PFF Squadrons

This section of the website is being reorganised, but for the moment a number of relevant topics will be grouped here.

By far the greatest collection of material in the Archive relates to 97 Squadron, which therefore has its own series of pages.

139 Squadron, Squadron Leader Hubert Wakeford, DFC

PFF 139 sqd - Wakeford

David Wakeford writes: 


I was only 11 years old when my father died so no stories, only bits from his flying Log Books. Many times returning with heavy flak damage, one engine out, etc, much like all the others I guess.
I note in his logs while over Berlin April 20th 1945 flying Mosquito PF501 he notes: 
STRUCK BY LIGHTNING NOSE SPLIT OPEN. LAST RAID ON BIG CITY – RUSSIANS INSIDE CITY.

Lionel was born in Weymouth in 1915 and joined the RAF at age 15 as an apprentice at RAF Halton. At the outbreak of war in 1939, he was a sergeant Pilot in Egypt (Heliopolis) flying Bristol Bombay aircraft with 216 squadron throughout Egypt, North Africa and Greece. After returning to England, he flew Wellington bombers and then Mosquitoes with the Pathfinders, 139 Squadron. By the end of the war he had flown over 2,400 hours, was twice mentioned in Dispatches, and awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

He stayed in the post-war RAF. In 1952 he moved to RAF Pembrey to form 233 Squadron, a conversion unit, where he ran the tactical wing.

On September 22nd 1953 Lionel was training Pilot W.H. Williams in flying the Vampire Jet, and the aeroplane took off from Pembrey Airfield. However shortly after take-off Lionel requested permission to return to base. The aircraft was seen to weave for 2 miles approaching the airfield which was a method of losing speed. Unfortunately the Vampire crashed at the edge of the runway. The inquest found that the aircraft had suffered a severe fire probably starting immediately after take-off (possibly a re-ignite after a “flame out”) which had led to the crash. Both men were killed on impact, and Lionel is buried at Pembrey (St. Illtyd) Churchyard.

582 Squadron – May 1945

This wonderful photograph was clearly taken on or just after Victory in Europe Day on 8 May 1945.

582Sqdn PFF end of war (2)

The photograph was taken at Little Staunton. It was sent by Keith Leadbetter, whose father joined the squadron at the very end of the war and is somewhere in the photograph.

 

635 Squadron & C Flight, 97 Squadron

 

97 Squadron’s C Flight, both aircrew and ground crew at the time of moving to 635 Squadron at Downham Market.

The following details appear in 97 Squadron’s ORB, 19-21 March 1944.

  • Movement Order is attached for the move of “C” Flight to form one flight in No 635 Squadron at Downham Market. This move reduces 97 Squadron to a two flight Squadron with aircraft on basis of 16.1.E and 41.R in accordance with Estab. LVE/BC/3364.  The Advance Party moved off on the 18th March and the Main Party moved off with equipment by road on 20th
  • 9 aircraft and crews also took off by air. The rear party consisting of 2 crews leave on the 21st.  14 aircraft were detailed for operations today but were cancelled soon after briefing.
  • The move of “C” Flight to No 635 Squadron has been completed today. 14 Lancasters have been detailed for operations for tonight and crews briefed.  The operation was cancelled in late afternoon.

Many of the names which are so familiar from their operations with 97 Squadron went to Downham Market with C Flight. Amongst these were the Riches and Mansbridge crews, who had survived Black Thursday but would lose their lives flying with 635 Squadron.

Other Black Thursday crews transferring to 635 Squadron were:

Billing crew

Henson crew (Henson was the only crew member who flew on Black Thursday – as second pilot)

Nicholls crew

Smith crew

Snell crew

Though one or two crew members might be lost flying with other crews, the bulk of all the above crews survived the war. The following crews also transferred:

Coutenay crew

Farrant crew       

Leader crew (killed in April 1944)

Lyon crew

Voyce crew


Wheble crew

635 Squadron – Tubby Baker

The above photograph was sent by Adam Morris, the nephew of  Flt/Lt HG Bennett DFC, DFM, known as Benny, who is pictured to the left of Tubby Baker (centre), the CO of 635 Squadron from September 1944. The three men are enjoying a glass of beer together.

Wing Commander Baker was one of Bomber Command’s most experienced Pathfinder master bombers and amongst the RAF’s most highly decorated pilots.

Note, 19 September 2017 – We have been contacted by Tony Berbridge, another nephew of Horace Bennett, who writes that he was “my mother’s younger brother and one of my favourite uncles. The note on the back of the photograph says, in my mother’s hand, that they were celebrating Tubby’s 100th mission, and I still have in my study my uncle’s navigation parallels.” We are now trying to find out who the third man in the photograph is.

