After a very successful Mosquito Week, we are saying goodbye to the Wooden Wonder for a few days and looking at some other topics. Our farewell photograph comes from 627 Squadron: 627 Squadron: Aircrew and Ground Crew
We will, of course, be adding further Mosquito material to the website in the near future. Amongst other features will be “‘Soldier of Orange’ – Erik Hazelhoff-Roelfzema” and “Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Mosquitoes”, both by Ross Sharp of the People’s Mosquito. We look forward to publishing them both and to welcoming Ross as a contributor.
This report is not only of great interest because of the men involved in this particular accident, but also because it shows us the type of report which was compiled on flying accidents by the RAF. Unfortunately, due to the post-war ‘slash and burn’ attitude of the British towards their RAF records, this type of information is extraordinarily hard to obtain on RAF aircrew and it is usually only by going to the Dominion records (if a Dominion airman was on that crew) that one can get information on what happened.
See our new page: RAF Accident Reports: Parlato and Orchard
Here is something well worthy of attention during our Mosquito Week.
The People’s Mosquito has a simple vision (and a great many highly qualified and enthusiastic people to back it up): to not only return a de Havilland Mosquito to the skies above Britain, but, for the first time in more than 75 years, build this iconic aircraft in the UK.
People with long memories may remember the crash at an airshow on 21 July 1996 of the last airworthy Mosquito in the world. Sadly both men in the aircraft were killed and the Mosquito itself was totally destroyed.
At the time it looked as if Mosquitoes would never again be seen flying in this country. And so this is where the People’s Mosquito comes in, a not-for-profit restoration project and registered charity.
They have an excellent informative website: The People’s Mosquito website. Of particular interest to me personally is this page featuring the entire film shot by Brian Harris, DFC, when he was a navigator on Mosquitoes with 627 Squadron in August 1944. 627 Squadron was one of the Pathfinder Mosquito squadrons ‘loaned’ to 5 Group in April 1944. 5 Group was always vastly more keen on PR and publicity than 8 Group. This is probably the reason why such a film was shot under Cochrane’s auspices, rather than Bennett’s.
The film shows Mosquitoes preparing and then flying on the raid on Deelen airfield in Holland at mid-day on 15 August 1944. This raid was took place as part of the preparations for Operation Market Garden, the operation to capture several Dutch bridges including that at Arnhem. Deelen airfield was used as a base for German fighters. Following several raids that month, the airfield was put out of commission for fighter aircraft.
One of the many fascinations of the film is seeing Mosquitoes and ground crew in colour, not to mention the historical landscape known so well to Bomber Command aircrew, including Cambridge colleges and Lincoln Cathedral.
JENNIE MACK GRAY
Illustrations: stills from the film.
15 August will be the 76th anniversary of the creation of the Path Finder Force in 1942. In 1943, the year after the Force was formed, slightly belatedly Bennett sent a Special Order of the Day to his squadrons, saying that much had been achieved but more needed to be done. The text was copied into the squadrons’ ORBs.
Entered into 97 Squadron’s Operations Record Book on 22 August 1943:
Special Order of the Day by Air Commodore D.C.T.Bennett CBE, DSO, Commanding Path Finder Force
“To all ranks of the PFF. On the 15th August 1942, five squadrons, each representing a group in Bomber Command, assembled on allotted aerodromes to form the PFF. In one year the PFF has played a large part in showing the enemy how effective bombing can be as a direct means of breaking his morale and thereby winning the war. It is conceivable that he can crack up tomorrow. On the other hand his Gestapo rule may make it possible for him to continue indefinitely. Bombing is our most rapid and effective method of preventing his continued struggle but only if it is effective. The PFF have done much but they must do more. The quality of our bombing is in your hands. Keep at it and good luck to you all.”
Many of you will know that this December sees the 75th anniversary of Black Thursday, 16/17 December 1943, in which the Pathfinders lost 50 men killed and several seriously injured due to fog in England after the return from a Berlin operation.
