The last Bomber Command attack of the war took place on the night of 2/3 May, when Pathfinder Mosquitoes, in two forces of 16 and 126 respectively, together with 37 Mosquitoes of 100 Group. bombed Kiel and nearby airfields.
This attack was in support of Montgomery’s troops, who by now were closing in on Lubeck and Kiel. The Germans in the area were preparing to flee to Norway from either one of the two harbours.
The Pathfinder Mosquito squadrons went out in two separate raids, the Kiel attack being in two waves one hour apart. Although the Luftwaffe no longer had any aircraft in the air, the Kiel flak guns and the German warships in the harbour were still a considerable danger but no Pathfinder aircraft were shot down.
The only Mosquito crew lost was that of Flying Officer Catterall and Flight Sergeant Beadle of 169 Squadron, 100 Group, who were shot down by flak. They and 13 members of the Halifax crews of Flight Lieutenant Brooks and Flight Lieutenant Currell of 199 Squadron (who were on Bomber Support duties and whose aircraft unfortunately collided) were the last Bomber Command operational casualties of the war.
This would be the last ever Pathfinder offensive operation. After reallocation of personnel and resources, the Pathfinders would finally be disbanded on 15 December 1945, seven months later.
Our second IWM item this morning, also sent by IWM volunteer Richard Maddox, concerns Pathfinder aircrew and ground crew, and the provisions made for them once the war in Europe had been won and the RAF was beginning the process of equipping its surplus personnel for civilian life.
With its usual genius for publicity, the Air Ministry provided the Press with a series of photographs of this process in the Pathfinders, at least some of which appear to have been taken at Downham Market where 635 Squadron (Lancasters) and 608 Squadron (Mosquitoes) were based. The photographs have a long accompanying blurb which reads:
Within No.8 Group of R.A.F. Bomber Command – the Group which embraced the famous Pathfinder Force Squadrons – a different form of “pathfinding” is now being undertaken. No longer are the Pathfinders flying over enemy territory, pinpointing objectives with target indicators and markers; their targets are at home, on their own airfields, and with as much thoroughness as they carried out their wartime jobs the men and women who created and maintained Pathfinder Force are pinpointing targets indicated by the initial letters “E.V.T.” These three initials are already firmly established in the R.A.F’s own peculiar vocabulary, are an abbreviation of Educational and Vocational Training – a somewhat ponderous designation for a highly practical scheme, which, in Service language, would be well described as the “Civvy Street Course”. That is, in fact, what E.V.T. is – a course designed to equip every R.A.F. and W.A.A.F. man and woman as adequately as possible for return to civilian life. These particular photographs, which give an indication of the scope and variety of E.V.T. activities, were taken, appropriately enough, at Pathfinder stations, but E.V.T. is active throughout every branch of the R.A.F. There are mobile classrooms for small units where permanent E.V.T. centres are impracticable. Subjects taught cover an extraordinary range – from landscape gardening to cookery; from carpentry to music.
For the blurb and featured photograph in the IWM collection, click HERE.
The full range of 30 photographs in the IWM collection can be found HERE.
When the war in Europe ended on 8 May 1945, the aircrew had far too much spare time on their hands. As Joan Beech writes in ONE WAAF’S WAR:
After the cessation of hostilities, there were hundreds of aircrew cooling their heels in airfields up and down the country with nothing much to do. […] Something had to be found for the men to with their time, so someone had the bright idea of introducing ‘Cook’s Tours’ – trips over France and Germany in a Lancaster for any of the non-flying staff who cared to take advantage of it.
She then gives an account of her own Cook’s Tour which she found deeply uncomfortable and terrifying. The crew of the Lancaster who had done the trip many times at night were very blase until they came to Cologne (see the featured photograph).
At Cologne we turned for home, circling the great cathedral at what felt like an angle of forty five degrees. The massive stone structure stood out bravely amidst the miles of destruction, and the crew became interested as they hadn’t seen it in daylight before.
Joan began to feel that her troubles were over, but then they met up with another Lancaster returning from a Cook’s Tour, and ‘to my horror the two aircraft then flew wing-tip to wing-tip all the way home’. She eventually got back safely, vowing never to get in an aircraft again.
An excellent book. See pp.124-128 for the above account.
A page from 635 Squadron’s ORB, giving details of the squadron flying Cook’s Tours from Downham Market.