Guy Gibson, the Dams Raid, and the Pathfinders

Today is the anniversary of the Dams Raid, the most famous Bomber Command raid of the war. Guy Gibson received the Victoria Cross for his leadership and the account in the London Gazette is still thrilling today, 77 years later.

Although the Pathfinders had no part in the Dams Raid, several of our aircrew had flown with Gibson earlier in the war. Amongst these was Donald Margach, a bomb aimer, who was to lose his life flying with 582 Squadron in July 1944. See: Donald Margach and Guy Gibson

Some Pathfinder aircrew worked with Gibson after the Dams Raid. This was at 54 Base, centred at Coningsby, which provided target-marking and illumination for 5 Group operations. It was ‘a place of tactical innovation’ (Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995, p.252), and the place for the cream of RAF pilots. John Simpson had moved there from 97 Squadron (by then, of course, in 5 Group), as had Charles Owen, another 97 Squadron superstar.


See also:

Gus Walker, Wally Layne and Christmas

Ration Cards for Aircrew

In the current Covid-19 situation, there have been various mutterings about rationing becoming necessary, so now seems a good time to take a quick look at rationing in the Second World War …

It is perhaps a little-known fact that aircrew, whose food was provided by their station, still sometimes needed ration cards. These were for their periods of leave or duty, and lasted either seven days or fourteen days.

These temporary ration cards very rarely survived. They were used and then discarded.  However, one such ration book belonging to Leslie Jones, a member of 97 Squadron, has survived until the present day. The square which has been cut out of the side would have contained a printed coupon.

leslie jones ration card, 97 squadron low-res

Leslie, one of the heroes of the Augsburg raid in April 1942, died before 97 Squadron joined the Pathfinders. He has no known grave, his name being remembered at Runnymede.

leslie jones detail

leslie jones, 97 squadron

With many thanks to War and Son for permission to photograph these items.


 

Ration Coupon

Here is a different sort of ration document, one belonging to AC2 Leslie Leonard Bullimore. It is a coupon for ‘Cigs’ and ‘Choc’. Again this is a very rare survival.

bullimore ration coupon, novermber 1942

This has turned up in a ‘Sort This Out’ file, one of those rag-bags of everything waiting for a proper home, and we are not currently sure of where it came from.

Eric Skinner after Capture by the Germans

We have recently received a haunting image of Eric Skinner of the Burns crew who was captured by the Germans on 31 August 1943.  All but one of the crew had baled out of the aircraft when, according to the Bomber Command loss card, the aircraft blew up at 18,000 feet with the full load of bombs. Of the crew of seven, two died and Burns, the skipper, was so badly wounded that he would be repatriated. For the full image of Eric Skinner and details of the Burns crew, see: Burns Crew

The Loss of the Emerson Crew

In two days time it will be the 76th anniversary of the loss of the Emerson crew. The crew suffered a horrific accident on 21 February 1944. Their aircraft, which had been severely damaged over the target, broke up in mid-air on the edge of RAF Bourn and crashed, at twenty to eight in the morning, with the loss of the entire crew.

Gus Walker, Wally Layne & Xmas

Before Wally Layne of the Fletcher crew became a Pathfinder, he served on 50 Squadron. His CO was the legendary Gus Walker, who would lose part of his arm in a bomb explosion whilst trying to ensure that nobody would be hurt.

When Walker left 50 Squadron for 106 Squadron, he sent the NCOs of 50 Squadron a Christmas Card. For the story of Gus Walker’s accident and the Christmas card, see our new page: Gus Walker, Wally Layne, and Christmas

 

76th Anniversary of Black Thursday

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.

A Family’s Pride: George Granger’s DFM

Surviving congratulatory telegrams about a medal award, sent by one’s old Commanding Officer, seem to be somewhat rare. George Granger’s family must have been enormously proud of the high honour which George had received when he was awarded the DFM because they carefully preserved the telegram, together with the invitation to the investiture and one of the tickets to Buckingham Palace.

A Family’s Pride: George Granger’s DFM

Robert Butler wins a Goldfish

The Caterpillar Club, for aircrew whose lives had been saved by a silken Irvin parachute, is well-known. Less so is the Goldfish Club, for aircrew whose lives had been saved by an emergency dinghy. Few of the aircrew who ditched in the sea survived, but one of the lucky ones was Robert Butler, who won the badge on 28 February 1942 whilst in training. See: Robert Butler Wins a Goldfish