The Pathfinder Eagle

In the Second World War, the Path Finder Force was the RAF’s only officially delineated elite force. As such, it had a unique emblem of an eagle badge. The badge was worn on the left-hand-side breast pocket of the RAF uniform, under any decorations.

pathfinder badge
dudley archer uniform

Above: The post-war uniform and impressive decorations of Dudley Archer, navigator, 35 and 582 Squadrons. The tiny rosettes meant that he had won those particular decorations twice. Uniform donated by Stephen Dixon and Sue Crowle. For more on Dudley Archer see: Navigational Equipment: Captain Field’s Improved Parallel.

The Pathfinder eagle was awarded on a temporary basis, generally after six to eight successful operations, but its award was discretionary and dependent on the recommendation of the Squadron Commander. Like all Pathfinder awards, including medals, it had to be sanctioned by the Air Officer Commanding of the Pathfinders, Donald Bennett, and his signature is always on the relevant documents.

The award became permanent only on completion of a full tour of operations, some of which might not have been flown with the Pathfinders as crews sometimes transferred in part of the way through their Main Force tours. The standard Pathfinder tour was forty-five operations. When the award became permanent, a signed certificate was given to the recipient.

temporary award of PFF badge
Alistair Wood - Pathfinder badge (permanent award) - Copy

The certificates of Alistair Wood, navigator, 105 Squadron, courtesy of Brian and Muriel Knights. RPA/M105/Aircrew/Wood

The Pathfinder eagle was also awarded permanently, on a discretionary basis, to aircrew whose Pathfinder career had been cut short, either because they had been shot down and captured, or if they had been killed or severely injured.

Peter Hughes Mack, a wireless operator in 97 Squadron, was awarded the badge while in RAF Hospital Ely after barely surviving a horrendous air crash in December 1943. He had only flown one operation for the Pathfinders. All his crew died in the crash except for the rear gunner, Leslie Laver, who was uninjured, went back to flying, and was killed in January 1944 when flying with another crew.

Peter Mack at the family home, Little Kendals, Radlett, Herts, summer of 1944 after months spent in hospital and at a rehabilitation unit. The Pathfinder badge can be seen on his uniform. RPA/H97/Aircrew/Thackway/Mack

Symbolising the unique identity of the Path Finder Force within the RAF and Bomber Command, the Pathfinders’ eagle was a badge of excellence.

However, it can also occasionally be seen in photographs of ground personnel.This seems to have become more common after the war ended. The rules became laxer because they were less vital and also because Bennett had left his command (and the RAF) in May 1945.


MT drivers with 142 Squadron. Due to the type of aircraft (Mosquito) this photograph was taken when 142 Squadron were based at Gransden Lodge; this and the weather conditions date the photograph to summer 1945. The woman with dark hair who is not wearing a cap has a PFF badge on her tie. She is probably LACW P Allen (nee Oswald). PFF Archives Online (originating archive: The Pathfinder Collection, RAF Wyton)