About the Pathfinder Force
As the Europe moved into war in 1939, in reality, Bomber Command was ill prepared for what was to come and the Doctrine in Force was outdated. Through 1940/1941 the Command was taking heavy losses during daylight raids as the self-defence armament the bombers carried (.303 Browning) was no match for the 20mm Cannons carried by Luftwaffe fighters. The switch was made to Night Bombing, but with no Navigation aids to assist, many bombers never made it to the target. Statistical studies showed that, despite the claims of the aircrew, a sufficiently large percentage never got closer than 5 miles to the target and some no closer than 10 miles.
The way to overcome this was to have a dedicated Elite Marker Force to lead the way rather than the Groups or Squadrons Marking for themselves. Bomber Harris was against this on principle as he felt having an elite force would cause division between the Force and the Groups. However, Harris was overruled and Harris’ choice of leader, Wing Commander (at the time) Don Bennett was given the task of forming the force, with each Bomber Group having to give up a Squadron.
So on Aug 15th1942, the PathFinder Force formed at RAF Wyton with 156 Sqn (Wellingtons) from 1 Group, 109 Squadron (Wellingtons and Mosquitos) from 2 Group, 7 Sqn (Stirlings) from 3 Group, 35 Sqn (Halifaxes) from 4 Group and 83 Sqn (Lancasters) from 5 Group, under the control of 3 Group. Operations started straight away, but the lack of proper navigation equipment brought about the same old problems. Initial raids were not particularly successful (much to Harris’ delight). However, they soldiered on. Early 1943 saw the arrival of GEE, a navigation aid, but it only had a relatively short range. However, a couple of raids carried out by PFF Mosquitoes to test it out were very successful. Later in 1943, Oboe arrived, and it had a much longer range, followed by H2S radar. The accuracy of the bombing now started to improve, and one of the biggest successes of 1943 was the raid on the rocket research centre at Peenemunde. Such was the destruction, research and development had to be moved to Poland, out of reach of Bomber Command.
In January 1943, the PFF was upgraded to Group Status (8 Group), and Don Bennett was promoted to Acting Air-Vice Marshal. By 1945, 8 Group had some 19 Sqns (made up of Target Markers and the Light Night Strike Force), a Training Flight and Met Sqn although [in 1944] 83 Sqn, 97 Sqn and 109 Sqn were 'loaned' back to 5 Group to act as Marker Sqns for 617 and 9 Sqns (both now using the Tallboy 12,000lb Earthquake bomb and later the 22,000lb ‘Grand Slam’) that required a far more accurate target marking effort than the PFF were providing). The PFF was finally disbanded on 15th Dec 1945.