It’s amazing how lots of little things relating to the same subject come together at the same time when one is researching. In February we published a page which gave a post and a page on Lancaster Gunners “Hotting Up”. In one part of the drawing, not included on the detail which we used, there was a pigeon in a carrier case. This clearly shows that carrier pigeons were still being used in Bomber Command as late as December 1943. For more details see our new page: Carrier Pigeons in the Bomber War
Pathfinder and Main Force Lancasters had identifying squadron codes and individual letters which made them easy to recognise in the air. For example, OF-D stood for 97 Squadron aircraft D-Dog (D-Donald at a later date). For a list of PFF squadron codes, see Pathfinder Squadrons by Type. For the individual letters (and one of our all-time favourite ground crew and Lancaster photographs), see our new page: Aircraft Codes & Letters
Before flying on ops, gunners got into their electrically heated flying suits, and it seems this process required quite a bit of help. A recent acquisition for the Archive is an Illustrated London News drawing which shows a Nissen hut in December 1943 where the gunners are undergoing their last preparations before the take-off. Some are already fully dressed up, wearing their parachute harnesses and flying helmets, and carrying their parachute packs. Others are being ‘valeted’ into their extraordinary clothing. See new page: Lancaster Gunners Hotting Up
From ‘Beating the Odds: Superstition and Human Agency in RAF Bomber Command, 1942-1945 by S P MacKenzie, WAR IN HISTORY, 2015. Mackenzie makes the case that Bomber Command superstitions and mascots kept crews flying when the odds were stacked against them, and that this is why the authorities made no attempt to ‘curtail’ them (although frankly it is somewhat hard to see exactly how the authorities could have stopped crews believing in rituals and magic objects).
There was […] sound logic behind the widespread fear of flying with different crews and with strange aircraft. Ever since being brought together late in their training, the five or seven members of the bomber crew had been operating as a unit both in the air and on the ground. They had grown to recognise each other’s strengths and weaknesses, quirks and habits, and thereby had developed a significant degree of mutual trust.
Flying in so-called scratch crews, made up of comparative strangers, or even going out as a last-minute substitute with an established crew, was rightly considered risky. The scratch crew necessarily would lack the level of coordination and personal understanding present in most established crews. Hence [one navigator’s] desperate desire to avoid being left behind by his crew despite a foot injury because of his fear that as a result “I would end up as a spare and that was a sure way of getting the chop.” […]
Even charms, talismans and mascots were not entirely a matter of superstition. In a great number of cases they had been given to the individual concerned by a loved one, and thereby provided a link with the world beyond the war and thus a degree of emotional sustenance.
Illustrations, 97 Squadron lucky mascots, living at RAF Station Bourn at around the same time in 1943. Above, the bomb aimer Billy Colson’s good luck pig, ‘Giness Gutz’ (Guinness Guts), complete with tiny bomb symbols, now on display at the Pathfinder Collection at RAF Wyton. And below, the Jones’ crew mascot ‘Ken’, in private hands. Ken lived in the toolbox of the flight engineer, Maurice Hemming. With thanks to David Layne for the copy of the article.
One of the reasons why Bennett may have been late in sending the message about the first anniversary of the Pathfinders (see previous post) is that he may have been preoccupied with the Peenemünde raid, which took place around the same time. As the raid is so well known, we have looked at it from a slightly different angle: what happened after one particular crew left the target. Debriefing after the Peenemünde Raid, 17/18 August 1943
Further to our previous post, we are now publishing the seventh issue of TALES FROM THE ARCHIVE, which is on the RAF’s PR war, and how the Augsburg raid was covered in the Press. It also shows how the existence of the Pathfinders was revealed in November 1943, just prior to the start of what came to be known as the Battle of Berlin.
The latest Tales from the Archive goes right back to the very beginning of the Path Finder Force, at a time when it was being proposed under the name the Target Finding Force. Harris’ pugnacious opposition to the idea only ended when he was given a direct order by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Tales from the Archive 6. 28 March 2018
We have just acquired two Second World War escape maps, one of Germany into Poland, with the tip of Italy on the reverse, and one which is of Italy. They are now at the Pathfinder Collection at RAF Wyton, and will fill two gaps in their collection of escape maps.
Doug Jones’ crew is one of those I have known about for several years, but have only just got round to putting more of the information on the crew online. This had been largely prompted by the arrival here of Maurice Hemming’s memoir, Achieve Your Aim – Maurice was the Flight Engineer. My thanks to Rob Churchyard for sending the memoir.
All the crew survived their tour. They were part of B-Flight, and appear in a well-known photograph from around September 1943.
It was extremely rare for a bomber crew in dire trouble to be able to send a message before the aircraft came down, but this was the case for the Moroney crew on 22 March 1944, whose w/op transmitted from the North Sea. Sadly, rescue never came and all the crew were lost.