The three Victoria Crosses awarded to Pathfinders were all gazetted in 1945, some time after the deaths of the recipients. The three men who performed extraordinary feats of heroism and self-sacrifice were Ian Willoughby Bazalgette, Robert Anthony Maurice Palmer, and Edwin Swales.
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
The Pathfinders flew two operations on 25 April 1945, the last major bombing operations which it undertook. One of these was to Wangerooge, the other to Berchtesgaden, a command centre and favourite resort of Adolf Hitler. In all the time that this site has been running (close on 20 years), it has never displayed a photograph of Hitler, whose war machine Bomber Command toiled so long, and with such heavy losses, to dismantle. It seems appropriate to use one here for the Berchtesgaden operation, part of the final destruction of Hitler’s empire.
Our second IWM item this morning, also sent by IWM volunteer Richard Maddox, concerns Pathfinder aircrew and ground crew, and the provisions made for them once the war in Europe had been won and the RAF was beginning the process of equipping its surplus personnel for civilian life.
With its usual genius for publicity, the Air Ministry provided the Press with a series of photographs of this process in the Pathfinders, at least some of which appear to have been taken at Downham Market where 635 Squadron (Lancasters) and 608 Squadron (Mosquitoes) were based. The photographs have a long accompanying blurb which reads:
Within No.8 Group of R.A.F. Bomber Command – the Group which embraced the famous Pathfinder Force Squadrons – a different form of “pathfinding” is now being undertaken. No longer are the Pathfinders flying over enemy territory, pinpointing objectives with target indicators and markers; their targets are at home, on their own airfields, and with as much thoroughness as they carried out their wartime jobs the men and women who created and maintained Pathfinder Force are pinpointing targets indicated by the initial letters “E.V.T.” These three initials are already firmly established in the R.A.F’s own peculiar vocabulary, are an abbreviation of Educational and Vocational Training – a somewhat ponderous designation for a highly practical scheme, which, in Service language, would be well described as the “Civvy Street Course”. That is, in fact, what E.V.T. is – a course designed to equip every R.A.F. and W.A.A.F. man and woman as adequately as possible for return to civilian life. These particular photographs, which give an indication of the scope and variety of E.V.T. activities, were taken, appropriately enough, at Pathfinder stations, but E.V.T. is active throughout every branch of the R.A.F. There are mobile classrooms for small units where permanent E.V.T. centres are impracticable. Subjects taught cover an extraordinary range – from landscape gardening to cookery; from carpentry to music.
For the blurb and featured photograph in the IWM collection, click HERE.
The full range of 30 photographs in the IWM collection can be found HERE.
All Pathfinder squadrons carried out a constant programme of on-the-job training. The squadrons varied greatly in how much detail they gave in the ORBs about the programmes, which included exercises such as Fighter Affiliation and Y Bombing Runs. See this new page: Training on the Squadron, 635 Squadron
When the war in Europe ended on 8 May 1945, the aircrew had far too much spare time on their hands. As Joan Beech writes in ONE WAAF’S WAR:
After the cessation of hostilities, there were hundreds of aircrew cooling their heels in airfields up and down the country with nothing much to do. […] Something had to be found for the men to with their time, so someone had the bright idea of introducing ‘Cook’s Tours’ – trips over France and Germany in a Lancaster for any of the non-flying staff who cared to take advantage of it.
She then gives an account of her own Cook’s Tour which she found deeply uncomfortable and terrifying. The crew of the Lancaster who had done the trip many times at night were very blase until they came to Cologne (see the featured photograph).
At Cologne we turned for home, circling the great cathedral at what felt like an angle of forty five degrees. The massive stone structure stood out bravely amidst the miles of destruction, and the crew became interested as they hadn’t seen it in daylight before.
Joan began to feel that her troubles were over, but then they met up with another Lancaster returning from a Cook’s Tour, and ‘to my horror the two aircraft then flew wing-tip to wing-tip all the way home’. She eventually got back safely, vowing never to get in an aircraft again.
An excellent book. See pp.124-128 for the above account.
A page from 635 Squadron’s ORB, giving details of the squadron flying Cook’s Tours from Downham Market.
Further to our posts way back in March about Pathfinder pets, we have been given permission to use a much better image of Clayton’s crew with Clayton’s spaniel.
The man holding the dog is Tich Palmer, who later went on to fly with the Mansbridge crew on 635 Squadron and sadly was lost with the entire crew on 20 April 1944.
By kind permission of Medals of England, which sold the Titch Palmer collection a while ago: Titch Palmer Medals and Logbooks
Alain Libert, who for some years has been researching the Ottignies operation, 20 April 1944, and the loss of the Mansbridge crew, has produced a two-part video on the subject. Although it is in French, it can be easier to follow for English-speakers if you turn on the auto subtitles in YouTube. With thanks to Debbie Kennett, niece of Gerald Cruwys, the navigator of the Mansbridge crew.
Our thanks to Doug Curtis for pointing out an error on the Billing crew page – Tommy Hope was lost with the Ash crew, not the Edwards crew, as we had previously stated. Tommy was the only member of the Billing crew not to survive the war, but he died alongside Stewie Edwards, who did his first five or so ops with the Billing crew.
As Doug Curtis sadly observed (13 December 2013), ‘all of our charms that they carried had run out of luck’.