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.

Drawing by German POW of PFF Airman

Portrait of Dennis Walters (possibly of 635 Squadron)

This sketch is thought to be by a German prisoner of war, Kurt Kranz, who was conscripted for German Military service in 1940, and served in Norway and Finland. He died in 1997, aged 87.

Dennis Walters is believed to have served in 635 Squadron, but we have not yet managed to trace him in the records. If anyone can shed any light on Dennis’s RAF career, please contact us.

At the time the sketch was made, in 1946, Dennis would almost certainly have been serving with BAFO, the British Air Forces of Occupation, in Germany.

The sketch is now at Eden Camp Museum at Malton in North Yorkshire. It was donated by Bryan Marvin.

 

Additional Page from Archive Scrapbook

Further to our post this afternoon about TALES FROM THE ARCHIVE No.7, it seems a shame not to publish part of a page from the tattered old scrapbook in the Archive which is mentioned in No.7. The scrapbook page has newspaper clippings about the Pathfinders just after the news had been broken to the world of the existence of this new Force.

We have therefore set up a single page addition to TALES No.7 showing the scrapbook page exactly as it is: Tales from the Archive 7, plus – 17 April 2018

 

Harris v. Portal, the Formation of the Path Finder Force, 1942

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

Pathfinder pets – Clayton and his spaniel

Further to our post yesterday, I remembered that somewhere in the Archive there was another 97 Squadron dog. And here he is, a spaniel who belonged to the pilot Peter Clayton, DSO, DFC. Unfortunately the copy of the photo we have is very low resolution, but you can just make out the dog sitting between Clayton’s legs.

The crew were flying with 97 Squadron in 1943, and on 27/28 September, for example, the crew members were:

JB238A  F/L R.F.Clayton, Sgt L.Palmer, F/L F.W.Chandler, F/Sgt A.E.Newbegin, W/O W.Halsey, F/Sgt J.Woods, W/O P.O.Bone.

Des Evans, who used to run the 97 Squadron Association website, emailed me way back in March 2006 about Peter Clayton’s dog. (I am not sure, by the way, why Clayton’s initials in the ORB are ‘RF’ and not ‘P’ – a small mystery there.)

Talking of Dogs yesterday. I had a great email from Kevin [Bending] last Night. He has been in touch with Peter Clayton , knocking up the years a bit now. However he is going to let us have a log book for his Spaniel which flew on a few trips with him and his crew. They evolved a logbook for him.

I wrote what a good story it was and asked if all the crew survived. Des responded: ‘To my knowledge they all survived including the Dog. Peter Clayton is still alive and well.’

Unfortunately I don’t know whether the spaniel’s logbook was ever copied.

The photograph above was sent to Des by Darren Rigsby, whose Grandfather was Pilot Officer Peter Bone, DFC (extreme left in the photograph). P/O Bone was the mid-upper gunner in the crew.

JENNIE

 

 

1409 Met Flight

1409 Met Flight’s primary duty was to ascertain the weather conditions over the targets before a bombing operation. They also checked weather conditions over the British Isles, which were critical to the safe take-off and landing of operational aircraft. This might seem like a dull routine job, but it was anything but. The dangers which the crews faced were extreme,

The new page on 1409 Met Flight gives a brief outline of its work.

It also includes details of the Maurice Briggs and Baker crew, together with links to some of the extensive research which has been carried out about them.