The RAF Pathfinders: Bomber Command's Elite Squadron

Overview

The formation of the Pathfinder Force in August 1942 produced a steady but certain change in the fortunes of Bomber Command. Its effectiveness against targets during the early years of the war had been very difficult to gauge. When examined in detail afterwards, aerial photographs showed that only one third of the aircraft were successfully reaching their target area and less than this were actually placing their bombs with target accuracy. It was known during the large-scale bombing of Coventry in the autumn of ...

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Overview

The formation of the Pathfinder Force in August 1942 produced a steady but certain change in the fortunes of Bomber Command. Its effectiveness against targets during the early years of the war had been very difficult to gauge. When examined in detail afterwards, aerial photographs showed that only one third of the aircraft were successfully reaching their target area and less than this were actually placing their bombs with target accuracy. It was known during the large-scale bombing of Coventry in the autumn of 1940 that the Germans had used an elite force of pathfinder aircraft, armed with incendiaries, who had acted as target finders for the main force of German bombers. What was now needed for the RAF were some similar specialist squadrons, with crews handpicked for their discipline, courage, high morale and, in particular, skills in a wider than normal range of flying jobs. Sidney Bufton, Deputy Director of Bomber Operations, developed the concept of a new Target Finding Force, and his tenacity in putting pressure upon senior Air Ministry staff to implement his ideas and bring Bomber Command out of the doldrums paid off. The new force was finally accepted and the choice of Don Bennett as its first Commander was inspired. Bennett was restless, imaginative, and receptive to change. He never accepted second best and he became a legend to all who served under him. Pathfinder Squadrons were equipped with the best available aircraft, which included the famous Lancaster bomber and later, increasingly, the Mosquito which was a hugely versatile and successful fighter bomber. To join a Pathfinder Squadron was a rare privilege but with it went a huge leap in the likelihood of being shot down. Pathfinder aircrew and aircraft had to lead the way for their following Bomber Force in hazardous raid after raid. They flew at night but it took a full 25 minutes to run the gauntlet of the Berlin defences from end to end at full stretch. They were highly vulnerable to the wall of flak thrown up by German city defenders, as well as to attacks by night-fighters. 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 challenges faced in the smoke-filled skies over occupied Europe. It is also a tribute to the brave young men whose exploits, lives and, in all too many cases, deaths have left a powerful torch to bear for all who care about freedom.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781846742019
  • Publisher: Countryside Books
  • Publication date: 10/31/2012
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Table of Contents

Foreword 5

Introduction 9

Leading the way 9

The Butt and Cherwell reports 9

The Pathfinder Concept 13

Group Captain S. O. Bufton (1908-1993) 13

Early Beginnings and Formation 15

1 Operations 1942

August - A tentative start 17

September - Illuminating, marking/route-marking and backing up 18

October - Italian targets 21

November - Boozer 23

December - OBOE trials & Wanganui into service 26

2 Operations 1943

January - 8 Group is born, new TIs, ground-markers & H2S Operational 29

February - Blind-Bombing success and FIDO (Fog Investigation Dispersal Operation) 31

March - The Battle of the Ruhr begins 37

April - More Squadrons, more airfields 42

May - Mounting losses 47

June - More Mosquitoes! 50

July - The Battle of the Ruhr ends and the Battle of Hamburg begins 57

August - Peenemünde and the long road to Berlin begins 62

September - Varying targets 70

October - High price for a new target 75

November - Battle of Berlin begins 79

December - Nightmare over Berlin 86

3 Operations 1944

January - Berlin takes its toll 90

February - Battle of Berlin comes to an end 93

March - Tactical targets increase 96

April - 8 Group lose, 5 Group gain! 100

May - D-Day build-up 104

June - Overlord and the Flying-bomb 111

July - 'Heavy Oboe' attack method 118

August - 8 Group's first Victoria Cross 123

September - Operation Market Garden 127

October - The second Battle of the Ruhr begins 130

November - LNSF attacks grow in strength 133

December - 8 Group's only Oboe VC 136

4 Operations 1945

January - the Mosquito takes charge 142

February - Bomber Command's last VC of the war 143

March - The Allies push into Germany 148

April/May - 'Eagle's Nest', Exodus, Manna and Victory! 151

8 Group's swan song 155

Appendix I 8 (Pathfinder Force) Group Statistics August 1942 to May 1945 160

Appendix II Aircraft types 162

Appendix III The Pathfinder crews' eight duties 173

Appendix IV 8 Group Squadrons August 1942 to August 1945 174

Appendix V Early Radar and navigational aids 179

Appendix VI Pathfinder jargon buster 183

Appendix VII Abbreviations 188

Index 190

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