The Pathfinders – Setting up the Force

After some political manoeuvring, the initial PFF squadrons were donated by the Group Commanders – those senior officers who had strongly opposed the setting up of the PFF and who did not want to lose their best and most experienced crews to this new and untested arrangement. Some of the most promising new intakes at the OTUs (Operational Training Units) were also to be allocated to the PFF.

The PFF initially consisted of 5 squadrons:

  • 7 Squadron, from 3 Group, flying Stirlings;
  • 35 Squadron, from 4 Group, flying Halifaxes;
  • 83 Squadron, from 5 Group, the only Squadron flying Lancasters;
  • 109 Squadron, from 2 Group, flying Wellingtons, but shortly to be re-equipped with Mosquitoes;
  • 156, from 1 Group, flying Wellingtons.

The PFF would eventually be entirely equipped with Lancasters and Mosquitoes, the most suitable aircraft for its task.

The PFF squadrons were located at adjacent airfields within No 3 Group – Oakington, Graveley, Wyton and Warboys, with the headquarters then being at Wyton.

Initially the Force was under the direct control of Harris, and relied on 3 Group for administration, pay and rations. On 8 January 1943, however, the PFF expanded into a completely new Group, No 8 (PFF). This was in recognition of the huge improvements achieved by Bennett. Bennett himself, hitherto only a Group Captain, was promoted to Air Commodore, a move which gave him equality of function, though not of rank, with the other Group Commanders.

In April 1943 the PFF gained two more heavy bomber squadrons, 405 (RCAF) Squadron and 97 Squadron, to be based respectively at Gransden Lodge and Bourn. It also acquired the Mosquitoes of 1409 Meteorological Flight, which allowed Bennett to study weather conditions more closely, an absolutely key ingredient in the success of bombing raids and the safety of the crews returning home afterwards.

Continuing its expansion, in June 1943 the Mosquito Squadrons 105 and 109 were added to the PFF, both to be based at Marham. Later in that same month the PFF HQ was moved from Wyton to Castle Hill House in Huntingdon, where it remained for the rest of the war.

For a full list of squadrons and bases, with the relevant dates, see Squadrons and Bases.