Daily Archives: November 10, 2012

Friends of 75(NZ) Squadron Reunion – Saturday night

Last year, Bev Sandra and I only attended the Saturday evening meal at the reunion, so had no real frame of reference regarding a ‘typical’ reunion weekend. Returning this summer, across the 2 days, we saw that Friday night was more an informal catch up, but the Saturday was seen as ‘the’ night regarding the main reunion meal. This year there was a very good attendance – perhaps it inevitable with these events, but despite seeing new faces, you are never able to get round to everybody and introduce yourself.

Unfortunately the raffle did not provide me with the volume of prizes I had hoped – perhaps a salutary lesson that you can’t pay to influence the odds – even by buying 300 tickets. If this lesson needed  to be bought home any more effectively, Jack, the Association President took home a a huge pile, from a mere handful of tickets (hope you enjoy the whiskey Jack)

Kevin King used the occasion to report on matters of the Association. There was very good news regarding the request for donations to the memorial garden – several thousand pounds have been donated. It was also suggested that there should be a formal membership – £20 per couple per year to contribute to the running and information costs of the Association – I’m pleased to say a majority vote by the diners supported this proposal. Jack Richards was presented by Margaret, with a miniature of the new sign and notice board that was relatively recently put up outside the USAAF Community Centre at RAF Feltwell to record its renaming in the honour of James Ward VC, the only member of 75(NZ) to win the Victoria Cross) – it will be placed in Jack’s museum for display.

Path Finder Force Museum, RAF Wyton

Bless her heart, Margaret Still does like to provide us with things to do on these reunion events……..
This morning we drive in convoy to the Pathfinder Museum at RAF Wyton – home of Number 8 Group, Path Finder Force.

From the museum website;
The creation of the Pathfinder force was a source of one of the bitterest arguments of the Second World War. Initially the brainchild of Group Captain S O Bufton (a staff officer for whom Bomber Command’s chief Arthur “Bomber” Harris had special contempt), Harris thought an elite would breed rivalry and jealousy, and have an adverse effect on morale. Sir Henry Tizard, advisor and one of the chief scientists supporting the war effort, said, however, “I do not think the formation of a first XV at rugby makes little boys play any less enthusiastically.”
Harris, however was forced to accept the idea. In order to minimise any adverse effects, Harris decided that every Group would have its own pathfinder, but again a bitter argument ensued, and eventually Harris lost and a separate group was formed: 8 Group, commanded by Donald Bennett, a talented and pioneering young aviator born in Australia. At 33, Bennett was the youngest officer promoted to Air Vice Marshal (in 1943). His awards include Commander of the British Empire, CBE, and Distinguished Service Order, DSO. However, Bennett was not the first choice – Harris opposed the primary choice of the Air Ministry, Basil Embry, the dashing young leader of 2 Group.

The PFF crews thereafter found their way in the Force via varied routes; crews or individuals could volunteer at any time while serving with Main Force squadrons, while aircrew who showed promise in their training could also find themselves seconded into the force. Some crews in mid-tour could also be transferred into PFF when numbers were needed to be made up to establishment where required.

Recruits were given a two week course in marking techniques at Warboys before posting to a Squadron. Bennett addressed each intake personally and the crews came to have an intense sense of loyalty, pride and professionalism in their membership of 8 Group.

The PFF crews were also granted a step up in rank, and increase in pay, but had to do a 45 trip tour rather than the usual 30 trips, for as long as they were serving in PFF. In the end, Harris was proved wrong about PFF’s effect on morale – the silver PFF badge allowed to be worn on their uniforms was genuinely a sought-after achievement.

PFF crews found themselves given ever increasingly sophisticated and complex jobs and tasks that were constantly modified and developed tactically during the bombing campaign from 1943 until the end of the war. Some of the more usual tasks were as: “Finders”; these were 8 Group aircraft tasked with dropping sticks of illuminating flares, firstly at critical points along the bombing route to aid navigation and keep the bomber stream compact, and then across the approximate target area. If conditions were cloudy then these were dropped using H2S navigational radar.

“Illuminators”; were PPF aircraft flying in front of the main force who would drop markers or Target indicators ( TI’s) onto the designated ‘aiming point’ already illuminated by the “Finders”. Again, if conditions were cloudy H2S navigational radar was used. These TI’s were designed to burn with various colours to prevent the German defenses lighting decoy fires. Various TI’s were dubbed ‘Pink Pansies’, ‘Red Spots’ , and ‘Smoke Puffs’. “Illuminators” could include Mosquitoes equipped with ‘Oboe’ if the target was within the range of the highly accurate Oboe bombing aid. “Markers”; would then drop incendiaries onto the TIs just prior to the Main Force arrival. Further “markers” called ” Backers-Up” or “Supporters” would be distributed at points within the main bomber stream to remark the original TI’s as required. As the war wore on, the highly dangerous role of “Master Bomber” was introduced as a sort of master of ceremonies, the appointed Pathfinder (usually a highly experienced senior Officer) circling the target and broadcasting instructions to both Pathfinders and Main Force aircraft, correcting aiming points and generally coordinating the attack.

