Donald Bennett, IWM Sound Recordings (1986)

These IWM recordings of Bennett talking about his life, the RAF, and the Pathfinders were made only one month before his sudden death.

Above: Bennett in 1945, one of a series of official portraits

Air Vice Marshal Donald Bennett, CB, CBE, DSO, Air Officer Commanding of the Path Finder Force. Born 14 September 1910, died 15 September 1986.

IWM Sound File 9378 (11 August 1986), 5 Reels, 130 minutes duration


IWM Content Description

REEL 1 Background in Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia, 1910-1930: family; education. Aspects of period as pilot with Royal Australian Air Force in Australia, 7/1930-7/1931: reasons for enlistment; training at RAAF Point Cook. Aspects of period as officer with Royal Air Force in GB, 1931-1935: training on Armstrong Whitworth Siskin; flying boat training at RAF Calshot; obtaining first class navigator’s licence and wireless licence; anticipation of coming war, early 1930s. Memories of period as civilian pilot on flying boats with Imperial Airways, 1935-1939. Aspects of rescue mission to collect General Wladyslaw Sikorski from Lake Biscarrosse, Bordeaux, France, 6/1940: impressions of General Wladyslaw Sikorski; opinion of French service personnel; return to GB. Aspects of period as officer with Atlantic Ferry Organisation in GB, 1940-1941: request from Lord Beaverbrook to fly American built aircraft from Canada to GB; preparing aircraft for first flight across Atlantic, 6/1940-11/1940; success of first flight, 11/1940.

REEL 2 Continues: use of ex-Imperial Airways pilots; memories of Lord Beaverbrook; success of ferry operations over Atlantic; takeover of Atlantic Ferry Organisation by RAF, 12/1941; rejection of plans for Pathfinder Force. Aspects of operations commanding 77 and 10 Sqdns, No 4 Group, Bomber Command, RAF in GB, 1941-1942: background to taking command of 77 Sqdn; his shooting down whilst commanding 10 Sqdn whilst attempting to mine Tirpitz in Norway, 4/1942; internment and circumstances of release in Sweden; escape from Norway to Sweden; mining operation on Tirpitz, 4/1942. Recollections of period commanding No 8 (Pathfinder Force) Group, Bomber Command, RAF in GB, 7/1942-5/1945: background to formation of Pathfinder Force; his recognition of importance of navigators for successful night time bombing operations.

REEL 3 Continues: opposition to idea of elite Pathfinder unit; tactics employed to reduce Pathfinder losses; importance of surprising and deceiving Germans as to target; importance of training; support and opposition for concept of Pathfinders; support from scientists at Telecommunications Research Establishment at Malvern in development of navigational and bombing aids including H2S and Oboe; his insistence on equipping Pathfinders with De Havilland Mosquito carrying Oboe; relations with Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris; circumstances surrounding Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris’ dismissal of Alec Coryton; impressions of Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris’ leadership and judgement; De Havilland Mosquito’s bomb carrying capability; role of De Havilland Mosquito in pathfinding marking and diverting German fighters; question of failure to pursue fully strategic bombing.

REEL 4 Continues: question of controversy surrounding bombing of Dresden, Germany; diversions from strategic bombing onto V1 Flying Bomb sites; attacks on Watten, France and Peenemunde, Germany; use of Bomber Command aircraft in tactical role prior to and after Normandy landings; offer to aid US troops landing on Omaha Beach, Normandy, D-Day, 6/6/1944; clash with General Bernard Montgomery over Operation Market Garden at Arnhem, Netherlands, 9/1944; opinion of General Bernard Montgomery’s role during Ardennes offensive and role of Pathfinder Force; frustration over raids on Berlin, Germany; effectiveness of raids on Hamburg, Germany; co-operation with Royal Navy over bombing of Le Harve, France, 9/1944; role of Metrological Flight; importance of Lord Cherwell’s scientific contribution to success of Allied cause; lack of recognition of Andrew Rowe; Air Marshal Charles Portal’s support of Pathfinder Force.

REEL 5 Continues: contributions of Pathfinder Force officers Harold Bufton, commanding officer 109 Sqdn, RAF and Geoff Womersley commanding officer 139 Sqdn, RAF.