Lancaster - luminous green tail wheel?

Discussion in 'The War In The Air' started by Pat Atkins, Apr 30, 2018.

  1. Pat Atkins

    Pat Atkins Patron Patron

    I'm just re-reading Martin Middlebrook's The Berlin Raids and I've come across an oddity I've not noticed previously. He quotes a French forced worker, Léon Butticaz, describing the wreckage of a Lancaster shot down during a raid on Berlin (my emphasis in bold):

    The wreckage fell in and around the camp. It must have exploded in mid-air. The tail part fell upside down on a path near one of our huts; there was no crew member in this part. My friends and I always wondered why the tail wheel seemed to glow; the rubber tyre was a luminous green.

    Does anybody know what might have been the cause of this? I Googled around a bit to no avail - though I did find an account of a Lancaster ditching, during which action the tail wheel was forced up into the fuselage destroying the Elsan toilet - however, even if that had been the case, I believe Elsan fluid was blue, not green... So I'm baffled. Something to do with munitions? Perhaps an Air-Sea Rescue marker dye was carried on board Bomber Command aircraft in 1943?

    Cheers, Pat
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  2. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    I would think that the tail wheel has been showered with the green stain of a TI target indicator carried by the destroyed Lancaster Pathfinder the Master Bomber would remind other crews......"bomb on greens".....(TI colour as selected)
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  3. Pat Atkins

    Pat Atkins Patron Patron

    That seems very plausible, thanks Harry - when I get back to my Kindle I'll check Middlebrook again and see if the a/c was a Pathfinder. I'll need to find out what the contents of a TI were, too, I guess.

    Cheers, Pat
  4. SDP

    SDP Incurable Cometoholic Patron

    I've asked Dr Google and can't find any images of Flares themselves but, remembering school chemistry, Flares normally work by producing colours when something is burned in the presence of various metal cations. Remember the pretty colours when dropping various chemicals into a Bunsen flame?...fireworks work on the same principle. Green would be produced by Barium salts. That, of course, presumes that it was a 'burning flare' that was actually burning when it stained the bomber wheel and the stain was long lived enough to be observed on the wheel.........not sure that's any help!
  5. Pat Atkins

    Pat Atkins Patron Patron

    Thanks, SDP - hadn't considered the possibility of ignited material from a TI staining the wheel, for some reason I was thinking only of the unignited contents.
  6. SDP

    SDP Incurable Cometoholic Patron


    If I'm correct - and it's a big if - then ignition of the flare would have been a prerequisite for the stain especially as I think most Barium compounds are white!

    Hopefully someone else will come along and confirm all this or otherwise.
  7. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    No chemist, but i believe they glow green in the dark.
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  8. Pat Atkins

    Pat Atkins Patron Patron

    Well I'm definitely no chemist, so it all sound very convincing to me... M. Butticaz saw the wreckage at night, I think, so that would fit the glow-in-the-dark hypothesis.

    I know this isn't an important subject in the greater scheme of things, but it's a little mystery and I'd love to resolve it.
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  9. alieneyes

    alieneyes Senior Member

    Hi Pat,

    Unfortunately it does not say:

    "Mr Butticaz sent a vivid sketch of the Lancaster tail unit which fell near his camp but with not enough lettering visible to identify the aircraft"

    Next line is about the loss of Lancaster JB363 of No. 156 Sqn PFF 156 Squadron Group 8 PathFinderForce. White, Silverman and Thompson are buried in Berlin, the balance of the crew are commemorated on Runnymede.

  10. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    Strontium aluminate, used in aircraft instruments, will also glow green. I'm unsure it would be present in sufficient quantity to cause a tire to display that effect. My other possibility is zinc sulfide, used in aircraft glass, lens and cathode ray tubes.
  11. SDP

    SDP Incurable Cometoholic Patron

    We are getting there...possibly. Apparently a number of Barium compounds either burn green or glow green...with impure Barium Sulphate alledgedly glowing green for up to several hours after exposure to light. Now we just need an expert to confirm it or blow this argument out of the water.
  12. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron

  13. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    I would think that magnesium would be a constituent of these pyrotechnic devices....when it combusted it is very difficult to extinguish. A magnesium fire can only extinguished by the prevention of oxygen by smothering the fire with sand.With magnesium as a constituent,continued burning of the flare on the ground would be assured.The TIs were enclosed in bomb casings as pyrotechnic candles and ejected at a determined height by barometric pressure switch.