The proportion of Pathfinder aircraft to Main Force bombers varied enormously according to the difficulty and location of the assigned target; 1 to 15 was common, though it could be as low as 1 to 3. By the start of 1944 the bulk of Bomber Command was now bombing within 3 miles of the PFF indicators; a huge improvement in accuracy. The success or failure of a raid now depended overwhelmingly on the Pathfinder’s marker placement and how successfully further marking was corrected.

The PFF flew a total of 50,490 individual sorties against some 3,440 targets. The cost in human lives was grievous. At least 3,727 members were killed on operations.

The museum is staffed by volunteers as are most – I have the utmost respect for people like these. Its not the same as researching a relative or individual of interest. These people give of their time for the information of others and I think they deserve more support. The museum is currently undergoing somewhat of a rebuild and will be soon moved into new facilities on the airbase. I hope they get the space and expertise to allow them to tell the story of No. 8 Group, Path Finder Force in the way that it deserves.

As the presentation continues, it dawns on me that Allan would have been here for his second tour. He flew Mosquitoes in 1945 with 128 Squadron Light Night Strike Force – responsible for flying diversionary and ‘harrying’ missions deep into Germany. Once again I found myself musing on the way I seem to discover these coincidences on my journey……..

Information about the Path Finder Museum can be found here.

New information for another search

Stirling W7513 crew – Sgt. David Church on extreme left, Sgt. Patrick Torre Hunter 2nd left, Sgt. Devinder Singh Sidhu 3rd from left, centre Sgt. Keith Halliburton – remainder awaiting identification. (Photo courtesy of David Church and 75 Squadron Association, England branch)

I think its always important to remember that I am not the only person searching for information about a relative – on Saturday morning Dave Church came up to me to let me know that he had just been messaged by his son – with the news that he had found a Danish website that seemed to identify the place (approximately) where his Fathers aircraft crashed on the 28th April 1943 on a mining operation to Kiel.

Here is the Google map with a pin identifying the approximate place of the crash

What made David’s loss all the more cruel was that despite arriving with a crew of his own, for a reason I do not know, he was drafted into the Halliburton for his first and as it sadly transpired, only operational raid – David’s ‘original’ crew, captained by Ronald Hugh Laud (based on information linking individual members from the Squadron nominal roll) were lost 2 months later on the 12th of June on a raid to Dusseldorf, the only survivor being Sgt. M.K. Matthews, the rear gunner who ended up a PoW.

The Loss Card details are as follows for the crew/ raid;
Mission: Gardening (Mine Laying – Kiel)
Date: 28/29th April 1943
Unit: No.75 Squadron (R.N.Z.A.F.)
Type: Stirling I
Serial: W7513
Code: AA-G
Base: Newmarket, Suffolk
Location: Unknown – probably over target area.

Pilot: Sgt. Keith Halliburton 415411 R.N.Z.A.F. Age 23. Killed
F/Eng: Sgt. Devinder Singh Sidhu 946455 R.A.F.V.R. Age ? Killed
Nav: Sgt. Patrick Torre Hunter 42297 R.N.Z.A.F. Age 29. Killed
A/B: Sgt. Leslie Thomas Scarfe 1261331 R.A.F.V.R. Age 21. Killed
W/Op: Sgt. David Church 1196564 R.A.F.V.R. Age 29. Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Charles Henry George Boxall 1393248 Age ? Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Alexander Clunie Howell 392104 Age 23. Killed

Took off at 20.42 hrs from R.A.F. Newmarket in Suffolk. Part of a huge 207 aircraft force on a “Gardening” (Mine laying) operation. A total of 593 mines were laid off Heligoland, in the river Elbe and in the Great and Little Belts. Low cloud base forced the aircraft to fly very low over the German and Danish coasts. Because of this they took very heavy flak and also attacks from Luftwaffe night fighters.
Although this was the largest mine laying operation in one night of the whole war it came at a price. A total of 22 aircraft were lost (75 Squadron lost 4 aircraft alone, with a total of 28 crew members killed) – 9 aircraft were lost by the night fighters and the remainder from the flak.

Stirling W7513 is not on the Luftwaffe claims list for this raid so it is thought that it had been taken down by flak – the aircraft was lost without trace.

Listening to him and the excitement in his voice was actually quite humbling – Dave has been researching his Father for a considerable amount of time and the most agonising part of his search has always remained that a crash site was not known – I can only imagine this need to find a place – and I suppose looking at the bigger picture of my search over the last 14 months, I at least had and knew Bob – Dave was not so lucky.

I was surprised when Dave’s excitement at this new revelation was tempered by the fact that because this was not an ‘official’ identification of the crash site, it would be unlikely that RAF records would be updated, to change the location to a specific place, rather than simply ‘unknown’.