Bennett & the Russians, continued

In January we posted on Bennett and the Russians, not realising that there is a rather wonderful story in Bennett’s autobiography Pathfinder to which we should have drawn attention. So here it is at last. It is presumably the explanation why Bennett was awarded the Order of Alexander Nevsky, which had always seemed a bit of a mystery before.

I saw a great deal of the Russians towards the end of the war, because they made frequent efforts to visit my headquarters, obviously with the intention of obtaining some of our secrets. Finally the Air Ministry gave in and granted them permission, and two generals and six colonels arrived at my headquarters just before victory in Europe was achieved. Indeed, their four-day visit lasted over the victory celebrations ā€“ much to our dismay. They were all smiles and courtesy and were most charming and likeable persons. Their distrust of us and their obviously disguised views of us as an enemy were, however, quite apparent.

One of the occasions of their visit was to show them a demonstration of the latest Pathfinder markers of all sorts and sizes ā€“ which we laid on one night.

When we told them that this was to take place and that they were to fly with me in a Lancaster, there was immediate confusion. Our interpreter finally explained to me that they were not permitted to fly in Royal Air Force aircraft owing to the dangers involved. The interpreter had apparently overheard the conversation in which it had been made quite clear that they did not trust us to fly them, as it was obviously a trick in order to kill them all. The interpreter explained this to me, so I told him to point out that I myself was flying with them and I hardly intended to risk my own life in any way and that therefore they were quite safe. This apparently helped, but they still had to ring up their embassy in London to ask permission.

In due course this permission was given, provided I was pilot of one aircraft and only one general was with me, whilst the other general and some of the colonels flew in another Lancaster. This was arranged, and the demonstration took place. I was amused to find the relief when in fact we landed back safely without killing any of them!