The PFF & H2S, continued

Earlier this week we posted a page on H2S, a radar aid used extensively by the Pathfinders. Two connected pages concern the wartime death, in a Halifax crash, of Alan Blumlein, the inventor of H2S, and what was done after this tragic accident to keep the project going. The two pages are:

H2S and the Blumlein Crash

Bennett & the Development of H2S

There has been a very committed campaign to create a memorial to Blumlein in the last few months, led by the Hereford Times, which wrote in January 2019:

We plan a permanent memorial to Blumlein and his colleagues in the form of a metal plaque mounted on a plinth near a riverside path overlooking the site of the tragedy. Our appeal has the support of the Blumlein family and Jerome Vaughan, on whose land the memorial will be placed. It is being spearheaded by Garth Lawson, the Hereford Times walks writer, who has long believed a tribute to Blumlein was overdue.

It is believed that the money for this memorial has now been raised, partly by a generous donation from EMI with whom Blumlein was working when he was killed.

The PFF & H2S, Radar Aid

This week we are publishing three connected pages on the Pathfinders and H2S, starting with one about H2S itself. H2S produced a map of the ground over which the aircraft using the equipment was flying. The highly accurate navigation and target-marking which were critical to the success of the Pathfinders could not have been achieved without this radar aid. There is a fascinating and tragic backstory to its development, which will be covered later this week.

Pathfinder Collection, Wyton

People sometimes confuse the Pathfinder Collection at RAF Wyton, Heritage Centre, and ourselves, the RAF Pathfinders Archive, which is understandable given the similarity of the names. Just to clarify: while the Pathfinder Collection and ourselves share digital material, and some of the Archive’s best artefacts are on display at Wyton, we are separate legal entities.

John Clifford, Senior Curator at the Pathfinder Collection, is a bridge between the two of us as he is also one of the RAF Pathfinders Archive trustees.

The page on our Partnership has just been updated and will hopefully make things clearer. If you want to arrange a visit to the Pathfinder Collection, all the details can be found there.

Display at the Pathfinder Collection at Wyton, which includes items on loan from the RAF Pathfinders Archive.

7 Squadron Pilot & Bomb Aimer, Reunited

Here’s an amazing story. We will let Peter Banting tell it in his own words:

Have just discovered your great website, may be interesting for you to learn that, as a radar navigator and bomb aimer with 7 Squadron, am in regular communication with our pilot, Kenneth Rothwell, an Aussie, also my age, 95, who secured our safety in 28 ops, until the war ended.

He lives in New England, I learnt that he was living in New England, and phoned every Rothwell there, until …..I said “Is that Ken Rothwell?” He replied …. “Hello, Peter”, he knew my voice.

Ken and Peter flew three flights in the iconic operations at the end of the war known as MANNA (see below) and EXODUS. The first was the dropping of food supplies in starving Holland, the second the bringing home of prisoners of war, in Ken and Peter’s case from Lubeck and Juvencourt.

Peter Banting in 1945

Below: Peter Banting and Kenneth Rothwell at the RAF Club in 2002, standing before a painting of Operation Manna.


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OPERATION MANNA: We will set up a page on this topic, but on one of our Facebook posts in December we included this info:


I found this whilst answering a comment just now about our post on the 97 Squadron page. Well worth looking at. Operation Manna delivered thousands of tons of food to the people of the Netherlands, many of whom died in what came to be known as the Hunger Winter. Great to see the magnificent Lancasters being used in this context.
https://www.youtube.com/watch…

Harris transfers Pathfinder Squadrons to 5 Group

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, which we will be covering in the next few days.

Bennett and the Tirpitz

Leadership was a key quality in sustaining aircrew morale, and the commander of the Pathfinders, Don Bennett, was above all things an inspirational leader. He had immense courage and steadfastness of nerve. In his book Pathfinder, he tells the story of  being shot down whilst attacking the Tirpitz, giving the details very plainly without any hint of ‘line-shooting’  (‘line-shooting’ was the RAF wartime term for bragging, any suggestion of which was deeply detested by aircrew).

At that time, Bennett was the commander of 10 Squadron stationed at Leeming. The attack on the Tirpitz took place on 27/28 April 1942. The crew of Bennett’s Halifax were:

W/C D C T Bennett, Sgt H Walmsley (2nd Pilot), F/Sgt J Colgan (F/E), Sgt T H A Eyles (Nav), Sgt C R S Forbes (W/op), Sgt J D Murray RCAF and F/Lt H G How (gunners)

As Bennett’s aircraft approached the ship, it was hit many times and the tail gunner wounded. In a masterpiece of understatement, Bennett summed this up as ‘things were far from peaceful’.

The Tirpitz was hidden by a defensive smoke screen, and was almost impossible to locate exactly. Bennett’s calibre is shown by the fact that even though his aircraft was on fire and badly damaged, he still went round to try a second run. He released the mines as best as possible, then turned east towards neutral Sweden. Things were so bad that he then gave the order ‘Prepare to abandon aircraft’.

I regret to say that one member of the crew became a little melodramatic. He said, ‘Cheerio, chaps; this is it, we’ve had it.’ I told him very peremptorily to shut up and not to be a fool, that we were perfectly all right but that we would have to parachute.

Because the tail gunner, Flight Lieutenant How, was badly wounded, Bennett kept the aircraft in the air as long as possible so that How could escape with the aid of the flight engineer, Flight Sergeant Colgan. Bennett finally jumped just as the aircraft began to break up.

After baling out, he chanced across his w/op Sergeant Forbes in the darkness. At first both of them thought that the other was a German.

Suddenly I realised that he was one of my own crew, and I said, ‘It’s all right. It’s your Wing-co, it’s your Wing-co.’

The story of the two men’s trek through deep snow  is deeply engrossing. After many hardships, and the assistance of the Norwegian people, they made it through to neutral Sweden.

All the crew of seven survived. Four, including Bennett, made it back to England, the rest were captured. Bennett arrived back in England exactly one month after he had been shot down. He immediately hitched a ride in an Anson down to Leeming where his wife and children lived.

The Intelligence boys were furious that I had not reported immediately to London to be interrogated. I could not have cared less.

Only two months later, he was given command of the Pathfinders.

Donald Schofield Barker, 582 Squadron

Donald Barker, a navigator, has been identified in the group photograph of 582 Squadron taken on VE Day. This is highly unusual as the identities of the men in these wonderful squadron photographs tends to be lost over the years if not noted down at the time. Another member of the squadron was clearly a close friend, and appears in the holiday photograph above. Unfortunately, this is not a happy story although both men survived the war. See Donald Schofield Barker page.