The RAF Pathfinders: Bomber Command's Elite Squadron (Aviation)
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
The formation of the Pathfinder Force in August 1942 produced a steady but certain change in the fortunes of Bomber Command. During the early years of the war, aerial photographs showed that less than one third of the aircraft were successfully placing their bombs with accuracy. There was a basic lack of navigational skills, as well as what came to be known in the RAF as the will to 'Press On'. These shortcomings were addressed, and the special force of elite aircrew, the Pathfinder squadrons, whose purpose was to locate targets and mark them, proved indispensible to the success of the RAF’s overall bombing campaign. Led by the inspirational and imaginative Don Bennett, Pathfinders were equipped with the best available aircraft, which included the famous Lancaster bomber and later, increasingly, the Mosquito. To join a Pathfinder squadron (all crewmen were volunteers) was a rare privilege but with it went a huge leap in the likelihood of being shot down. Pathfinder aircraft led the way for their following bomber force in hazardous raid after raid. They were highly vulnerable to the wall of flak thrown up by German city defenders, as well as to attacks by night-fighters; and it took a full 25 minutes to run the gauntlet of the Berlin defences from end to end at full stretch. By the end of the war, some 56,000 crewmen of Bomber Command had lost their lives. Martyn Chorlton has written a gripping account of the RAF’s Pathfinder squadrons, recalling the often reckless heroism of the young aircrew and the challenges they faced in the smoke-filled skies over occupied Europe. His book also contains a moving foreword by Michael Wadsworth, chaplain to the Pathfinders Association.
Burning) red TI. The remaining four were carrying three red TIs, a single red LBTI and a time-delayed single red TI. The latter was set to start burning five minutes after hitting the ground as a precaution should the special equipment fail, which was still a common problem. Another fail-safe, if the initial marking failed, was 31 H2S bombers who were ordered to drop yellow TIs; no chances were being taking by 8 Group, with so many aircraft involved. The 37 backers-up were then briefed to drop
those who tried to tackle the fires in the eastern half of the city, found the roads blocked by the bombing. From above, the crews watched as a cloud of smoke rose up to over 20,000 ft and one member of 83 Squadron described the scene: ‘It was a most unholy sight lit up by raging fires’. The fire continued to burn intensely for three hours and approximately 40,000 people died in what was mainly a residential area, many by carbon monoxide poisoning when the air was sucked out of their basement
Not giving up, the Ju88 pilot attacked for a third time, opening fire from extreme range and the continuous stream of fire eventually struck the Lancaster’s starboard outer engine, setting it on fire. The starboard tyre was also punctured and further rounds buckled the wheel before Underwood managed to hit the Ju88 again, just as Bond dived the Lancaster to port. By now, two of Underwood’s four .303in Brownings had jammed and the Ju88 crew must have been aware that defensive fire had stopped
was re-formed at Downham Market with the Mosquito XX. The unit was destined to remain at its Norfolk home until it was disbanded in August 1945. The month began as the previous had ended, with more attacks on flying-bomb and storage sites, all of which were generally successful. Almost seen as routine operations by this time, one in particular stands out above the rest, because of the actions of one 635 Squadron pilot on 4 August. The attack was against the flying-bomb storage sites at Bois de
single 83 Squadron Lancaster failed to return from the PFF contribution. The Pink Pansy played its part again when the PFF returned to Bremen on 13/14 September. Two Pink Pansies started a large fire of which the large main force of 446 aircraft was exploited. One of them was later seen on a target photograph exploding directly on the aiming point. The force was made up of several Wellingtons from various OTUs (Operational Training Unit) and, out of the 21 aircraft, fifteen of them were