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)
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
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’:
It’s always good when one answers one’s own questions about ten seconds after posing them in a mystified manner.
This appears to be the right Colin Drew in the Supplement to The London Gazette, dated 7 December 1943. And it is undoubtedly the same man who is flying with Flight Lieutenant Chick in September 1943 (see ORB below). He is a gunner not a navigator, but clearly has been at the game a long time as he is a decorated Flying Officer.
This rather fabulous photograph (it’s a great pity about the poor condition) shows what is thought to possibly be the 83 Squadron crew of Colin Drew (third from right, and possibly a navigator) standing next to their gloriously decorated Lancaster Sugarpuss. This is a fine example of Lancaster art. If anyone can supply any further information on this crew, please let us know.
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.