The Pathfinders and Donald Bennett, AOC

These are the main pages on this website about the creation of the Path Finder Force, its changing composition, and about Donald Bennett, its highly gifted Air Officer Commanding.

 

OVERVIEW OF THE PATH FINDER FORCE

About the Pathfinders & Conditions of Service

Pathfinder Overview


 

CREATION, EXPANSION AND CONTRACTION OF THE PATHFINDERS :—

The Path Finder Force, which had a difficult beginning, went through a number of changes in its three-year life.

The creation of the Path Finder Force in 1942 was violently opposed by the head of Bomber Command, Arthur Travers Harris. His opposition to the idea only ended when he was given a direct order by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.

Harris v. Portal, the Formation of the Path Finder Force, 1942


 

When Harris conceded defeat, he put forward Donald Bennett for the position of CO of the new Force, believing him to be the only man capable of the job at that point.

Sir Arthur Harris & the Appointment of Bennett


 

The Path Finder Force started off small, but once proven rapidly expanded.

PFF – Setting up the Force


 

Later, when the bitter rivalry with 5 Group developed, Harris took some of the Pathfinder Squadrons away from Bennett

Harris transfers Pathfinder Squadrons to 5 Group

Pathfinder Squadrons in 5 Group


 

See also the link below for detailed lists of PFF squadrons and bases:

PFF Squadrons

 

And these newsheets for press coverage about the Pathfinders:

Tales from the Archive 7. 17 April 2018

Tales from the Archive 7, plus – 17 April 2018

 


DONALD BENNETT, AOC :—

On 15 August 1942, Bennett began his leadership of the newly created Path Finder Force as a Group Captain. He was promoted to Air Commodore on 13 January 1943 once the success of the new Force had been proven. On the same day, the Path Finder Force became a Group – 8 Group. At the end of 1943, Bennett became Acting Air Vice Marshall, at last gaining parity of rank with the other Group commanders. He was the youngest man ever to have held that rank. He was still only 33 years old, about 20 years younger than his fellow Group commanders. 

He was the only Group commander not to receive a knighthood after the war. 


Published in 1958 (Frederick Muller Ltd, London), Bennett’s account of the PFF is essential reading for anyone interested in the Path Finder Force.

Bennett’s Memoirs

PFF – Bennett with the King and Queen


 

Leadership was a key quality in sustaining aircrew morale, and the commander of the Pathfinders, Don Bennett, was above all things an inspirational leader. He had immense courage and steadfastness of nerve. In his book Pathfinder, he tells the story of  being shot down whilst attacking the Tirpitz, giving the details very plainly without any hint of ‘line-shooting’.

Bennett and the Tirpitz

Bennett and the Sinking of the Tirpitz


 

Amongst the many decorations that Bennett received for his war service was the Russian decoration the Order of Alexander Nevsky.

Bennett and the Russians

Bennett & the Russians, continued


 

Special Order of the Day by Air Commodore D.C.T.Bennett CBE, DSO, Commanding Path Finder Force

“To all ranks of the PFF.  On the 15th August 1942, five squadrons, each representing a group in Bomber Command, assembled on allotted aerodromes to form the PFF. …

First Anniversary of the PFF, 1943


 

Bennett had enormous affection for the Mosquito, ‘the greatest little aircraft ever built’.

Bennett on the PFF’s Mosquitoes


 

Other Aspects of Bennett’s Command

Bennett and the Canadians – 405 Squadron

 

Bennett and the Development of H2S

PFF Radar Aid: H2S