Towards the end of WW2 in 1945, a very different use was found for the familiar Lancaster Bomber. Instead of being seen as causing death and destruction over Europe it now became a sign of life and hope for our own loved ones. Between 3 April-31 May 1945 the operation flew missions to bring PoWs home.
By April 1945 there were more than 354,000 ex-prisoners of war stranded in Europe, having been liberated from PoW camps hundreds of miles from their homeland. They had travelled to collection points all over Europe but had no means of coming home. Many of these young men were sick, starving and wounded so it was obvious that they needed help and quickly.
THE CONVERTED LANCASTER
A massive air operation would be required and the Lancaster was one of the aircraft thought most suitable for this kind of use. She was adapted to carry small groups of between 20 to 25 people. Firstly, flown out to Belgium where our men were gathered in the various collection bases, awaiting transport home.
Bomber Command flew over 3,500 sorties to collect our ex prisoners of war from overseas and bring them back home. Most of the aircraft landed in the South of the country where the rescued men, many thousands of them arriving each day, were then sent on to British receiving centres.
There were two thousand nine hundred missions from the Belgian bases alone, arriving in England in just 23 days. At the height of this operation the repatriation aircraft from Europe were arriving in England at a rate of 16 aircraft per hour, bringing home over one thousand of our young people each day.
What a wonderful and extraordinary feat!
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Picture courtesy of: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Exodus_(WWII_operation)