The target for the sortie on 24th of June 1944 was Le Grand Rossignol in France, but I was unable to find any information on the target, so I have made this page about the Pathfinder bombers.
On Saturday, the 24th of June, 1944, Crew 60 of Squadron 640 took off from Leconfield RAF base in Yorkshire, England, on a night mission.
They departed at 0132 hours and returned at 0456 hrs. The mission was to bomb Le Grande Rossignol, France. The primary target was successfully attacked.
The brief notes in relating to this sortie, say that the markers, set earlier by Pathfinders, had gone out but it would seem they targeted the smoke created by bombers ahead of them.
The crew were flying a Halifax Heavy Bomber aircraft with the designation LW 641.
A. C Webb - Pilot
P. R. Lanyon - Air Bomber
H. S. Ratcliffe - Navigator
D. H. Laver - Wireless Operator
D.J. Svenson - Mid Upper Gunner
J. H. Morgan - Rear Gunner
J. Brotherton - Flight Engineer
MANY Australians have seen a Pathfinder's badge. Flt-Lt Peter Isaacson, DFC, AFC, DFM, who piloted the Lancaster bomber on the War Loan tour, wears one. It is a small gilt RAF eagle and is carried above the top left-hand pocket button. But perhaps not as many Australians know just what a Pathfinder is.
He is a member of the Pathfinders' Force, a force that has been likened to the "First Eleven" of the RAF's Bomber Command. Like any First Eleven, members of this force are chosen for their specialised ability. Unlike other First Elevens, however, it is not limited to that particular number. It is open to as many members of the Bomber Command who possess the ability required by the Force. Regardless of the type of air-craft they flew before, though when they become Pathfinders they will fly only the big stuff—Halifaxes, Stirlings, and Lancasters.
The job of the Pathfinder may best be explained by telling you the reason behind the formation of this special force. For this purpose you must give your imagination rein, and conjure up a picture of a 1,000-bomber raid on Germany. Each of the planes engaged is loaded up with 8,000lb bombs: But if each was left to find its own way to the target it is highly improbable that all would find their mark or do their most effective damage. Among so many crews there are bound to be some mistakes, for, after all, these lads are only human, and even air crews are not born fully experienced.
THEY have always to contend with the hazards of bad weather and the attempts of unfriendly natives at discouragement, in the form of flak, searchlights, night fighters, balloon barrages, and smokescreens. These must inevitably result in some of the planes losing their way or dropping their bombs on decoy targets, if they drop them at all. In which case it would naturally follow that a fair proportion of the 8,000lb. "shares" would not be returning very good dividends on the taxpayers' money.
Of course there are always good crews, who can be relied upon to find the target every time. On such big raids, then, would it not be better if these crews, fully experienced and of above average ability, went in first? They could find the real target, hit it and light it up, making it possible for the following crews to hit it with everything they've got.
The RAF thought it would, so it gathered all these specially qualified crews together, and instituted the Pathfinders' Force. Now whenever a big raid is in the offing the Pathfinders are the first off. With their great skill they quickly ferret out the target, plaster it with incendiaries and other bombs, and start as many fires as they can. These then serve as beacons to guide in the rest of the bombers, the ones that do the real damage.
As a result of this far-sighted policy the efficiency of the whole bombing force has been raised by the special efficiency of the few, a fact borne out by photographs of recent raids.
The Pathfinder system also has the advantage of lightening the load on bomber training units. These units can now concentrate on the specialised training of the selected few, without detracting from the effective-ness of the whole force. To train each crew to this high standard would, of course, be the ideal. But, this is practically impossible. The time factor will not allow it, and anyway, as you can see, it is not absolutely necessary.
Readers must not think, by the way, that there is anything derogatory in being one of those that follow after, any more than there is any particular added glory or danger in being a Pathfinder. These boys are all in it together. They are all working, and working well, towards a common goal. That goal is the overthrow of Nazism and all that it stands for. That goal is one you will admit Bomber Command is doing a wonderful job towards attaining.
Wing Commander Donald 'Don' Clifford Tyndall Bennett, born 14 September 1910 at Toowoomba, Qld. Donald Bennett joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in 1930 and was seconded to the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1931, where he was posted to RAF Calshot, a flying boat base, serving as an instructor until he left the RAF in 1935, retaining a reserve commission. Bennett spent the next six years flying for Imperial Airways and establishing a reputation for precise navigation and long-distance flights, and setting a number of long-distance records. With the onset of war, Bennett was asked to consult on the establishment of a trans-Atlantic aircraft ferry service between the United States and Great Britain, with great success.
He rejoined the RAF in 1941, was promoted to Wing Commander and appointed to command 77 Squadron; in April 1942 he was given command of 10 (Halifax) Squadron. On the evening of 27/28 April 1942, he was leading his squadron as part of an attack by five squadrons (the others were 35 & 76 (Halifax) Squadrons and 44 & 97 (Lancaster) Squadrons) on German warships, primarily against the Bismark class battleship, Tirpitz, sheltering at Fættenfjord Fjord at Trondheim, Norway. Bennett's Halifax was one of 20 aircraft which attacked at 200 feet (the remainder of the force attacked from 12,000 feet) and his bomber was almost immediately hit on its approach run, wounding the rear gunner (Flight Lieutenant How) and engulfing the starboard engine in fire.
Unable to clearly drop his 1,000 pound sea mines on the target, Bennett decided to make a second approach. Although he managed to drop the mines close to the Tirpitz, the Halifax was again hit and he immediately told his crew to abandon the plane. Bennett himself only just managed to clear the cockpit and deploy his parachute before he hit the ground. It was fortunately deep with snow, cushioning his fall. He quickly recovered and buried this Mae West and his parachute harness under the parachute canopy and covered the whole lot with snow. Within hours, both were safely recovered and hidden by local villager, Redier Fordal. Most of the parachute materials were salvaged and used by the village, but Reidel kept the Mae West hidden from the Germans until the end of the war.
With the assistance of local Norwegians, Bennett and his wireless operator, Sergeant Forbes managed to escape to neutral Sweden but was interned as a prisoner of war by the Swedish Air Force. The three remaining crew survived and were made prisoner by the Germans. Despite being interned in Sweden, Bennett applied pressure and was back in England within a month. For his leadership and bravery, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and was shortly being championed by Air-Vice Marshall 'Bomber' Harris for command of the newly established Pathfinder Force, a position he held until war's end, by which time he held the rank of Air-Vice Marshall.