The Pathfinders & the World they Knew

Items from the RAF Pathfinders Archive

Harris, Bennett & Flying Boats

At the beginning of the 1930s, long before he was the chief of Bomber Command, Harris served as Commanding Officer of 210 Squadron, based at Pembroke Dock in Wales, which flew flying boats. The RAF only moved into Pembroke Dock in 1931, and Harris wrote, with his characteristic down-to-earth wit, of what he discovered when he first arrived there:

The flying boat branch of the service had succeeded in surrounding itself with an esoteric atmosphere, based on largely spurious nautical lore, and wished it to be understood that there were so many difficulties in the way of taking up a flying boat by night that for ordinary human beings to attempt this feat was suicidal.

Harris commented that it did not take him long to discover that the only difference between flying in a flying boat and an ordinary aircraft at night was that the former was in every way simpler and safer.

Bennett, who had arrived at Pembroke Dock shortly before Harris, was to be one of Harris’s Flight Commanders on the squadron. He impressed Harris so greatly that when the time came to form the Pathfinders in 1942, Harris handpicked him for the job and never considered anyone else. ‘He was, and still is, the most efficient airman I have ever met.’

Above: Bennett’s favourite flying boat, possibly being flown by himself.

Also on 210 Squadron was the man who would later be ‘offered’ to Bennett for the position of SASO (Senior Air Staff Officer) in the Pathfinders, Clayton Descou Clement Boyce, always known as CDC Boyce, or as ‘Bruin’ because of his teddy bear build. Bennett sometimes acted as Boyce’s second pilot, a position which was reversed once Boyce joined the Pathfinders in February 1943. Bennett’s professional opinion of Boyce was cool and rather dismissive, and Boyce himself, whilst respecting Bennett’s outstanding gifts, greatly disliked him personally, yet they remained in partnership until the war ended.

Detail from Boyce’s Flying Log Book which shows his flying boat squadron postings. Calshot was the flying boat training unit, see below. Logbook image courtesy of Sam Boyce.

Harris finished his description of his time with 210 Squadron by calling it the most enjoyable year he ever had in the RAF.

There was the delight of plenty of boat sailing, and the flying boats themselves I regarded with great affection as almost entirely useless but splendid yachts for the upkeep of which somebody other than myself had to pay.

Harris, Bomber Offensive (Collins, London, 1947)
also the source of the other Harris quotes on this page

Bennett too had a marvellous time there:

Pembroke Dock turned out to be one of the happiest stations I have ever struck.

Bennett, Pathfinder (Frederick Muller, London, 1958)

After their time at Pembroke Dock, both Bennett and Boyce acted as lecturers or instructors at the flying boat training station at Calshot, based on a spit of land in Southampton Water. Bennett was there for the considerable period – in a youthful career – of three years. He then left the RAF in August 1935 for commercial flying, and did not rejoin the RAF until 1941 although he had been involved in wartime services long before that.

His handbook on flying boats had been published in 1938:

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