An RCAF Lancaster Bomber named “Dumb Dora” (PDF file)

Research by Clarence Simonsen

A Lancaster Bomber named Dumb Dora (click on the link)

Text version

An RCAF Lancaster Bomber named “Dumb Dora”

The year 1920 became a momentous year for women’s rights in the United States, as they finally won the right to vote. The effect on comic strip artists was seen almost at once, as suddenly more and more women began appearing in comic pages, and more importantly, many new strips now starred women as the title character. In 1920 “Winnie Winkie” set the pattern, followed by “Tillie the Toller” [1921], “Boots and Her Buddies” [1924], and “Dumb Dora” in [1925].

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Murat “Chic” Young was a young enterprising cartoonist who made a huge career out of depicting a number of frivolous young ladies [The Affairs of Jane and Beautiful Bab] in the 1920’s. In 1925 he created his most famous [to date] innocent college-age girl, a lively, brunette named Dora Bell, and nicknamed “Dumb Dora.” Her adventures were quite popular, and the nickname proved to be most undeserving, as Dora had her good points and was quite bright on occasions. In September 1930, Chic Young created “Blondie” a new exceeding cute fiancée of Dagwood Bumstead, which went on to depict humor in average American family life. This became the most widely syndicated comic strip of all time, and Dumb Dora came to her demise in the fall of 1930. Dora was drawn by cartoonist Paul Fung and last Bill Dwyer in the final few weeks of the strip, August and September 1930.

This growing power of women in American comics and comic strips also had a major effect on young male readers in both United States and Canada. When these young men went to war in 1939 [Canada] and 1941 [U.S.] many of the comic strip ladies came along and appeared as aircraft nose art or as mural art in military buildings around the world.

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In early June 1945, “Dumb Dora” was painted wearing a bright red bathing suit on the nose of RCAF Lancaster Mk. X, serial KB965, code letters LQ-D of No. 405 [Vancouver] Squadron.

Formed at Driffield, Yorkshire, England, on 23 April 1941, the first RCAF bomber squadron on active service overseas in WWII. First equipped with Vickers Wellington B. Mk. II twin-engine aircraft, No. 405 carried out its first operations on 12/13 June 1941, when four aircraft bombed the marshalling yards at Schwerte, [near Dortmund] Germany. After being operational on Wellington bombers for ten months, the squadron converted to the heavy four-engine Halifax aircraft in April 1942, the first RCAF unit to be so equipped. The following month of April became a very significate date in the unit’s history when they became the only RCAF squadron selected to serve with the famous No. 8 [Pathfinder Force] Group, RAF, on 19 April 1943.

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During WWII a special gilt [gold leaf wire] badge was worn by all Pathfinder Force aircrew on the flap of their left-hand uniform breast pocket.

In preparation for the RAF’s “Battle of the Ruhr” in March 1943, two new squadrons were required to strengthen Pathfinder Force, with No. 97 squadron [flying Lancaster’s] and No. 405 [RCAF] squadron [flying Halifax’s] selected. No. 405 [RCAF] flew their first Pathfinder operation on 26 April 1943, when eleven Halifax’s marked the target of Duisburg, Germany. Conversion to the British built Lancaster Mk. I and Mk. III began in August and by the 30 September 1943, No. 405 had nineteen Lancaster Mk. III aircraft on charge. The last bombing operation was flown on 25 April 1945, thirteen Lancaster Mk. I and III’s from Gransden Lodge, Beds., where nine aircraft bombed Hitler’s refuge at Berchtesgaden and four bombed gun positions on the Island of Wangerooge. The Pathfinder Force had gradually expanded, and by May 1945, comprised 19 operational squadrons, but only one was Canadian.

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The official RAF Pathfinder Force badge was not in use during WWII, authority: Queen Elizabeth II, March 1955.

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The last operation [evacuate prisoners] was flown by No. 405 Squadron on 15 May 1945, and now it was time to fly back to Canada in new Canadian built Lancaster X’s. The main party of No. 405 proceeded by rail from RAF Station, Gransden Lodge, Bedfordshire, to RCAF Station, Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire, on 26 May and the Rear Party proceeded by road on 29 May 1945. The squadron was now introduced to twenty-two new Canadian built Lancaster Mk. X aircraft, which were taken on charge I June 1945. Flight testing began for the trip to Canada.

