The total Pathfinder losses, incurred from August 1942 to May 1945, were given by Donald Bennett, their Air Officer Commanding (AOC), as being 3,618 men.
One of those lost was the 21 year old Robert Stewart of the Kirkwood Crew (see: 16/17 December 1943: Kirkwood Crew) whose grave at Braemar is seen with this year’s Remembrance poppy.
As the AOC of the Pathfinders, Bennett was in the best position to know the sacrifices which had been made by his crews. His brief summary speaks volumes:
Between 18th August 1942 and 8th May 1945 the Path Finder Force and the Light Night Striking Force* flew 50,490 bombing sorties and dealt with 3,440 targets. Casualties were 3,618.
The contribution of an aircrew member of Bomber Command who completed an operational tour or died in the process – measured in terms of danger of death, both in intensity and duration – was, in my view, far greater than that of any other fighting man, RAF, Navy or Army. The contribution of a Pathfinder, in the same terms of intensity and duration of danger – and indeed of responsibility – was at least twice that of other Bomber Command crews. Great Britain and the Empire have, in the goodly time of ten years since the end of the war, strangely failed to erect any Nelson’s column in memory of Bomber Command, the most powerful striking force in all British history.
* The Light Night Striking Force flew Mosquitoes which could carry a 4,000 lb bomb. The aircraft would go out in groups of up to 120 a time, or more frequently in small groups of 10 to 20 in intervals throughout the night, and thus cause unpredictable chaos in addition to the main Lancaster raids. Bennett wrote of the Light Night Striking Force that this was the name he used for it ‘much to the dislike of my C-in-C’ (Harris).
Quotation from D C T Bennett, Pathfinder: Wartime Memoirs (Frederick Muller Ltd, London. 1958), p.259.
Photograph of Robert Stewart’s gravestone courtesy of Chris Fagg