Bennett on the PFF’s Mosquitoes

Photograph of F/L Henley Neilson Scott (always went by Neil), DFC, RCAF, and his navigator, F/O Andy Sarmat, when with 139 Jamaica Squadron at Upwood, April-May 1945. Courtesy of Andrew Scott.

in the early days of the Pathfinders, 109 Squadron was equipped with Wellingtons. The squadron and Bennett himself became convinced that the Mosquito, then only available in small numbers, could do the job much better than the Wellington. Writing in his memoirs, Pathfinder, Bennett recalled:

We had a few of these bomber Mosquitoes which nobody wanted, but which had been ordered in a small test order by the Ministry  of Aircraft Production. They had no armament of any sort, but were indeed very fast little craft. They had a bomb bay big enough to take four of our five-hundred-pound Target Indicators, and it seemed to me that if they could achieve the ceiling we required they would be perfectly suitable.

Unknown to the Air Ministry, who were very strongly opposed to the adoption of the Mosquito which they described as ‘a frail wood machine totally unsuitable for Service conditions’, Bennett had Oboe (a navigational aid, working through a responder system worked by two stations in the UK which sent out radar pulses) installed. He then  extensively tested the Mosquito. At a subsequent meeting at the Air Ministry he confounded all their objections, including the ace card which they played at the very last, which was that the Mosquito was impossible to fly at night.

At this I raised an eyebrow, and said that I was very sorry to hear that it was quite impossible to fly it by night, as I had been doing so regularly during the past week and had found nothing wrong. There was a deathly silence. I got my Mosquitoes.

 Ultimately Bennett had nine squadrons of bomber Mosquitoes (with twenty aircraft in each) in addition to the Oboe Mosquitoes (used for target- and sky-marking) and the 1409 Met Flight Mosquitoes.

Some Mosquitoes also flew diversion raids to attract German fighters away from the main target and the main stream of the bombers.

Bennett chose 139 Squadron for a different role.

During all this long period of bombing Germany by the Light Night Strikers, No 139 Squadron, fitted with H2S, acted as their marker squadron. Nominally, No 139 Squadron was not a Pathfinder Squadron, but it did in fact carry out all Pathfinder duties for the benefit of the rest of the Mosquitoes. It did a wonderful job, and made the [Light Night Striking Force] a really damaging factor and not merely a set of nuisance raiders […]

Perhaps Londoners might be interested to know that on an ordinary ‘milk run’ to Berlin the Mosquitoes of the Light Night Striking Force were properly guided and given aiming point markers by No. 139 Squadron, and, as they often reached as many as one hundred aircraft, they dropped a total of about 400,000 lb of bombs in any one raid on Berlin. […]

The experts on the Air Staff who turned down the Mosquito as a type in the early days might be interested in the argument which subsequently became current to the effect that one Mosquito was worth seven Lancasters. For those mathematically minded, here is the exercise: A Mosquito carried a little over half the bomb load of a Lancaster to Berlin. Its casualty rate was about 1/10th of that of the Lancaster. Its cost was 1/3rd of the Lancaster, and it carried two people in its crew instead of seven.

Bennett concluded that although it was a little hard to get an exact mathematical result out of these figures, it was quite clear that the Mosquito’s value was higher than ‘any other aircraft ever produced in the history of flying’.

He clearly had enormous affection for ‘the greatest little aircraft ever built’.