It is interesting to note No. 405 Squadron were in fact the first unit to operate a Canadian-built Lancaster Mk. X in 1943, when KB700, was painted as LQ-Q and flew two operations, one was aborted. The only Lancaster Mk. X to fly out of No. 6 [RCAF] Bomb Group, completing one operation with No. 8 [Pathfinder Force] 22/23 November 1943, to Berlin, Germany.  This was all staged for a Canadian Press release and a war propaganda film to be shown to the Canadian public in movie theatres. This most famous RCAF bomber was soon transferred to No. 419 [Moose] Squadron where she completed 47 more operations until she crashed at Middleton St. George on 2/3 January 1945. The full history is found on many, many, websites, books, and historical films.

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No. 405 Squadron also flew two Lancaster Mk. VI, with Merlin 85 engines, [serial JB713, coded LQ-Z] [JB675, LQ-P] on a number of Pathfinder raids March-June 1944. Nine built, only six of these conversion Lancaster ‘test’ bombers entered service with RAF Pathfinder Force.  [IWM]

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The twenty-two new Canadian built Lancaster Mk. X’s assigned to No. 405 [Vancouver] Squadron after 1 June 1945. Twenty-one left England for Canada at 09:00 hrs. 16 June 1945. These aircraft never flew operations in WWII, however a few had been painted with pin-up girl nose art for the return flight to Canada.

LQ-A  KB961

LQ-B  KB964

LQ-C  KB997

LQ-D  KB965           Dumb Dora

LQ-E  KB977            Easy Elsie

LQ-F  KB973

LQ-G  KB991

LQ-H  KB967

LQ-K  KB976           Sold in 1975, survives today Scotland.

LQ-L  FM122           The Lady Love [rare art]

LQ-N  KB956           Natural [Dice]

LQ-O  KB950

LQ-P  KB968           Passionate Peggy

LQ-R  FM110

LQ-T  KB945

LQ-U  KB949          Bomb doors in Calgary Lancaster

LQ-V  KB955

LQ-W KB957

LQ-X  KB952

LQ-Y  KB959

LQ-Z  FM115

LQ-M KB999          “Special” Malton Mike – last Lancaster X to leave England, 28 June 1945.

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A.V.M. C.M. McEwen, CB, MC, DFC and Bar under his No. 405 Squadron Lancaster “Malton Mike” specially painted for his return trip home to Canada. Better known by the men under his command as “Black Mike” his Scotish Terrier carried the same motif. The cartoon [right] was created by one of the RCAF airframe mechanics who served under his command in England, nose artist and friend “Muff” Mills. The nose art on Lancaster KB999 [M for Malton Mike] was painted at Victory Aircraft in Malton, Ontario, in March 1945, where AVM McEwen christened ‘his’ 300th Lancaster Mk. X constructed in Canada. Assigned to No. 419 [Moose] Squadron she flew one operation in WWII as VR-M, [25 April 1945] then was transferred to No. 405 [Vancouver] Squdron and repainted LQ-M for the return flight to Canada. Crashed in lake north of Churchill, Manitoba, 22 October 1955, where she still remains. Now, if you want to recover an important and historic Lancaster, this is the rare bird, but first you will have to talk to the First Nations people who own the salvage rights.

Four of the other No. 405 Squadron Lancaster aircraft carried impressive RCAF nose art ladies, including a rare nude painted on FM122 called “The Lady Love.” In July 2005, I spent an evening with the nose artist Robert Douglas Sneddon in his home at Calgary, Alberta.

Robert [Bob] Sneddon was born in Taber, Alberta, 21 September 1921 and moved to Calgary with his family in 1932. He graduated from Central High School in 1939 and joined the RCAF in 1940. Bob was born with music and artistic talents, which allowed him to decoriate RCAF aircraft with nose art paintings during WWII. In 1942, he was posted overseas with No. 405 [Vancouver] Squadron where he served as airframe mechanic, promoted to rank of Corpoal in 1943.  On 19 April 1943, No. 405 Squadron joined No. 8 [Pathfinder] Group at Gransden Lodge, Bedfordshire, and Bob painted RCAF nose art on some of the British aircraft, both Halifax and Lancaster bombers. Sadly, Bob was in the early stages of Alheimer’s when our interview took place and so parts of his past were totally blank. In early June 1945, No. 405 received twenty-one new Canadian built Lancaster Mk. X bombers, and Bob did recall he painted female nose art on a few, but again, the name or how many was blank. Robert Sneddon passed away 25 August 2010, and I feel it is correct to credit him with painting the postwar RCAF Lancaster nose art in 405 Squadron titled- LQ-D “Dumb Dora”, LQ-E “Easy Elsie”, LQ-L “The Lady Love”, and LQ-P “Passionate Peggy.”

