Ruhr Express now needed a crew. Due to the importance of the aircraft and the various events that would accompany her as she went to war, an experienced crew with a decorated captain was selected. KB700`s skipper would be S/L (Squadron Leader) R.J. Reg Lane DSO, DFC a veteran of two complete 25 operational tours in Bomber Command which included attacks on the battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the battleship Tirpitz. After completing his second tour Lane had been transferred from 35 Pathfinder Squadron to the Pathfinder Navigation Training Unit before returning to Canada to ferry Ruhr Express across the Atlantic. His crew were also all Bomber Command veterans and included P/O (Pilot Officer) Johnny Carrere (navigator), Sgt (Sergeant) Ross Webb (wireless operator), F/Sgt (Flight Sergeant) Reg Burger (mid upper gunner), P/O Steve Boxcar (second pilot), F/Sgt R. Wright (bomb aimer) and Sgt Mike Kaczynski (flight engineer). They arrived in Canada in July and would be involved in all of the ceremonies and publicity events before and after they ferried KB700 to Britain. They would then be reassigned after Ruhr Express was assigned to an operational squadron.
Finally on August 1, 1943, KB700 rolled out of the Victory Aircraft factory and departed on her first test flight. The christening ceremony was slated for five days later and the aircraft was to depart for Britain on the same day, so there was little time for comprehensive testing. The flight test was completed without incident and Ruhr Express was deemed ready. On August 6, 1943, in a ceremony attended by almost the entire Victory Aircraft workforce and broadcast on radio Canada-wide with commentary by Lorne Greene, KB700 was officially christened Ruhr Express.
KB700 Ruhr Express rollout at Victory Aircraft most likely taken at the official christening ceremony on August 6, 1943. CANADIAN WARPLANE HERITAGE MUSEUM
Once the speeches and spectacle ended, the arduous task of ferrying the aircraft to Britain began. Lane, his crew, a Rolls Royce representative, and the crew's mascot (a white poodle puppy named "Bambi") departed Malton for Dorval, Quebec, the first leg of their journey. Unfortunately, the ferry flight was marred with technical problems and delays. All of the aircraft's instrumentation failed. Once the aircraft arrived in Dorval, Victory Aircraft was ordered to complete performance tests before she departed on the next leg of the journey. During these tests one of the engines failed and required a replacement to be sent from Malton. It would be August 31 before Ruhr Express was able to depart on the next leg of her flight, by which point press releases already had her in England preparing for deployment. Technical problems like this were not uncommon in new aircraft, especially in the first aircraft off the production line of a new factory that had gone from blueprints to production with such speed, but such problems would continue to plague KB700 throughout her service life. By September 9 she was in Gander, Newfoundland ready to for the flight to Britain but weather delayed her again. Finally after a thankfully uneventful Atlantic crossing, Ruhr Express was welcomed to Britain by High Commissioner Vincent Massey. Another series of ceremonies, celebrations, press conferences and publicity flights to other RCAF squadrons followed. A.V. Roe representatives also inspected KB700 and certified her fit for service. Ruhr Express, Reg Lane and the ferry crew then parted company for reassignment, with Lane briefly returning to the Pathfinder navigation unit before being assigned to command 405 Pathfinder Squadron. He would finally complete his service in Europe just before D-Day, having completed 65 combat operations, and be assigned to the planning staff for Tiger Force. Lane remained in the RCAF after the war and retired with the rank of Lieutenant General. Ruhr Express was also heading off to join 405 Squadron, arriving on October 5, 1943. Her baptism of fire was soon to follow and it would be to one of Bomber Command's most dangerous and deadly targets: Berlin.
Squadron Leader R.J. Reg Lane DSO, DFC and the crew that ferried KB700 Ruhr Express to England. BOMBER COMMAND MUSEUM OF CANADA
405 Squadron had formed on April 23, 1941 and was the first RCAF squadron to participate in a bombing raid ten weeks later. After being part of both Bomber and Coastal Command during the next two years, including a short stint with RCAF's 6 Group, the squadron was transferred to Bomber Command's elite 8 Pathfinder Group in April 1943. When Ruhr Express arrived at 405 Squadron in October 1943, Bomber Command was about to begin a bombing campaign that was soon dubbed the Battle of Berlin. ACM (Air Chief Marshal) Harris and Bomber Command hoped the campaign would break German resolve and bring an end to the war through repeated, concentrated attacks on the German capital. But the long flight time to Berlin combined with the heavy defences the aircraft had to penetrate would cause heavy casualties to the RAF over the long campaign.