 

Tubby Baker’s obituary in The Telegraph on 23 August 2007 contains the following resume of his PFF career:

After his first tour Baker was an instructor at a bomber training unit before returning in May 1944 to No 7, which had been re-equipped with the Lancaster and was then part of the Pathfinder Force.

Bomber Command had begun concentrated operations in support of the D-Day landings, and Baker attacked many targets in northern France, including the V-1 launching sites in the Pas de Calais.

He was appointed a master bomber in July, a role given to only the best bomber captains.

Arriving over the target first, the master bomber had to circle overhead for 30 or 40 minutes to direct the Pathfinder crews dropping flares and markers; at the same time he was controlling the main bomber force by giving instructions on the precise aiming points and any necessary corrections as the raid developed. Many master bombers were lost in the process.

In September 1944 Baker was promoted to wing commander and took command of another Pathfinder Lancaster squadron, No 635.

During the German offensive in the Ardennes in December some bomber airfields were covered in fog on Boxing Day, but it became imperative to attack a large build-up of enemy armour at St Vith.

Baker was appointed as master bomber, and, with the aid of FIDO (a fog dispersing aid), a force of 294 aircraft took off for a daylight raid. The bombing was described as “accurate”, but Baker and his crews had to return to land at the fog-bound airfields. He was awarded a Bar to his DFC.

On March 13 1945 Baker attacked Wuppertal in daylight, and on landing was informed that he had been grounded, having completed his 100th operation at a time when the average life expectancy of a bomber pilot was some 10 sorties.

Baker’s achievement was particularly impressive since he completed all his bombing operations during the height of the strategic bombing war when enemy defences were at their most effective.

He was awarded a Bar to his DSO for “pressing home his attacks despite any opposition … when his cool courage [and] unfailing devotion to duty inspired the utmost confidence “.

 

The Engineering Officer at Warboys

F/Lt John William Peart Reader at Warboys by his son, Brian Reader

My father was posted to RAF Warboys from 156 Squadron on 11 Nov 1943. He was the Engineering Officer at Warboys but remained on the strength of 156 Squadron, so he alternated between Warboys and Upwood.

warboys - william reader

On 10 Feb 1944 he escorted King George VI around Warboys. As regards the photo of the king’s visit, you can see it’s suffered over the years.  There were others that I remember but my mother unfortunately was not a keeper of anything “OLD”, fortunately she kept this one. 

warboys - william reader with king

My father told me that he was Officer in Charge and Chief Technical Officer of RAF Warboys and the Maintenance Wing Satellite Stations; which included 105, 109, 139 Squadrons, RAF Oakington & RAF Upwood, de Havilland Mosquitos; 83 &  97  Squadrons & Night Training Unit, RAF Wyton, Avro Lancasters; to 1946. 


I remember that he was the Station Entertainment Officer and organised amongst other events a visit to Warboys by the Squadronaires.


There were many parties at our house “Alma” in the village of Warboys. I remember one children’s Christmas party on the station when Group Captain (was he Grp Cpt or Wing Co I’m not absolutely sure as I don’t remember the year, I was only 7 in 1944)
Mahaddie came in and said he was going to start it by firing his pistol which he was wearing as he was on duty. No, he didn’t actually fire it, he just waved it around.  Bit like Captain Mainwaring of Dad’s Army. (I suppose you know that Mahaddie was the procurer of aircraft for the film “Battle of Britain”?)

One night I woke up under the stairs during an air raid, my mother had carried me down stairs; she said my grandfather beat her down there even though he only had one leg!   It was quite noisy as a mobile anti-aircraft gun was set up just in front of the house on the road.

I do remember a night raid on the base which my father said was a Ju88 following in the last planes, and because the base thought that it was someone from another squadron they put the lights on again and he dropped a string of bombs down the runway.  Also my father mentioned one aircraft which blew up on the taxiway when fully bombed up, I think it was a Wellington. 

I also remember going to the end of the road which was closed off by the perimeter fence and waving to the planes as they taxied by on their way to a raid. One tail gunner who my family knew used to wave his handkerchief so we could see it.


One night I slept in my father’s office on the camp as my mother was away and he was on duty.   He took me around and I remember going into a Mosquito and I think a Halifax.

Following is a photo of the Wing Commander’s Lancaster with 25 missions; my father is on the extreme left of the photo.  The one of him at the very top of the page was taken when he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant.

Warboys Wing Co's Lancaster

Churchill at Oakington, 1942

This grainy image from wartime footage shows Churchill at Oakington in 1942. The Stirling taxiing in the background has a 7 Squadron identification code of MG.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

7 Squadron joined the PFF in August 1942.  Although we have not yet confirmed this had happened by time this footage was taken, it would seem highly likely that Churchill, who was very much a hands-on leader, would have visited the new Pathfinder bases, including Oakington.

With thanks to Dave Cheetham for the information about the aircraft in the background.