What’s in a Name? 8 Group or PFF?

On 13 January 1943, in recognition of the outstanding results that the Path Finder Force had achieved in its first six months, it was given parity with other Bomber Command Groups by being elevated to Group status.[1] At the same time its commanding officer, Group Captain Donald Bennett, was promoted to Air Commodore (later Air Vice Marshal).

Group status meant independence, with orders coming directly from Bomber Command HQ, not via 3 Group as had been the case previously. It also confirmed that the Path Finder Force was officially acknowledged to be an essential part of the bombing war. Bennett and his supporters had confounded all those who had wanted to see the Pathfinders fail. (See: The Pathfinders: Controversial Beginnings.)

Yet although the official name of the Path Finder Force was now 8 Group, it continued to be popularly known by its old name or simply as the Pathfinders, including by Bennett himself. According to Cliff Alabaster, an outstanding airman who was for some months Group Navigation Officer at PFF Headquarters, Bennett hated the name 8 Group.[2] Certainly, on most of the documents subsequently generated by the Pathfinders, it was the old name that was used, not the new one, as can be seen in these two examples of the Pathfinder Monthly Summary.

[1] To give the absolutely precise chronology, the PFF was elevated to Group status on 25 January 1943, backdated, with effect from 13 January 1943. See Gordon Musgrove, Pathfinder Force: A History of 8 Group (Crecy Books, 1992), p.27.

[2] Cliff Alabaster wrote that Bennett hated the name 8 Group and stuck to PFF or the Path Finder Force all the time that he was its Air Officer Commanding. Cliff Alabaster, ‘Time at PFF HQ’. Email to JMG, 25 July 2007.