Upon her arrival at 405 Squadron, KB700 was given the unit designation LQ-Q for Queenie. Once pre-operational testing and training was completed Ruhr Express was deemed ready for service. November 22, 1943 would be her first operation and a crew captained by FSgt Harold Floren was assigned to the aircraft along with a reporter and photographer to document Ruhr Express' mission to Berlin. But once again the weather and mechanical problems conspired against KB700. Weather over most of Western Europe was atrocious, causing over half of the Pathfinder force to abort. Floren tried to continue onto the target but engine problems that had began as the aircraft crossed into enemy territory continued to worsen and finally forced him to return to base. Even though Ruhr Express had failed to reach Berlin a fake briefing of the mission was held for the press for publicity's sake. KB700 was quickly readied for another mission to Berlin and on November 26, Floren, who had just been promoted to the rank of Pilot Officer, piloted Ruhr Express on her second trip to Berlin. Fortunately her second mission was free of weather and mechanical problems and she returned from her first successful mission unscathed. The mission was not without technical issues; the cameraman found that his camera had frozen up during the flight so no photos had been taken during the mission. But this first successful mission would end up being her last for 405 Squadron. The unit was equipped with Lancaster Mk. Is and the differences in the engines, electrical system and instruments between them and the Mk Xs would make maintenance and logistics problematic. KB700 would need to be transferred to a squadron that would be equipped with Canadian-built Lancasters. 419 Squadron would soon be one of those units as they were about to begin the transition from Handley Page Halifax heavy bombers to the new Mk. X Lancasters that were now regularly emerging from the Victory Aircraft factory. Harold Floren would remain with 405 Squadron, but while flying Lancaster LQ-A for Apple on a mission to Braunschweig (Brunswick) on January 14, 1944, his aircraft received a direct hit and the aircraft exploded. Floren and his crew were posted missing and later listed as presumed dead on October 6, 1944.
Pilot Officer Harold Floren sitting at the controls of KB700 Ruhr Express around the time of her first operation, November 1943. CANADIAN WARPLANE HERITAGE MUSEUM
KB700 Ruhr Express during her service with 405 Pathfinder Squadron from October to December 1943. NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA
419 Squadron was formed on December 15, 1941, beginning combat operations in January 1942. It was the third RCAF bomber squadron to become operational in Britain during the war. The unit joined 6 Group when it formed on October 25, 1942 and was just beginning to transition from Halifaxes to Lancasters when KB700 was taken on strength on December 26, 1943. Ruhr Express was given the squadron designation VR-Z for Zebra and would spend the next six months as a training aircraft helping 419 pilots and crews transition to the new Lancaster Mk. Xs. She would be fitted with dual pilot controls, the H2S radar navigation system, the `Boozer` fighter warning system and a Glen Martin .5 upper gun turret, which was electrically instead of hydraulically powered. These conversions, along differences in the Packard Merlin engines and the Canadian electrical systems and instrumentation, caused maintenance nightmares for the ground crews, many of who had trained on the British aircraft and systems. This, along with the continued mechanical failures Ruhr Express had become known for, added to her reputation as a difficult and unpopular aircraft and would earn her the unflattering moniker of "The Ruhr Whore" by crews who drew the assignment of flying her on combat operations.