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The postwar nose art on KB968, “Passionate Peggy” taken Linton-on-Ouse, England, around 2-10 June 1945. [Author collection]

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This small photo [3” X 4”] was taken by Cpl. George Wright R76190, Calgary, Alberta, who was in charge of the RCAF ground crew assigned to British Lancaster Mk. I serial PB627, No. 405 [Pathfinder] Squadron. The lettering on KB968 appears to be red; Peggy has red hair and is wearing a yellow bikini. Photo taken in first week of June 1945, as the new Canadian Lancaster X’s were being prepared for the return flight to Canada, and duty in the Pacific against Japan.

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The Canadian ground crew of British Lancaster Mk. I, serial PB627, LQ-J No. 405 [Pathfinder] Squadron RCAF, March 1945. SOC September 1947 and scrapped. Collection Cpl. George Wright.

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The only known postwar RCAF nose art to appear on No. 405 [Pathfinder} Squadron Lancaster FM122, LQ-L, “The Lady Love” painted by Bob Sneddon of Calgary. Possibly a nude, and the bombs were from the British Lancaster ops flown during WWII.

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This image comes from the collection of Col. Ken Allen, Base Commander of Greenwood, Nova Scotia, obtained in 1993. The line up of No. 405 Squadron Lancaster Mk. X aircraft at Greenwood, N.S., taken sometime after 21 June or early July 1945. The ground crews are working on the bombers in preparation for the air war against Japan, [RAF Tiger Force, No. 664 RCAF Wing] and the aircrews are on thirty days leave in Canada. The nose art by Bob Sneddon is another pin-up lady named “Easy Elsie!” KB977, LQ-E for Easy, with yellow hair and a red bathing suit.

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In the darkness at 1:20 am 13 June 45, Lancaster KB934 KW-I, was the first to take-off for Canada. A second No. 425 Lancaster KB936 taxied into the rear of the first bomber and the rear gunner was struck with the propellers. His last words to his pilot [F/L H. C. Chappel] were – “Pull up, Pull up. “He died on 16 June 1945, the last RCAF casualty in WWII.

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When Germany surrendered on 8 May 1945, RAF plans for the air war against Japan [Tiger Force] were stepped up. All RCAF bomber squadrons were equipped with Canadian built Lancaster B. Mk. X aircraft and 164 returned to Canada. [105 were lost to enemy action or accidents] The sudden American bombing of Hiroshima [6 August 45] and Nagasaki [9 August 45] resulted in the surrender of Japan on 15 August [signed 2 September 1945]. Tiger Force, No. 644 [Heavy Bomber] Wing, formed 1 August 1945, at Greenwood, Nova Scotia, was disbanded 5 September 1945, the world believed it was at Peace. The Russian Bear, [Stalin] like a hungry Canadian Polar Bear, was in no mood for world peace and had to be watched day and night.

The Second World War marked the emergence of the Canadian Northern Arctic as a new military frontier, and new airstrips with living quarters would be constructed. But first, the RCAF was given the task of photo-mapping the far north, which required aircraft with a long range for this most remote and inhospitable part of the world. RCAF 13 [photo] Squadron was given this role and selected Lancaster KB884 and KB917 for photo field testing based at Churchill, Manitoba, which began in September 1945. These first two veteran WWII bombers were in exceedingly poor shape and experienced many cold weather problems during the winter trials. At the same time, the RCAF learned the value of these flying camera platforms and from these arctic experiments, Avro [Canada] Ltd, was contracted to modify a new prototype Lancaster serial FM212. From this small beginning, 288 Lancaster 10 WWII bombers would be modified and fly a second life in the RCAF in eight different designations.

