Mantiques: My WW2 bomber compass

Welcome to Mantique Monday (an opening that sounds better in my head than it reads on the screen, but these are desperate times so I’ll not discard a serviceable pun). Today’s item is again from deep in the vault here at Well Dressed Mansions. This is an item I was given by my grandfather around 25 years ago,  something he’d been hanging on to since laying his, no doubt, grubby hands on back in 1945.

What we have here is an item with a family history, but really it’s a small part of a very much bigger story. It’s a compass from a WW2 bomber plane. More specifically an Avro Lancaster, used by the RAF from 1942 onwards. The Lancaster as powered by 4 Rolls Royce Merlin engines, and having heard a single Merlin in a Spitfire, I can only imagine what a Lancaster must have sounded like coming overhead, let alone a squadron of them. I just added “Must hear a Lancaster fly overhead” to my bucket list. I’ll not reiterate too much of the Lancaster’s history, but one of it’s claims to fame was through being the only aircraft with a bomb bay large enough to carry the “bouncing bomb” designed by innovative British engineer Barnes Wallis. The Lancaster’s history is interesting and impressive, with missions far and wide.


And therein lies the possible history of the aircraft my compass comes from. According to my grandfather, the aircraft this one came from was the last Lancaster to fly a mission to Norway during WW2. Now, this actually tallies quite well with the fact that Lancaster bombers sunk the German Tirpitz battleship outside Tromsø, Norway on November 12th 1944. So maybe this compass was part of that operation? This would be really interesting, as after making it’s way back to Blighty, the compass made the trip back to Tromsø some 50 years later, as part of my belongings. In fact, I used to live less than 2 miles from where Tirpitz rests today. Just looking at the Wikipedia entry for Tirpitz I’m again reminded how awesomely huge it was at 250 metres overall.


Heading due south, chaps, back to Blighty!

So how come my grandfather came to have the compass? Well, as he told he, the Lancaster limped home to England and crash landed not far from the Jaguar factory at Allesley outside Coventry. And my grandfather, being handy with tools, dismantled the compass as a souvenir. And here it is today, sitting in my living room, a genuine piece of history.


From a Lancaster cockpit, can you spot the compass?

As a side note, the Ladybower damn where they developed the bouncing bomb and shot part of the film about it is just outside Sheffield. Worth a visit as it’s a really spectacular place, even without the historical aspect.

For next week I’ll again rummage through the tomb-like basements here at the mansion to uncover another fine object to bring to our little virtual show and tell. Maybe you, dear reader, have something you’d like to share?


  • arnkel 16/06/2013 at 22:36

    A very interesting article linked to so much.

  • Gibbo 01/07/2013 at 08:54

    The Lancaster used the P10 compass. The one you have is the P4A introduced in the mid 1930’s and used on the early RAF heavy bombers. Still a nice item to have though!

    • Well Dressed Dad 01/07/2013 at 09:54

      Hi Gibbo, well spotted! It does in fact say “Type P4A” on the top edge. As far as I can google though, the P4A was also used on Lancasters, though at some point it was replaced by the P10. I’m obviously no expert on this though!

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