419 Squadron flew its first operation in which the majority of their aircraft were Lancasters on April 27, 1944 and had completed the transition to the new aircraft in early May. In the months leading up to D-Day, Bomber Command had been re-tasked from its attacks on German cities to targets in France in preparation for the invasion of Europe. 419 Squadron had been involved in many of these attacks. Finally, with all of the squadron's crews fully trained on the Lancaster, Ruhr Express returned to combat service on the day of days, June 6, 1944, with her first operation against the coastal defence batteries at Merville-Franceville in the early hours of the invasion. From June to late August the majority of 419`s operations would be against targets in France in support of the Normandy campaign and against V1 flying bomb launch sites as part of Operation Crossbow; however, it would be on one of the few operations that the squadron flew against Germany during this period that Ruhr Express would first face attack from the enemy directly. On Ruhr Express' seventh operation in mid June against a synthetic oil plant in Sterkrade, she was attacked by a German night fighter that her skipper F/O W.F. Dix managed to evade after performing a corkscrew manoeuvre and escaping into cloud cover.
By the later half of August, Bomber Command was released from supporting the Normandy Campaign and returned to the mass bombing attacks on Germany. Ruhr Express would fly 20 of its final 22 missions against Germany. She would once again face attack from a German night fighter on her 28th operation in the latter half of August against the city of Stettin, with her pilot W/O (Warrant Officer) L.H. MacDonald having to perform three separate corkscrew manoeuvres before he finally managed to evade an attacking Messerschmitt Me 110 fighter. KB700 would also be hit by flak on her 30th operation at the end of August, also against Stettin, which would tear an 18 inch long hole in her fuselage port side below the mid upper turret. But it was on her 27th operation against Brunswick that she came closest to disaster. This was not due to enemy action, but as a result of the mechanical problems that had always plagued her. During the mission she was forced to abort after suffering a major electrical failure that caused all four of her engines to fail at different points during the flight.
By this point KB700 had become an aged and worn-out aircraft. The combat operation and all of the time she had spent on training flights and publicity appearances had taken their toll and that, combined with the continued mechanical issues she had suffered from since she had left the factory, had made her a slow and difficult aircraft to fly. Flying "The Ruhr Whore" had become a badge of achievement for older crews and a right of passage for newer ones within the squadron. A total of 18 pilots flew her during her time with 419 Squadron: P/O G.E. Holmes, F/O (Flying Officer) W.J. Anderson, F/Lt (Flight Lieutenant) A.J. Byford, F/O W.F. Dix (who would complete the most missions in the aircraft), F/Lt W.R. Chalcraft, S/L J.G. Stewart, F/O R.W. Kent, F/Sgt L.H. MacDonald, F/O J.E. Errington, F/Lt W.C. Cameron, F/O G.R. Duncan, F/O W.W. Osborne, F/O R.G. Mansfield, F/Lt A.A. Bishop, F/O C.D.F. Williams, F/O N.B. Vatne, F/Lt A.G.R. Warner and F/Lt J.A. Anderson. Nonetheless, by January 2, 1945 the now-venerable Ruhr Express was still flying and prepared for her 49th operation against Nuremburg with F/Lt A.G.R. Warner at the controls. Rumour had it that once KB700 had completed her 50th mission she was to be returned to Canada for a new series of ceremonies and celebrations and perhaps a well-deserved retirement as a memorial or museum display. After completing the operation and reaching Britain without a hitch, she was on approach to 419`s airfield at Middleton when the undercarriage indicators showed that one of her landing gear had not locked into place even though a visual check confirmed that all the gear was down and locked. Problems continued and it is believed that a failure in the flaps caused KB700 to hit the runway hard, and she was in danger of overshooting and rolling off the end of the runway. Warner managed to stop the aircraft about fifty feet past the end of the runway but now needed to move KB700 out of the way as quickly as possible in case any of the other aircraft that were landing overshot the runway as well. As Ruhr Express turned her starboard outer prop struck a trench digging machine that had been left at the end of the runway by civilian workers. The collision ruptured her fuel tank and within seconds the aircraft was ablaze. The crew all managed to escape but the fire spread to the ammunition stores and KB700 quickly became a blazing pyre. Little of Ruhr Express remained by the time the fire was extinguished. The mechanical problems that had plagued her throughout her life had finally been her undoing--a sad end for the veteran warplane that had been so close to returning home in triumph.
What remained of KB700 Ruhr Express after the landing accident that occurred following her 49th mission on January 2-3, 1945. BOMBER COMMAND MUSEUM OF CANADA