The ground crew on Bomber Command squadrons were the unsung heroes, working hard in all weathers. It is good to see in this remarkable photograph of ‘A’ Flight of the Pathfinders’ 109 Squadron that the ground crew are standing alongside the men whom they kept in the air: 109 Squadron, A Flight, October 1944 – Aircrew and Ground Crew
Unfortunately, due to the ever-increasing number of enquiries and our slender resources, not to mention the complications brought by COVID-19, we can no longer undertake research enquiries except for a selected few. These are the ones which promise to add interesting information to the Archive. For further information on what the Archive is interested in and how you can undertake your own research, see our new page: RESEARCH ENQUIRIES
Just a quick note, prompted by a comment on our Guy Gibson post yesterday, to say that over the coming months we will be substantially increasing information on the background to the Path Finder Force’s war. This is because the Path Finder Force cannot be seen in isolation from the world in which it operated, which self-evidently had a profound effect on how the Force developed and what its personnel thought about serving in it.
Our tagline has always been:
Pathfinder Aircrew, their Friends, their Families, and the World they Knew
For more about our research aims, see the ‘Sourcing the Archive’ section of The Archive
Today is the anniversary of the Dams Raid, the most famous Bomber Command raid of the war. Guy Gibson received the Victoria Cross for his leadership and the account in the London Gazette is still thrilling today, 77 years later.
Although the Pathfinders had no part in the Dams Raid, several of our aircrew had flown with Gibson earlier in the war. Amongst these was Donald Margach, a navigator, who was to lose his life flying with 582 Squadron in July 1944. See: Donald Margach and Guy Gibson
Another man who flew with Gibson was Oliver Lambert, a gunner, who would lose his life flying with 97 Squadron in August 1943. See: Burns Crew
Some Pathfinder aircrew worked with Gibson after the Dams Raid. This was at 54 Base, centred at Coningsby, which provided target-marking and illumination for 5 Group operations. It was ‘a place of tactical innovation’ (Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995, p.252), and the place for the cream of RAF pilots. John Simpson had moved there from 97 Squadron (by then, of course, in 5 Group), as had Charles Owen, another 97 Squadron superstar.
To: The Path Finder Force
From: Air Vice-Marshal D C T Bennett, CB, CBE, DSO.
Great Britain and the Commonwealth have made a contribution to the civilised world so magnificent that history alone will be able to appreciate it fully. Through disaster and triumph, sometimes supported and sometimes alone, the British races have steadfastly and energetically over many long years flung their forces against the international criminals. VE Day, 1945 – Victory at the Pathfinders
All the Pathfinder squadrons and units recorded in their ORBs on 8 May 1945 that Victory in Europe had been achieved. Above is our favourite entry.
The full page of the ORB, which is that of the NTU (National Training Unit) at Warboys, is below: (see also Training the Pathfinders)
It is interesting to note that the Pathfinders clearly knew that victory had been declared on 7th May, one day before the public announcement.
At the end of the war, many Pathfinder squadrons had photographs taken of their aircrew, occasionally including some of the ground crew as well. There are a number of these celebratory photographs on this site under different subject headings, but here in celebration of VE Day tomorrow are three of them grouped together. End of War Celebratory Squadron Photographs
Once aircrew could fly safely over Germany in daylight, many were absolutely amazed by the devastation which had been wrought by Allied bombing. Crews sometimes took photographs of the apocalyptic scenes. Horace Bennett, a gunner on 635 Squadron, had a small collection of these photographs, presumably taken during his crew’s trips over Germany. Horace Bennett’s Photos of Germany, May 1945
Probably at no time in its existence has the prestige of the RAF stood higher than at the end of the Second World War. The huge part that the RAF had played in the Allied victory was emphasised at that time by the fact that it was Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder who was the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, second only to General Eisenhower himself. The RAF’s Sir Arthur Tedder & the German Surrender
What a difference six days made! Less than a week after the Pathfinder Mosquito attacks on Kiel, and on the airfields in the Kiel and Lubeck area, Pathfinder Lancasters were back using the airfield at Lubeck to collect and bring home prisoners of war. One of the crews flying on 9 May was that of Flying Officer Coombes and Bill Lapthorn, his flight engineer, See: POWs brought back from Lubeck, near Kiel, 9 May 1945