PFF Losses in First Month, 1942

Leslie Barr, pilot, 7 Squadron. Shown here with Pilot Officer Prune in an “Illustrated” magazine feature. Barr and his seven-man crew were shot down on 10 September 1942; there were only two survivors. Unfortunately Barr was not one of them.

The initial losses in the Pathfinders were very high. In his 1958 book Pathfinder, the Air Officer Commanding of the Pathfinders, Donald Clifford Tyndall Bennett, familiarly known as Don Bennett, gave the loss rate as having been 9.1 per cent of the sorties flown in the PFF’s first disastrous month, August 1942.

Amongst those lost that August was the Savage crew of 156 Squadron. The crew was lost on 27/28 August 1942 on a Kassel operation. They are buried at Reichswald Forest Cemetery.

  • F/Sgt M G Savage
  • Sgt Gilbert Hebblethwaite
  • P/O Peter Hayes, RNZAF
  • P/O J Leewarden
  • P/O G C W Stone, MiD
  • Sgt F V H Shepherd

It is notable that Hebblethwaite had been trained at Cranwell, the top RAF training centre for officers, which was very unusual for a wartime pilot, especially one who had been a gardener before the war. He died, acting as second pilot, very soon after finishing his training and a mere eight days after moving to an operational squadron.

Seeking further information on the Savage crew, 156 Squadron, particularly Gilbert Hebblethwaite on behalf of his son.

On the same night that the Savage crew died, 156 Squadron lost two other crews. All 17 men died, a crew of five for each Halifax and two second pilots. Amongst them were four New Zealanders.

The horrendous rate of attrition self-evidently could not be sustained. Fortunately, September saw the loss rate for the Pathfinder heavy bomber squadrons drop to 3.1 per cent, and then to 2.6 per cent in October. It fluctuated thereafter between 1.5 and 4.5 per cent, ‘and this was a rate which we could stand without catastrophic results’.[1]

[1] D C T Bennett, Pathfinder: Wartime Memoirs (Frederick Muller, London, 1958), p. 183.