-...g-go!"
Tom Bennett's book sounds brilliant!

6th Mar 2007, 11:10
My understanding is that there were two corkscrew manoeuvres:

1) Light corkscrewing along the general course to confuse radar-predicted flak and to improve the chances of spotting a nightfighter,

2) Evasive corkscrewing when a nightfighter was observed, both to escape and provide greater opportunity for the gunners. Although a violently corkscrewing Lanc can't have been much of a stable platform.

The night war over Europe became very confusing for all participants, heavies being hunted by a variety of Luftwaffe nightfighters being hunted by Serrate Mosquitos being (probably) hunted by Me262

Sunderlands could corkscrew to good effect, accounts of N/461's epic battle with 8 JU88s in 1943 are worth searching for.

6th Mar 2007, 19:33
Tom McLean was awarded the DFC for that action and was also promoted to Warrant Officer.
Sorry Pop, 'twas 'tother way 'round. :=
A DFC can ONLY be awarded to an Officer. Ergo, he HAD to have a Promotion, before being awarded the gong :ok:
The ex's uncle was the same [Flt Sgt, with DFC, but was promelgated [sp] before the citation

6th Mar 2007, 20:19
I'm not of war vintage but I've done a bit of night flying in my time. I would not like to follow a corkscrewing bomber under the circumstances described. I would think it would be extremely easy for a Spitfire to follow a Lancaster in daylight exercise conditions. I suppose that in the stress of combat, at night, a Nightfighter pilot would not want to follow a Lanc bristling with machine guns into the gloop. Best to go and find one that is unaware of my presence. Better than getting disorientated and losing control or even shot down. ...I would guess!

PPRuNe Pop
6th Mar 2007, 21:02

I was saying as it was in the book. He still got the DFC however and finished his service as a WO.

Edit: He was in fact promoted to WO on the orders of AVM Sir Ralph Cochrane, who was the AOC 5 Group at the time of the operation. It is also interesting to note that the AOC heard of Tom's action when the aircraft was still mid-channel and wanted to meet Tom when they landed - at 0230 - to hear about the whole action. They shared tea and biscuits, with a large tot of rum, in the officers mess.

It was Leonard Cheshire who recommended Tom McLean for the DFC.

It was, as you rightly say, the other way round.

9th Mar 2007, 22:18
I read a while back of one Lancaster manoeuvre attributed to Erik ("Velcro Lips") Nielsen, QC, DFC, formerly deputy prime minister of Canada and brother of the movie actor Leslie Nielsen (himself a former air gunner). Over occupied Europe, Erik Nielsen's Lancaster was coned by searchlights. His every effort to escape defeated, he told the crew to make sure they were tightly strapped in, put the aircraft into a max-power climb, and as speed dropped off, lowered flap and stayed in the climb.

Then he whipped up the flaps, cut off power, stalled, dropped like a stone out of the cone, regathered speed far below, and so to home.

10th Mar 2007, 00:16
Brilliant! :ok: Thanks, Davaar, for reminding me and my fellow Canadians that some of our senior public servants have performed some very valiant acts for King and Country. I only wish the current generation of Canadians, (immigrants included), and the present crop of politicians, would recognize, and respect, our glorious past and the sacrifices of a generation. Only then can we begin to assure ourselves of a secure and democratic future.

10th Mar 2007, 22:18
Until recently, evans, there were many of them around. At Canadair a while back, throw a stone and you hit a DSO or a DFC.

In the Justice Department I met a chap, one XX Davidson (died not long ago), who was an air gunner in Lancasters. He started as a sergeant. Just before one trip there was a squeal of tires outside the briefing hut, and in came a senior RAF officer with a Luftwaffe pilot in tow. Why he told them this I do not know, but the Luftwaffe chap told them of a new fighter tactic.

A section would attack together. One would approach from starboard and drop a flare. This would attract all the attention, all the guns would swing to starboard, and his mate would slide in out of the darkness to port, and write off another Lanc.

Off they went. Over Germany, sure enough, a flare was dropped suddenly on one side from an attacking fighter, and Davidson instantly swung his guns to the other side. As advertised, there was sneaky beaky getting set. Davidson blasted him out of the sky.

As the raid continued, Davidson saw the exhaust of a fighter flying straight and level just above them. He called the captain and said to cut back gently on power so as not to create backfires, and to let the speed decay. When he said "Break!", they should break to port. The captain did so, the fighter pulled ahead, Davidson reamed it out from below, and called "Break". End of FW 190.

He was a sergeant when he set out and a pilot officer when he returned, commissioned in the field. By the end of his tour he was a flight lieutenant, squadron gunnery officer.

He put in for flying training and was returned to Canada. One day the CO called him in, said he had had a fighting war, the RCAF had so many pilots they were driving jeeps, and would he like to go home? Well Yes, he would.
He enrolled in Law at Dalhousie.

One day in Halifax he was walking down the street in civvies and a group of young soldiers mocked him for a yellow-belly draft dodger. He produced his 1250, gave them Hell, and told them he'd have them posted to Outer Misery, Siberia.