We are seeking help with putting details and photographs to all the men flying that night. Whilst so much has been shared over the years, it is possible that we may have missed updates on certain aircrew. Please get in touch with us if you think you may have something we don’t know about.
We particularly need to know about aircrew flying with 83, 156, and 405 Squadrons. A list has not yet been compiled of all these men, although we have had one on 97 Squadron for several years. If anyone would like to help by providing a list of aircrew for a particular squadron flying that night, please let us know.
7 Squadron did not lose any crews due to accidents in England although they suffered the heavy loss of 4 crews on the operation. The Mosquito squadrons also escaped any bad-weather crashes. We will be looking to increase information about these squadrons for that particular night, but will make a separate announcement on this, probably next month.
All the information gathered will be shared with RAF Wyton, Pathfinder Collection, and either appear as part of the exhibition there on Black Thursday or become part of a supplementary booklet.
Many thanks in advance – Jennie Gray
Nothing to do with the Pathfinders but also about a flying dog, this time in the wartime USAAF, which raises an interesting point connected to today’s earlier post on Pathfinder Pets
If these dogs were flying with their owners, how did they cope at high altitude without oxygen?
Perhaps Paradog Salvo was not flying above the altitude which requires oxygen – 8,000 feet – but Bomber Command aircrew certainly were and any dog they took with them would have had to do this too.
It is hard to imagine Bomber Command crew members having the time to keep an oxygen mask over a dog’s face during high altitude flying, and the idea of there being dog oxygen masks seems slightly preposterous, So perhaps the whole thing of dogs flying on Bomber Command operations is just a myth. Clayton’s spaniel had his own logbook, but that may have been in a supporting, ground crew type of way.
Any ideas or comments?
Continuing our occasional series on the RAF and Bomber Command leadership, here is a priceless story told by Harris about the London Blitz in 1940. The sentry whom he describes surely has a direct lineage to Shakespeare’s clowns.
During the Blitz, Harris used to go up on the roof of the Air Ministry to watch the sight of London burning. On what was probably the night of 29/30 December 1940, he watched ‘the old city in flames […] with St Paul’s standing out in the midst of an ocean of fire – an incredible sight’. He was alone on the roof with a sentry, and in order to make conversation Harris said to the man that if his history was right, the last time London had burned had been 1666, and he told the sentry that he was looking at history.
This seemed not to make the slightest impression on him; he did not even answer beyond sucking his teeth. I asked him how long he had been there, and he said for the whole of the war, as he was over-age for active service. I asked him whether he wasn’t very bored on ordinary nights, and he said that he wasn’t because he was a student of natural history. That seemed to me a somewhat extraordinary pursuit to engage in on the roofs of Whitehall, and I asked him to explain what he meant. He said that there were some 40 to 50 cats from Government offices on the roofs at night, and that what with the fights and one thing and another there was plenty to see, especially as there was an “unexploded tom” amongst them.
Sir Arthur Harris, BOMBER OFFENSIVE (1949)
Harris wrote that watching London burn that night was the only time he ever felt vengeful against the Germans, and even then it only lasted for a moment.
The RAF are currently completely revamping their whole website and, as part of this, the old Pathfinder Collection page is no longer accessible.
Whilst we are more than happy to pass on contact details, you may wish to follow the details given on the Our Partners page, which includes a link and other information provided by John Clifford.
I am sure it will have escaped few people’s notice that it is the 100th anniversary of the RAF on 1 April. Whilst this is a momentous date historically speaking, the fabulous cake above says it all in a deliciously lighthearted and ingenious way.
With thanks to Josh Stewart, and Geoff Alan, RAF.
There has been a bit of a delay in announcing the good news but the Charity Commission has now been updated with the details of our new trustee, and we are delighted to welcome on board John Clifford, Senior Curator at the Pathfinder Collection, RAF Wyton.
John has an immense fund of knowledge about the Pathfinders, and was the key man in setting up the Black Thursday display at RAF Wyton last December, just in time for the 74th anniversary, a massive achievement considering how short of time we all were to get the Deverill collection purchased and on display.
Further details of our partnership with RAF Wyton.