All Pathfinder squadrons carried out a constant programme of on-the-job training. The squadrons varied greatly in how much detail they gave in the ORBs about the programmes, which included exercises such as Fighter Affiliation and Y Bombing Runs. See this new page: Training on the Squadron, 635 Squadron
As part of the reorganisation of the website, we have grouped all the pages about Pathfinder training in one place, so that topics can be scanned through quickly. All future posts about Pathfinder training or training accidents will be added to this page. See: Training the Pathfinders
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.
Below: Peter Banting and Kenneth Rothwell at the RAF Club in 2002, standing before a painting of Operation Manna.
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.
The Path Finder Force had a training unit, the NTU, to teach the highly specialised Pathfinder techniques before the crews moved on to their Pathfinder squadrons. For most of its existence, the Unit was based at Warboys, also home for a while to the Mosquito Conversion Unit, the MCU.
Featured image, the King inspecting Warboys in February 1944.
Many photographs survive of Bomber Command men on one or more of the various course they took on the way to becoming aircrew. Most of these photographs have no names on them, which is always frustrating for researchers.
The photograph below is one of the rare records of a course which has nearly all the information that one could want. What is even more unusual about it is that the two men on the left, Peter Marsh and Godfrey Woolf, both went on to become Pathfinders, arriving at 97 Squadron on the same day in September 1943, having been posted there from different squadrons.
Unfortunately the story does not end happily.
Godfrey Woolf came from 106 Squadron on 10 September 1943 and was killed on 1/2 January 1944 when flying with the Mooney crew. He had been a survivor of Black Thursday when the Mooney crew abandoned their aircraft and took to their parachutes (see Caterpillar Club page).
Peter Marsh came from 61 Squadron on 10 September 1943 and was killed on 21/22 January 1944 when flying with the Roberts crew. He too had been a survivor of Black Thursday, but his crew had landed their aircraft safely.
It is not known what happened to Brett and Buchanun, and whether they survived the war. Buchanun is a very uncommon name and he does not appear in CWGC records. Brett is a great deal more common and there are several possibilities in CWGC records, but unfortunately the course photograph does not give initials, which rules out being certain what happened to our Brett, the man on 54 Course.
54 Course photograph courtesy of Peter Marsh, the nephew of the wartime Peter Marsh.
As part of our emphasis on the wider picture and on the wartime context in which the Pathfinders operated, we are giving details of how the RAF was organised in wartime and how it fitted into the structure of government.
This includes brief details of Charles Portal, the top man in the RAF, and also three pages of detailed description with organisational diagrams, as issued by the Directorate of Flying Training, the Air Ministry, in September 1942, the month after the Path Finder Force was formed. RAF Wartime Organisation
This image is from the notebook of John Conybeare Landon (see The Stories Behind the Gravestones on our sister site: RAF MISSING RESEARCH, WAR GRAVES, & REMEMBRANCE). Landon trained as a navigator in Canada and subsequently became a bomb aimer with Main Force.
If you have any documents or photographs about the RAF’s training programme, from initial training camp to Bomber Command Conversion Unit, please get in touch. We are planning an online exhibition this year on Bomber Command training, and all contributions will be gratefully acknowledged.