Training the Pathfinders

These are the main pages on this website which are about,or refer to, the Pathfinders’ Navigation Training Unit (the NTU), 655 Mosquito Conversion unit (the MCU), or to the ongoing training programmes which crews undertook on their squadrons. 

 

THE NTU :—

Before undertaking their Pathfinder duties, both Lancaster and Mosquito crews received additional training for the highly specialised Pathfinder duties. From April 1943, these were provided at the Navigation Training Unit, the NTU, which was formed that month at Gransden Lodge. It subsequently moved to Upwood and Warboys, with split responsibilities between the two stations. As this arrangement did not work well, all duties and facilities were finally consolidated to Warboys in March 1944.

PFF Navigation Training Unit, NTU


 

William Peart Reader, Chief Technical Officer, was one of the staff alternating between Upwood and Warboys.

Chief Technical Officer at Warboys


 

Wing Commander Dixie Dean, the commanding officer of the NTU from 17 November 1943, was so well-thought of that in February 1944 he received a letter of great praise from Donald Bennett, head of the Path Finder Force.

WingCo Dixie Dean, CO of the Pathfinders NTU


 

Like all training units, the NTU suffered a large number of accidents. The crews at the NTU generally had much prior experience, or if novice crews had been judged to be of a high standard of competence, hence their selection for the Pathfinders. Accidents seem to have been rarely due to pilot or navigator error and mainly due to weather or to the failure of the training aircraft.

On 10 April 1944, a Lancaster from the NTU broke up in the air some 200 miles west of Warboys and crashed, killing all of the very experienced crew.

NTU Lancaster fatal crash in Wales


Mosquito IV DZ589 from the NTU  took off from Warboys at 12:57 on a daylight training sortie. It was struck by lightning at around 12,000 ft. The engine caught fire and the aircraft crashed at Benwick.

NTU Mosquito Struck by Lightning


 

TRAINING ON THE SQUADRON :—

All PFF squadrons carried on a constant programme of training.

Squadrons varied greatly in how much detail they recorded about their training programmes, which included exercises such as Fighter Affiliation and Y Bombing Runs.  The following list from the 635 Squadron Operations Record Book for 10 April 1944 is unusually detailed.

Training on the Squadron, 635 Squadron


 

Even the most apparently ordinary day of training could end in a fatal accident. 

The loss of the Farrant crew of 635 Squadron on 10 April 1944, the same day that the Sloper crew lost their lives (see NTU Lancaster fatal crash in Wales), is a salutary reminder of the hazards which Pathfinder aircrew faced even on an apparently ordinary day of training over the British isles.

Farrant Crew, 635 Sqd, Lost on Training Exercise