Four joint American/Canadian Arctic weather stations [JAWS] were constructed in the Queen Elizabeth Islands of Northern Canada, Eureka and Resolute in 1947, and Mold Bay and Isachsen in 1948. In the summer of 1948 two U.S. Navy icebreakers “Edisto” and “Eastwind” reached Dumbbell Bay on Ellesmere Island and deposited material for construction of a fifth Canadian Weather Station named Alert. One of the most important construction items delivered was a Caterpillar Diesel D-4 Tractor, “Betsy” which would be used to build the first gravel airstrip. Construction could only take place in the summer months, and many equipment problems, and supply problems caused months of construction delays. The Canadian [Ground] Station Alert was finally established by April 1950, however the airstrip was still under construction, and material was still being dropped by mostly American aircraft from Thule, Greenland. Col. Charles Joseph Hubbard, 48 years, had been Chief of the U.S. Weather Bureau Arctic Section since 1946, and he was mainly involved in setting up the five Canadian far-northern weather and observation posts. The American government knew more about our Arctic than the leaders in Ottawa, and were much more interested in what the Russians were doing than Canadian weather reporting. Alert is much closer to Moscow, Russia, than any other part of Canada and it is still a Top Secret listening post today manned by RCAF personnel and Russian speaking specialists. For most of his life Charles Hubbard was an explorer, and during his first visit to Alert found a flask containing original documents left by Admiral Peary during his dash to the North Pole in 1905-07. Later an unknown marker left by the 1875-76 British Admiralty Expedition was also discovered by Col. Hubbard. Makes for very good reading if you are interested in past historical history.

In April 1947, the RCAF Director of Air Operations was inspired by what was taking place in the UK in regards to modifications of their WWII RAF Lancaster Mk. III bomber aircraft. He flew to England to see this new RAF General Reconnaissance aircraft and was very inspired by what the British were doing. The original Victory Aircraft Ltd. plant at Malton, Ontario, was now officially called Avro [Canada] Ltd and they were the contractor who modified the first nine RCAF Lancaster 10 [B.R.] Bomber Reconnaissance aircraft.  The serial numbers were: KB907, KB919, KB925, KB946, KB957, KB965 [Dumb Dora] KB973, KB995, and KB996.

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In 1949, Lancaster Mk. X KB965, “Dumb Dora” was flown to Avro Canada and the modification began with the removal of all WWII paint. The original RCAF Nose Art painted by Bob Sneddon had lasted for some 60 months. The new modified Lancaster emerged as a Lancaster 10 [BR] Bomber Reconnaissance, high and low-level, all-weather, long range bomber and reconnaissance, anti-submarine attack aircraft.

Under the RCAF postwar establishment, there were no plans to use the RCAF in the defence of Canada’s coastline; it was the responsibility of the Royal Canadian Navy. By late 1947, the growing strength of the Russian submarine fleet, and its presence in Canadian Coastal waters became a real threat to Canadian and North Atlantic sea-lanes. This caused many problems in Ottawa and plans [in-fighting] for the formation of the RCAF to join RCN anti-submarine forces took time. No. 405 [Bomber Recon.] RCAF formation orders were first issued on 1 April 1947, then on 1 October 1947, all were cancelled.

Dumb Dora 20

On 1 April 1949, No. 10 Group was re-designated Maritime Group, and on 1 November formed No. 2 [Maritime] Operational Training Unit at Greenwood, Nova Scotia. They would be specialized in training all the new Lancaster maritime aircrews. On 31 March 1950, No. 405 [MR] Maritime Reconnaissance Squadron was formed at Greenwood, Nova Scotia, and the C.O. was W/C D.T. French, DFC, a WWII veteran.

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The first Lancaster 10 [BR] to arrive on strength was serial #965 [Ex-Dumb Dora]. Other WWII veterans were: KB857, KB868, KB920, KB925, KB929, KB945, KB946, KB950, KB964, KB966, KB995, and KB997.

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On 26 July 1950, two RCAF Lancaster aircraft left Frobisher Bay to take part in operation “NANOOK 50” the resupply of Joint Arctic Weather Stations. W/C French flew Lancaster 965 and S/L Dagg flew Lancaster 925. These two flight crews would be living in RCAF tents on the American base at Thule, Greenland. The first ice reconnaissance flight in Lancaster 965 took place on 27 July 1950, and the following day Col. Charles Joseph Hubbard, Chief of U.S. Weather Bureau, Arctic Section, came along for observations.