At the time of that incident in Halifax he was 19 years old.

14th Mar 2007, 12:53
Thanks Davaar . . . veterans such as the galant Davidson, as ever, give us pause to think of days we can but vaguely imagine. (Near to me lives a 617 Squadron pilot from the dams' raid days who tells a tale or two to shiver the spine.)

The great Leonard Cheshire VC tried a cockscrew tactic to escape the cones of searchlights. It is described in either his own book, "Bomber Pilot", or in the brilliant biography by Andrew Boyle.. . .maybe in both. It was so hairy he did not make it a manoeuvre for all to employ.

Another outstanding biography by Boyle was the Trenchard one. What a man. What a today unappreciated legacy of dauntless courage and integrity.

15th Mar 2007, 00:27
In fact, fantome, there was more. Gordon (his name came back to me) Davidson found it hard to settle down, as we may imagine, and dropped out of Dal. He went to the States and got work as a cowboy. One thing led to another, and he found himself appointed a deputy sheriff. In some local hostelry a miscreant was terrorising the good folks with undisciplined use of a revolver, I suppose I should call it a six-gun. By judicious use of personality, Deputy Davidson disarmed the naughty fellow and put him in jail to think things over.

Davidson returned to his studies, graduated, and was called to the Bar (the legal one, not the Wild West one).

One summer a generation later his son was working on a student job at one of the Alberta tourist hotels, Jasper as I recall. Among the other student workers was one from the US. In conversation it turned out that he was a son of the "disarmed" one, by now a pillar of the community. Small world, as they say.

Davidson was the classic quiet wee chap, below middle height, slightly built, whom you would never notice in a crowd.

At one of the smaller air displays a few years back there was a Fleet Air Arm marquee and among the swarm was one Hank Rotherham, late RN and RCN. Hank was CO of a FAA training airfield at Orkney when the rumours came from coastal observers in Europe that Bismarck had left Norway. The Cabinet had to find out if it was true, but the weather was so bad nothing was flying. The CFI at the training unit volunteered to pilot a Martin Maryland if someone would volunteer to navigate. Rotherham was an (O), he volunteered, so off they went, he as navigator.

Below cloud base they could scarcely avoid the waves so they went up into cloud and flew D/R. When by calculation of time they were all but hitting the Norwegian coast they came down to the wave tops and there was their planned landfall dead ahead. They crossed Bismarck’s former mooring at zero feet. She was gone. The entire base was shooting at them. Because there was no flying there was virtually no radio watch on any frequency. The only one they could raise was the training frequency at their home airfield. They made it back and as I recall Rotherham was taken to the mainland by destroyer and thence to London to brief Churchill. That is what sent HMS Hood and the Fleet out after Bismarck. He got the DSO.

My late Father used to say that when he was visiting anywhere, and there was an old bloke sitting in the corner smoking his pipe, he would make sure to talk to that old bloke. That old bloke, he would say, has been everywhere, has seen everything, and has done everything. Not far from the truth.

17th Mar 2007, 08:42
Let me justify one more contribution by the fact that fewer and fewer survive of those who were there, and even of those who knew those who were there. Some of these sidelights on history can easily be lost.

I had read that sometimes they would do mods on a Lanc here and there to make it into a "gunship" (my terminology; I do not know what they called them).

The idea was to mount many extra machine guns in "one-off" firing points, send the aircraft off on a raid with no bombs but with appropriate extra air-gunners, and loaded down with all the ammunition it would carry. When attacked it would light up into a Christmas tree of tracer, to the shock and dismay of attacking fighters.

I put the question to an old friend of mine, ex-Lancaster pilot, DFC (died last year, alas) of the RCAF, and he confirmed they did indeed do that.

23rd Mar 2007, 19:43
Dunno about overrated but my stepfather swore one particular violent chukabout saved his bacon in late 43. He survived 68 ops and reckoned that in all he was involved in 8 precautionary and two actual 'under attack' evasions. The late 43 event was on his second Lancaster op after converting from the Stirling, he was adamant that had the ME110 that trounced them, pounced whilst they were still flying the 'Belfast bomber' then they wouldn't have got away with it. I recall that he noted that two versions of the screw were taught the 'little and large' ? Comments as to difference please.
The cannon splinters in the right shoulder of his Irvin show how close they came to the chop. The ME110 went down care of the mid upper.

24th Mar 2007, 01:31
Mike7777777 Luftwaffe nightfighters being hunted by Serrate Mosquitos being (probably) hunted by Me262Actually very few and, as I understand it, only right at the end of the war. For the most part, the Serrate Mosquito was up against the ME110 and the Ju88. I am not at home this weekend and so cannot double check in my father's book but will do so next week.

24th Mar 2007, 10:49
It wasn't only used during WWII. I was shown the manoevre during MOTU (by an ex Lanc pilot) as an evasion technique, and rumour has it a 205 Sqn Shack employed it when bounced by a P51 during 'Confrontation' with Indonesia in the 60's. I used it to surprise an RN Phantom that tried to get behind us in the Med later, and finished with some nice photos from the front turret (unfortunately no guns) of said F4 nicely framed! Unfortunately I believe the knowledge of the exercise has now disappeared from the corporate flying knowledge in the RAF (the System Approach to Flying Training - only teach what is essentail, dump everything else).

