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How We Found Ourselves Members of the Elite Path Finder Force of Bomber Command

by Peter Gould

Contributed by 
Peter Gould
People in story: 
Peter Gould
Location of story: 
Linconshire & Huntingdonshire
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
A2484074
Contributed on: 
01 April 2004

It was the spring of 1944 and I was the Flight Engineer in a crew of 7 flying a Lancaster bomber, attacking specific targets in Germany and occupied Europe. At 20 years of age I was the youngest member of the crew, the eldest being 27. We were a mixture of nationalities. Our pilot and captain was an Australian, two of the crew were Canadians, then there was a Scotsman, a Yorkshireman, a Londoner and myself, a Colonian whos parent's home was in India.

The policy of Bomber Command had recently changed from saturation bombing of German cities to strategic targets in France and the Low Countries. We had completed 12 such operations and were assembled, along with the rest of the squadron air crews, being briefed by our Commanding Officer for our 13th.sortie, this time against a German military base in the Netherlands..

Before starting the briefing the C.O. anounced that the squadron was required to provide a crew for the Path Finder Force who's function was to precede the main force of bombers to find a specified target and mark it with Pyrotechnic "Target Indicators." He asked for a volunteer crew. The general feeling was that things were dangerous enough as it was without volunteering for more danger. We, ourselves, had our aircraft severly damaged by anti-aircraft fire on the previous operatiion and had one of our four engines set on fire. Fortunately we were able to extinguish it by quick action. Understandably, then, there were no volunteers. "In that case," said the C.O., "we'll have to draw lots." This was done and we were told that the selected crew would be identified on our return from the operation for which we were being briefed. However, there was a general clamour for us to be told imeadiately to which the C.O. acquiesced and all the crews, but one, were relieved to hear that it was not them.

The operational sortie that followed was unsucessful. There was dificulty in locating the target in the darkness, the operation was aborted and we returned with our bomb load. As it was a relatively short round trip, the fuel load was light and the bomb load heavy and varied. I calculated that we would be 3500lbs. overweight on landing and opinions were expressed by the crew over the inter-com. as to whether we should jettison, in the sea, three 1000lb. and one 500lb. bomb, or, alternatively, one 4000lb. bomb. The 4000lb. bombs, or "Cookies" as they were called, had been known to explode spontaneously in a crash-landing. The final decision was mine and I opted for the "cookie" to give us a bit of a margin, and this bomb was dropped in the middle of the North Sea.

However, what we did not know was that the pneumatic system, that operated the breaks on landing, had been damaged by anti-aircraft fire and we found that we had no breaks as we sped down the runway after touch-down. We sped past the end of the runway, across a road and into a field until we hit a broad, deep ditch which buckled the undercariage and brought the plane to an abrupt halt on it's belly. Had we retained the 4000lb. bomb it is more than likely we would have been blown to pieces.

The next morning we were summoned to the briefing room where the C.O. anounced, with regret, that the crew that had been earmarked for Path-Finders had failed to return from the previous night's operation. He, therefore, proposed to draw lots again and this time the unlucky crew would go straight to the Path-Finder training base that day. This time it was our crew that drew the short straw and we were on our way within hours.

After three weeks at the training base we took our place on a Path-Finder squadron near Boston, Lincs. Ironicaly our first Path-Finder operation did not require Path-Finders. It was an attack,in daylight, on an enemy gun emplacement at a point on the Normandy coast called St.Pierre du Mountte. It was the opening salvo of the Normandy landings on D Day, 6th.June,1944. Regretably, we lost our Comanding Officer and his crew who fell victim to an enemy fighter.

We went on to successfuly complete 45 operational sorties with the Path-finders,by the end of that year, when we were relieved of all further operational flying.

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Message 1 - How we found ourselves members of the elite Path Finder Force of Bomber Command

Posted on: 27 April 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Peter

I read your exciting and informative story with great pleasure. The archive is lucky to have it.

Best wishes,

Peter

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