    The development of what became known as Target Indicators came into being from the requirement of the new bombing techniques of the Pathfinder Force formed in 1942.There were various bombing techniques were experimented with in the first few months of the Pathfinder Force .

    For the raid on Bremen on 4/5 September 1942, "Illuminators" identified the target Aiming Point and dropped white flares to light up the area and then dropped coloured flares as Visual Markers.The Backers Up force then released incendiary loads on to the Marker flares.This raid was successful and became the modus operandi for the PFF for the rest of the war.

    During the experimental period,the first bomb markers were based on bombs,very heavy and filled with benzol,rubber and phosphorous with the first introduced being the Red Blob Fire,a 250 lb incendiary casing which was designed to ignite on impact and continue to light up for 15-20 minutes but was found to burnt at low intensity.This was followed by the Pink Pansy,a 4000lb HC bomb casing which weighed in with contents at 2800lb and gave out a pink flash from its dye constituent when ignited.Lack of intensity was seen as a reason to look for other solutions.

    Development of what would be known as Target Indicators followed and were designated as TI (Red),TI (Green) TI (Yellow),the colours being generated from the dye constituent.

    Apparently there were 36 versions by the end of the war with one being a special type....the Red Spot Fire which was composed of a 250 lb bomb casing filled with cotton wool,soaked in a solution of metallic perchlorate dissolved in alcohol.

    Red .......most distinctive colour

    Green ....most contrast of the colour


    Red was always the Primary Marker.For Peenemunde the Red Spot Fire was used to indicate the start of the run in from the Baltic to the target with further drops at regular intervals to maintain route indication.

    For example.

    Aiming Point highlighted by TI Reds by leading Pathfinders.

    Back Up Pathfinders on TI Greens....bomb on TI Greens if TI Reds not visible.

    On some raids,bombing inaccuracy was signalled with TI Yellows should Marker bomber. later Master Bomber,decide that bomb drops were not sufficiently accurate on Aiming Point.(Apparently on one raid, a 10 mile error was made on dropping Reds resulting in 35 Lancasters dropping their loads well clear of the target. )

    I think that the proficiency of bombing must also have been enhanced after VHF sets were installed in BC aircraft from from the experience of the Dams Raid in May 1943.Master Bombers were then able to direct bombing at a higher level of control and coordination.
  14. Pat Atkins

    Pat Atkins Patron Patron

    Thanks for the input, everyone. Harry - certainly looks increasingly like you were right in identifying a TI as the likely cause. When you say "dye constituent", in a green TI would that be a barium compound? Appreciate you may not be a chemist either, of course!

    If it was from a TI I'd be interested to know if the staining M. Butticaz saw was a result of an ignited marker or one which was damaged but had not gone off (which would seem plausible if they contained a dye).
  15. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    As far as I can ascertain there appears to be no information on the constituents including dyes in the TIs from the usual aviation published's rather vague.

    The AM would have the RAF bomb inventory which be a comprehensive record of the constituents of each bomb.I would say that similar information must be on record for Target Indicators. Another source of this information would have been held by the wartime Ministry of Munitions who had the responsibility for munitions production.Their information may be reproduced in the form of republished documents through special publishing houses such as the Navy and Military Press as and when the information was declassified.

    Further to that the information is probably available via the RAF Museum but overall the Ministry of Munitions and AM records should be held by the National Archives.
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  16. timuk

    timuk Well-Known Member

  17. DannyM

    DannyM Member

  18. Pat Atkins

    Pat Atkins Patron Patron

    Thanks Tim and Danny - just had a look through the British Explosive Ordnance link, but (although very interesting in itself) it doesn't seem to give details of the ignitable components for a TI beyond identifying them as "candles" held within the bomb casing.
  19. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Yes quite detailed information but missing the detail of the full technical specification...derived from US sources.

    I think the RAF Museum might be helpful for Nina Burls of the museum produced a paper on RAF Bombs and Bombing which leads me to think that they must have some information on TIs

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