Dumb Dora 23

No flying took place on Sunday 30 July 1950, due to the weather conditions. Weather Station Alert was still under construction but the air strip was not completed, and the last spark plugs in the D-4 Cat tractor were fouled. A radio request was sent to air drop two containers of supplies at Alert, one containing urgently needed new spark plugs for the tractor “Betsy.” On 31 July 1950, Lancaster KB965 departed Thule air base at 15:39 Hrs. and headed for Weather Station Alert. The dropping of supplies took place just after 17:00 hrs. and the first container with spark plugs exited the aircraft with no problems, however, the second container parachute caught on the left elevator of the Lancaster fouling the pilot controls. The aircraft crashed and exploded just 2000 feet from the ground JAWS base on Alert, with all personnel killed. The ground members at Alert had no means to fight the fire, which burned for twelve hours, before the bodies could be recovered.

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Impact of Lancaster KB965 from Tony Jarvis

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The crash site fire was still burning on 1 August 1950, when the skeleton remains were recovered.

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Tony Jarvis images taken in 2009

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L. to R. F/O T.D. Martin, LAC Noselski [not in crash] LAC R.L. Sprange, Dr. Kirk, F/O J. E. McCutcheon, F/O J. R. G. Dube, F/O L.M. MacLean, F/Lt. J. F. L. Swinton, W/C D.T. French, DFC.

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When the remains could not be removed, [the Canso aircraft hit ice on take-off 7 August 1950] they were interned on Joint Arctic Weather Station Alert, 12 August 1950.

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The original burial site in 1950 was moved during reconstruction of the CFB Alert runway.

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Tony Jarvis photo

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No. 405 Squadron RCAF Memoriam 5 August 1950.

Over the past seventy-two years, many strips of skin have been removed from Lancaster KB965, and even the rear tail turret has disappeared from the crash site. These were taken by military personnel stationed on the base [or aircrew visitors] as few civilians are allowed. The author wanted a small section of skin to repaint the postwar nose art of “Dumb Dora” but how could it be obtained? Well, I just placed a call to Santa Claus, who is a pilot friend of mine.

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Anthony “Tony” Jarvis [Santa] joined [NWT] Northwest Territorial Airways as a C-130 Hercules pilot in 1981. We made letter contact in 1988, when I joined ‘his’ Ventura Memorial Flight Association, and then we met in person a few days before Christmas 1990. Tony was flying Christmas mail from Yellowknife-Edmonton-Calgary and I joked he not only flew the arctic like Santa, he even did his work for him. Tony goes by the handle “Hercrat” and has over 20,000 hrs in his log flying bush/arctic environment, including 11,400 hrs in Hercules, mostly serial 4799, C-GHPW. This renowned long-distant arctic aviator is also a man without vanity, a gentleman who has time for a nose art researcher. A rare Bush/Arctic pilot unspoilt by praise, a true professional, who also knows all the crash sites in the Canadian Arctic, and has visited many preserving their history in his photographs.

Beginning 20 August 2009, Tony made seven “Boxtop” RCAF fuel resupply flights to CFB Alert, and was kind enough to retrieve one section of Lancaster KB965 skin from the 1950 crash site.

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Tony Jarvis is the expert on the crash site locations in the far north and has visited many wrecks during his 39 years of Arctic flying, taking many photos for his own records and research. The following images of KB965 were taken by Tony at different years up to 2009, shared for my history.

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This history is dedicated to Cpl. Robert [Bob] Sneddon, the forgotten RCAF ground crew nose artist who painted an unknown number of Canadian No. 405 Squadron nose art images during WWII. He also confirmed to the author he painted the art on KB965 “Dumb Dora” in June 1945.

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The postwar RCAF Lancaster Mk. X nose art is long gone; however, the Ghost of Dumb Dora still remains at the loneliest graveyard in the whole world, CFB [Burr] Alert.

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This RCAF history could never be preserved without the years of assistance and friendship from Captain “Ice Pilot” Tony Jarvis who today flies a Lockheed L-188 Electra for Buffalo Airways. Captain C-130 Hercules, 32 years, Captain Lockheed L-188, 5 years, and Captain B-737-200A, one year four months. I’m sure once again this Christmas he will be hauling Santa’s presents to far points in the Arctic, almost to the North Pole.

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A million “Thanks” to Santa.


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