We have received a delightful picture of an unknown PFF bomber crew. It is cheerful, happy and informal, and the crew are obviously close friends.
Sent by Paul Smith, it was taken in early 1944 as his father, the young boy in the photo, was born in April 1942 and he is about two years old in the picture. Full-sized image.
Following our recent post on the Mosquito film footage from August 1944, we would like to add that it was donated to the People’s Mosquito by the family of Brian Harris DFC and was shot while Brian was serving with 627 Squadron.
The extended version can be viewed here, with credit at the end: The People’s Mosquito Film.
After a very successful Mosquito Week, we are saying goodbye to the Wooden Wonder for a few days and looking at some other topics. Our farewell photograph comes from 627 Squadron: 627 Squadron: Aircrew and Ground Crew
We will, of course, be adding further Mosquito material to the website in the near future. Amongst other features will be “‘Soldier of Orange’ – Erik Hazelhoff-Roelfzema” and “Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Mosquitoes”, both by Ross Sharp of the People’s Mosquito. We look forward to publishing them both and to welcoming Ross as a contributor.
To refine their accuracy in marking the targets, the Pathfinders used sophisticated navigational aids, one of which was Oboe. 109 Squadron, flying Oboe-fitted Mosquitoes, were often leaders in the bombing raids, and they had a number of star aircrew, including Group Captain H Bufton, one of Oboe’s pioneers. See our new page for Mosquito Week: Mosquito Squadrons & Oboe
This report is not only of great interest because of the men involved in this particular accident, but also because it shows us the type of report which was compiled on flying accidents by the RAF. Unfortunately, due to the post-war ‘slash and burn’ attitude of the British towards their RAF records, this type of information is extraordinarily hard to obtain on RAF aircrew and it is usually only by going to the Dominion records (if a Dominion airman was on that crew) that one can get information on what happened.
See our new page: RAF Accident Reports: Parlato and Orchard
In our two posts on Monday and Tuesday of this week, we gave some details of Sid Parlato’s time as a Mosquito pilot in the Pathfinders. Since then we have been contacted by Parlato’s great-nephew, Pete McGraw, himself ex-Air Force (RAAF), who has sent a photograph of Sid’s grave and other details of his great-uncle. Sid Parlato, Mosquito Pilot
Here is something well worthy of attention during our Mosquito Week.
The People’s Mosquito has a simple vision (and a great many highly qualified and enthusiastic people to back it up): to not only return a de Havilland Mosquito to the skies above Britain, but, for the first time in more than 75 years, build this iconic aircraft in the UK.
People with long memories may remember the crash at an airshow on 21 July 1996 of the last airworthy Mosquito in the world. Sadly both men in the aircraft were killed and the Mosquito itself was totally destroyed.
At the time it looked as if Mosquitoes would never again be seen flying in this country. And so this is where the People’s Mosquito comes in, a not-for-profit restoration project and registered charity.
They have an excellent informative website: The People’s Mosquito website. Of particular interest to me personally is this page featuring the entire film shot by Brian Harris, DFC, when he was a navigator on Mosquitoes with 627 Squadron in August 1944. 627 Squadron was one of the Pathfinder Mosquito squadrons ‘loaned’ to 5 Group in April 1944. 5 Group was always vastly more keen on PR and publicity than 8 Group. This is probably the reason why such a film was shot under Cochrane’s auspices, rather than Bennett’s.
The film shows Mosquitoes preparing and then flying on the raid on Deelen airfield in Holland at mid-day on 15 August 1944. This raid was took place as part of the preparations for Operation Market Garden, the operation to capture several Dutch bridges including that at Arnhem. Deelen airfield was used as a base for German fighters. Following several raids that month, the airfield was put out of commission for fighter aircraft.
One of the many fascinations of the film is seeing Mosquitoes and ground crew in colour, not to mention the historical landscape known so well to Bomber Command aircrew, including Cambridge colleges and Lincoln Cathedral.
JENNIE MACK GRAY
Illustrations: stills from the film.
Further to yesterday’s post, which included photos of Dai Thomas and Sid Parlato, here is a page in Dai Thomas’s logbook, made when he and his pilot, Sid Parlato, were at 139 Squadron at Wyton during September to November 1943.
Mosquitoes relied on their speed and agility to get them out of trouble, but on 26 September the crew was unlucky. The first entry in the logbook page below tells of the aircraft being hit by flak, and the pilot (Sid Parlato) being injured. The corresponding entry in Sid Parlato’s logbook is believed to read: ‘Moderate flak. Aircraft hit including self.’
The deadpan factual nature of the comments is very striking. However, it is clear from the gap in the crew’s operations afterwards that something far from trivial had happened.
Looking up 627 Squadron’s ORB, we find a brief description of the incident, including the detail that Sid Parlato had been hit just above the left knee and that there had been considerable damage to the aircraft:
Perhaps on the same principle as you need to get back on a horse after a fall, Dai Thomas was flying the following day on an NFT (Night Flying Test) with a different pilot. Apart from one further NFT, his logbook does not show him flying again until 16 October, and then only on NFTs and Gee training, also with different pilots.
Finally, Sid Parlato rejoined him on 22 October, close to a month after the Homborn flight in which he had been injured. They flew an NFT together and then an operation against Frankfurt, after which the normal pattern of ops resumed.
Enormous courage and a strong sense of duty were what it took to be Pathfinders.
Logbook images courtesy of Michael Thomas.
We’re having a Mosquito week this week, inspired by the wonderful project The People’s Mosquito which we will be giving more details of in the coming days.
Below: article in an American paper, the Evening Post, 3 March 1945. Dai Thomas on the far left of the group. Courtesy of Michael Thomas.
From ‘Beating the Odds: Superstition and Human Agency in RAF Bomber Command, 1942-1945 by S P MacKenzie, WAR IN HISTORY, 2015. Mackenzie makes the case that Bomber Command superstitions and mascots kept crews flying when the odds were stacked against them, and that this is why the authorities made no attempt to ‘curtail’ them (although frankly it is somewhat hard to see exactly how the authorities could have stopped crews believing in rituals and magic objects).
There was […] sound logic behind the widespread fear of flying with different crews and with strange aircraft. Ever since being brought together late in their training, the five or seven members of the bomber crew had been operating as a unit both in the air and on the ground. They had grown to recognise each other’s strengths and weaknesses, quirks and habits, and thereby had developed a significant degree of mutual trust.
Flying in so-called scratch crews, made up of comparative strangers, or even going out as a last-minute substitute with an established crew, was rightly considered risky. The scratch crew necessarily would lack the level of coordination and personal understanding present in most established crews. Hence [one navigator’s] desperate desire to avoid being left behind by his crew despite a foot injury because of his fear that as a result “I would end up as a spare and that was a sure way of getting the chop.” […]
Even charms, talismans and mascots were not entirely a matter of superstition. In a great number of cases they had been given to the individual concerned by a loved one, and thereby provided a link with the world beyond the war and thus a degree of emotional sustenance.
Illustrations, 97 Squadron lucky mascots, living at RAF Station Bourn at around the same time in 1943. Above, the bomb aimer Billy Colson’s good luck pig, ‘Giness Gutz’ (Guinness Guts), complete with tiny bomb symbols, now on display at the Pathfinder Collection at RAF Wyton. And below, the Jones’ crew mascot ‘Ken’, in private hands. Ken lived in the toolbox of the flight engineer, Maurice Hemming. With thanks to David Layne for the copy of the article.