Don Bennett, Air Officer Commanding

Born on a cattle ranch in Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia on 14 September 1910, Donald Clifford Tyndall Bennett, familiarly known as Don Bennett, was almost 32 years old when he took command of the Path Finder Force. Two decades younger than the Group Commanders who were his peers, he was also unlike them in having an unconventional background for an RAF senior officer.

Bennett (centre right) with the King and Queen at Wyton. (RPA)

Bennett began in the Royal Australian Air Force before moving to the RAF in Britain. In 1935 he left the RAF, and after a brief return to Australia for his honeymoon joined a commercial seaplane airline, Imperial Airways. His 1938 manual, The Air Mariner: A Flying Boat Guide, arose out of his experiences there.

In 1940 he was sent to the United States to take charge of what was known as the Atlantic Ferry. Pilots delivered new aircraft from the USA and Canada to Britain, and Bennett made several of these Atlantic flights himself.

In 1941, he rejoined the RAF. His last post before the formation of the Pathfinders was commander of 10 Squadron from April 1942.

Bennett began his leadership of the Path Finder Force on 15 July 1942. The PFF itself was formed the following month on 15 August. In the first few months of its existence, it had very few of the resources that it would later acquire. Bennett, at that time a Group Captain, was at first a Staff Officer attached to Bomber Command Headquarters, and would remain in that rather anomalous position for six months.

A cautious approach had been taken towards the PFF’s creation, reflecting the controversy within the RAF about whether it was required at all and whether it would manage to live up to its supporters’ expectations.

It was due mainly to Bennett’s relentless drive that the PFF soon turned into a success which confounded all those who had wanted to see it fail. In January 1943, it was elevated to Group status. Bennett was at last freed from probation as a Staff Officer at Bomber Command, and as head of the new Group was promoted to Air Commodore (later Air Vice Marshal).

Bennett, official portrait, at the end of the war (RPA)

Although the official name of the PFF was now 8 Group, it continued to be popularly called 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. Certainly, on most of the documents generated by the Pathfinders, it was the old name that was used, not the new one, and therefore that is what it is called on this website.