The destination for history

The nose art of the Lancaster bomber


During World War Two Lancasters were identified within a squadron with letters which for ease of hearing were extended with a word identifier such as M-Mother, Q-Queenie, R-Roger and L-London.

Often, their crews gave them nicknames which were painted just below the cockpit. Sometimes the names were accompanied by artwork such as that of the Grim Reaper dispensing bombs on The Phantom of the Ruhr. As well as the phantom image, the aircraft’s nose is decorated with a record of operational sorties using yellow bomb symbols while a red bomb signified a trip to the ‘Big City’, as the bomber crews referred to Berlin. The inclusion of a white bomb generally indicated a daylight raid.  An ice-cream cornet symbolised raids on Italian targets such as Milan and Turin. As operations (ops) go, Phantom of the Ruhr completed 121 not out.


‘The Phantom of the Ruhr’

In the 1940s, it was considered normal to depict a scantily clad or even bare-breasted young woman to accompany a female aircraft name. This, perhaps, isn’t so very different from a ship’s figurehead designed to keep sea-monsters at bay.


‘Oomph Gal’

Lancasters of the Royal Australian Air Force had their own idiosyncratic nose symbols. For instance, Lancaster III ED664 AR-A2 Aussie on 460 Squadron RAAF at Binbrook sported an ‘Advance Australia’ badge. The 35 ops were depicted on the bomb log by kangaroos with RAAF wings and a Distinguished Flying Cross ribbon above them. Another of 460 Squadron’s Lancasters proudly displayed a flying kangaroo.



Admiral Prune in early November 1942; the smiling face in the cockpit is that of P/O Pilot Officer) Jimmy Cooper. Because the squadron often dropped sea mines on ‘gardening’ operations and at the time naval officers were attached to the unit, several of the aircraft displayed Admiral-prefixed nicknames.


‘Admiral Prune’

It was rumoured that ED382 J-Joe, which has a portrait of Joseph Stalin on the nose, may have been so named by a ground crew member who had a copy of the Communist Daily Worker delivered every day. J-Joe operated later on 625 and 300 Squadrons and other units and survived the war.



The king inspects a line-up of ground crewmen beneath the nose of Frederick III ED989/DX-F, which has a motif derived from a caricature of W/C (Wing Commander) ‘Freddie’ Campbell Hopcroft, CO of 57 Squadron, which shared Scampton with 617 Squadron.


‘Frederick III’

Lancaster B.I R5868 S-Sugar on 467 Squadron RAAF after completing its 100th op on 12 May 1944; LAC Poone adds the 100th bomb symbol. This famous Lancaster had flown 68 operations on 83 Squadron at Scampton and Wyton as Q-Queenie (July 1942–August 1943) before joining 467 Squadron RAAF at Bottesford in September. The Goering quotation, ‘NO ENEMY PLANE WILL FLY OVER THE REICH TERRITORY’, was added by LAC Willoughby, one of the engine fitters around the time that S-Sugar had completed 88 ops.



Minnie the Moocher, a name derived from ‘Cab’ Calloway’s popular slow blues song, and ground crew on 12 Squadron at Wickenby in July 1944.


‘Minnie the Moocher’

Lancaster Winnie, showing that the Americans were not the only air force to decorate their bombers with nose art and other paraphernalia.



Lancaster F-Fox Ad Extremum ‘Press On Regardless’ on 550 Squadron at North Killingholme, taken after the Lancaster’s 100th operation. In the cockpit is the skipper, F/L (Flight Lieutenant) David Shaw from Thornton in Fife.



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A selection of books by Martin Bowman