* * Pertama * *

28th Mar 2007, 19:35
Mike7777777 I have now been able to check the details in my father's book and there is no record of them encountering the ME 262, before VE Day.

My father was in Beaus and Mossies on night fighter operations from the earliest days of the airbourne radar and completed over 100 trips. It may well be that other Night Fighter Squadrons (they were in 141) did meet the 262.

29th Mar 2007, 02:42
By September he was transferred as Commanding Officer of III. Gruppe, Jagdgeschwader 26. In March 1945, Krupinski was transferred to the aces unit Jagdverband 44, which flew the Me 262 jet.

This from a Google entry on Lt Gen Walter Krupinski, who retrained in part at RAF Valley in 1956. The unit referred to was commanded by General Galland. I have a friend, still alive, who tells me he sat in an Me 262 several times towards the end of the war, ready to go, but they could never take off because of the endless circus of P.51s over their field ready to pounce. On that topic, he once rejoined the circuit traffic at base in an Me 109 downwind as No 2 or No 3 to finals, so it appeared, and to his horror he realised in time the "other" 109s were P.51s. He realised the situation before they did, hit the deck and made his escape.

29th Mar 2007, 13:04
Thanks for that Davaar. Of course 'Jagdgeschwader' were predominantly 'day boys' and the Lancs met the 'Nachtjagdgeschwader'. I see a report on Wikipedia (and this is truncated):
... saw action starting in 1944 in bomber/reconnaissance and fighter/interceptor roles. While the Me 262 had a negligible impact on the course of the war (approximately 150 Allied aircraft losses for 100 Me 262 losses), its design was highly influential on postwar aircraft development.

2nd Apr 2007, 22:09
Whilst not strictly about the corkscrew issue it is related - there were always divided opinions amongst "Bomber Boys" as to whether it was better to weave along your course or maintain steady flight.

4th Apr 2007, 20:37
A brief discussion of the Corkscrew.....


5th Aug 2007, 22:29
Thank you for this, which answers a lot of questions.

It does raise one, though. The pic of the Lanc above shows the nose turret firing, but it occurs to me that in all the reading I have done of that campaign, I have never read any reference to the nose turret in a Lanc, or the nose gun in a Halifax, being used.

Were they?

6th Aug 2007, 05:48
there were always divided opinions amongst "Bomber Boys" as to whether it was better to weave along your course or maintain steady flight.I just finished reading a book about the night fighting experiences of John Cunningham's Radar Operator. From what he says, there's no doubt that weaving made it difficult for a night fighter to pick up a good trace, but on the other hand, if they did pick up a 'weaver', it was easier to catch up with their intended victim.

11th Aug 2007, 00:04
he confirmed they did indeed do that.The Americans did that also with B17 gunships. IIRC though, the program wasn't a grteat success, (possibly due to the extra weight and slower speed) so it was discontinued.

13th Aug 2007, 20:34
I think the point that has to borne in mind (and confirmed by the description of WO Tom McLean's action) is that a corkscrew had to VIOLENT to be effective. This was also confirmed by the late Jack Currie (author: Lancaster Target) whom I met just before he died, who said the same.

By the way, Jack has wonderful description in that book of a combat with a 110 in which he corkscrewed for 20 mins or more evading numerous attacks; very tired, he glanced to port to see the 110 off the port wing only few yards away and had to shout at the Mid Upper “for Christ’s sake Protheroe (for ‘twas the Mid Upper’s name) SHOOT THAT BASTARD DOWN!”. Mid Upper promptly opened fire, and the 110 pi$$ed off. The 18 year old mid upper had been so engrossed in passing avoiding action that he had ‘forgotten’ to open fire!!!!! Having read the story, to have it personally relayed to you over a glass or so of Famous Grouse was a (spine chilling) treat and a half.

We are not worthy to lick the boots of these types. Utmost respect, guys.

Old Hairy
13th Aug 2007, 21:56
Very interesting read.I remember on 57Sqn. Victors.doing fighter affil.exercises with Lightnings to check a useless piece of equipment that the AEO interpreted to ascertain if we were being attacked from astern.Our only means to avoid being shot down was yes...............a corkscrew,before the figter pilot called "Bingo".That was the early sixties.Thank the Lord we did not have to go to war. I always remember my first Combat Star check,being asked by the Trapper my first action on receiving the Go Message.I rattled off several answers,to be met with a shake of the head,"Your first action is to eat your sandwiches,before they become radioactive":confused::confused:Before anyone asks why we did not dispense chaff when being attacked,we did once:( when we returned to base,we found the battery bay full of chaff.Later Mk2 had dispensers mounted on the wing
Old Hairy

old,not bold
19th Aug 2007, 19:28
My father (Lanc pilot) said that a violent corkscrew didn't do him much good when he tried it, and he had 2 years in SLIII to prove it. I didn't ask whether he did it violently, but I suspect so.