John Searby (left, with Bennett in 1944, IWM: CH 20628) was one of the best known and most revered of the Pathfinder squadron and station commanders. According to the dates in Bennett’s book Pathfinder, he was:
- CO of 83 Squadron from 9 May 1943 until 2 November 1943
- Station Commander at Upwood from 20 November 1943 until 10 February 1944.
- Station Commander at Warboys from 3 June 1944 until 24 July 1944 (the June date is given as being in 1943, but this has to be a mistyping)
In September 1943, Searby wrote a note of commendation in the Flying Log Book of Pat Menzies. This is the first note we have seen like this in a logbook. See: Searby & the End of a Kiwi Gunner’s Tour
Many Pathfinder aircrew had experienced very dramatic times in their tours before they became members of the PFF. One of the most dramatic we have come across is the story of John Henry Allen’s crew, 83 Squadron, who on 12 February 1942 set off to attack the German battleships in the Channel Dash. See our sister site, PER ARDUA: The RAF & the Channel Dash
Detail from a painting by Paul Wharmby
The worst night in British aviation history for aircraft crashes occurred on this day, 76 years ago. On return from a bombing raid on Berlin, the RAF lost a large number of aircraft and men due to the thick fog blanketing their airfields.
Tonight we remember all the aircrew who lost their lives on 16/17 December 1943, but particularly those on the Path Finder Force.
The Pathfinders were badly affected: 97 Squadron lost 28 men, 405 Squadron lost 15, 156 Squadron lost 6, and 83 Squadron lost 1. In all, 50 Pathfinder aircrew were killed by the fog. Others were seriously wounded and grounded for a long time, or permanently taken off flying duties. There were also heavy losses on the Berlin raid, 7 Squadron suffering the worst of all with the loss of four crews.
This new page for Black Thursday contains the ORB entries for the PFF squadrons who were flying ‘the heavies’:
16/17 December 1943: The ORBs for the ‘Heavies’, PFF
These ORB entries paint a vivid picture of what happened on that disastrous night.
For other pages on Black Thursday, please see the main menu of the website, or here are some of the relevant links:
Black Thursday Overview
Black Thursday – 97 Squadron
97 Squadron Memorial Page (Losses on Black Thursday)
Pathfinder Funerals at Cambridge City Cemetery
For the RAF website page on Black Thursday, click here.
We have added a page to clarify what is a frequently misunderstood situation, how some Pathfinder squadrons could continue to act as pathfinders even though they had been transferred to 5 Group. Pathfinder Squadrons in 5 Group
The decision by Harris, the Commander of Chief of Bomber Command, to transfer these squadrons was hugely contentious. Bennett was furious with what he considered a seriously flawed decision:
‘It left us with very seriously reduced heavy marking strength to carry on and do the same job as we had been doing in the past.’
From “PATHFINDER: Wartime Memories” by D C T Bennett
The decision was a reflection of the intense rivalry between Cochrane, the leader of 5 Group, and Bennett, who was often openly contemptuous of Cochrane’s decision-making.