Early Months of the Path Finder Force

In the first few months of its existence, the Path Finder Force had very few of the resources that it would later acquire.

AOC of the Pathfinders, Donald Bennett at RAF Wyton, unknown date.

Pathfinder Archives Online (PFFAO), Cat No: 2022.1.387, originating archive: The Pathfinder Collection

Bennett, who had been appointed on 15 July 1942, was at first a Staff Officer attached to Bomber Command Headquarters, and would remain in that rather anomalous position for six months until the Pathfinders became 8 Group.

A cautious approach had been taken towards the Force’s creation, reflecting the controversy about whether it was required at all and whether it would manage to live up to its supporters’ expectations. It was assigned ‘lodgings’ with 3 Group rather than being given its own airfields. In addition, as Hamish Mahaddie, one of the Pathfinders’ key figures, wrote, the Pathfinders had:

 a hotch-potch of five squadrons, each with a different type of aircraft […] But Bomber Command insisted that the Pathfinders must pathfind with what they had and make the best of it.[1]

The fledgling Force swiftly developed a strong esprit de corps. ‘The Medical History of the Path Finder Force’, written in 1945 by Squadron Leader K V Jackson, one of several notable senior Medical Officers in the Pathfinders, includes a vivid passage on those early times which was based on personal experience:

Path Finder Force opened quietly, and like most moves, suddenly. RAF Station Wyton was, in August 1942, a Stirling station in 3 Group, when at short notice 109 Squadron arrived from Tempsford. They were equipped with Wellingtons and Ansons but starting a conversion to Mosquitoes. The Squadron was enveloped in a conspiratorial cloak of secrecy, which did not help their absorption into station life. Armed sentries guarded their hangers, and the crews even sat at the same table at mess. 15 Squadron had already ‘taken a dim’ [i.e. taken a dim view] before they left a few days later to be replaced by Lancasters of 83 Squadron from Scampton.

About the same time Group Captain Bennett arrived as operational chief of this new-born ‘Path Finder Force’ which included originally 7 Squadron at Oakington with Stirlings, 35 Squadron with Halifaxes at Graveley, and 156 Squadron with Wellingtons at Warboys. 7 and 156 Squadrons proceeded to convert onto Lancasters in the course of the next few months. […]

The Group Captain was exceedingly keen on investigating any possible approach to increased efficiency in the crews. His energetic, rather ruthless approach certainly was responsible for the success of PFF, even if it did result in a certain amount of friction with Group Headquarters.[2]

Bennett’s dauntless, energetic, driven personality would be inextricably woven throughout the character of the Path Finder Force.

The above extract is from Pathfinder Aircrew: Courage, Love and Loss in Bomber Command’s Elite Force.

See also: Don Bennett, Air Officer Commanding

[1] T G Mahaddie, Hamish: The Memoirs of T G Mahaddie (Ian Allen, London, 1989), p.59.

[2] NA AIR 49-78, Squadron Leader K V Jackson, ‘A Report on the Medical History of the Path Finder Force’, 4 October 1945.