Maurice Briggs and John Baker with their 1409 Meteorological Flight Mosquito

1409 Met Flight was formed on 1 April 1943. Initially located at Oakington, it was under the operational control of the Pathfinders. The ORB page below is the very first record of its operations:

met flight beginning
1409 Met Flight ORB

The Met Flight’s Mosquitoes were unarmed, light, and very fast. The crew’s primary duty was to ascertain the weather conditions over the targets before an operation. They also checked weather conditions over the British Isles, which were critical to the safe take-off and landing of operational aircraft. A further duty was ascertaining possible weather conditions when a highly important figure, such as Churchill, was travelling by aircraft.

The following article was written after the conference in Yalta in February 1945, when Franklin D Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, and Winston Churchill gathered to discuss the future of Germany and Europe after the war. The article mentions how weather conditions for the first stage of Churchill’s journey to Yalta were monitored prior to take-off. (According to Christopher H Sterling in Getting There: Churchill’s Wartime Journeys Churchill first flew to Malta, and from then on to Yalta.)

They Fly in Search of Weather

The pilot named in the article, Maurice Briggs, can be seen below (with thanks to Sheila Spencer).

Maurice Briggs, smaller image

Maurice Briggs and his navigator John Custance Baker have been the subject of much dedicated research. The image at the head of this page shows them with their Met Flight Mosquito. Both were killed in a tragic flying accident in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on 10 May 1945. The following links (accurate on 20 March 2018) show some of the considerable amount of information which is available upon this crew.

Remembering Maurice Briggs

John Custance Baker – A very Unlikely Hero

The Fatal Crash 

 

PAMPA SORTIES

The Briggs and Baker crew appears in the 1 March 1944 ORB entry, on what was a fairly routine flight for them; they were flying from Wyton, the main PFF airfield, to which Met Flight had now located. ‘Pampa’ was the standard name for these photographic reconnaissance and meteorological photography sorties.

The Talbot and Cash crew sortie which followed that of Briggs and Baker, take-off being twenty-five minutes later at quarter past five in the evening, is very illuminating of the dangers these unarmed Mosquitoes ran, and how their speed and the pilots’ flying skills got them out of trouble,

1944 Briggs and Baker PAMPA

Bennett, the AOC of the Pathfinders, acknowledged in Pathfinder how dangerous these flights were. In Chapter 8, he wrote:

Naturally they flew high and fast, but the danger was extreme, and it was a most nerve-racking job for the crews concerned. […] They had no guns of any sort, and nothing offensive. I often wonder whether it was appreciated at Headquarters Bomber Command, or for that matter by any other senior officers who called for a Pampa, that in doing so they were asking an unarmed aircraft to proceed deep into the heart of enemy territory, often in broad daylight without any cloud cover. The ease with which they called for Pampas was sometimes quite frightening. No. 1409 Flight, on the other hand, never hesitated for one moment, and never failed to do their job with absolute reliability and consistency.

 

FOOTNOTE

In 2014 the Met Office published an account of meteorological reconnaissance work in the two World Wars, entitled Remember: The Met Office in World War One and World War Two (The Met Office in Wartime pdf). The following is a quote from the section relevant to the Pathfinders:

During 1941 a new type of high level, deep penetration Meteorological Flight, code named PAMPA, was developed […]. The flight was initially made using Spitfires but during 1942 these were phased out in favour of the Mosquito which was faster, could fly higher and further (anywhere within 1,000 miles of base in any direction) and required only two crew. The PAMPA flights were not used for synoptic observations and therefore did not fly fixed routes or times. Instead the aircraft stood ready to take off at any time and in any direction ahead of a major Bomber Command force, to obtain actual weather information over the target (observed by the observer/navigator). Most PAMPA operations were pre-attack sorties but on occasion the planes flew just 30 minutes ahead of the Pathfinder Force target markers and fed up-to-date weather information directly to the Master Bomber or his deputy by radio. On 1 April 1943 the PAMPA flights were absorbed into the Bomber Command Pathfinder Force as it was Bomber Command who most urgently needed the information it supplied.