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62 Bomber Missions and he came home

by John Cilio  2010

In August 1942 Winston Churchill ordered the Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command to form an organization, which would be known as the Path Finder Force (PFF). Pathfinders represented crew and aircraft tasked with leading a RAF bomber force to accurately bomb enemy targets at night. On August 18th Bomber Command aircraft attacked Flensberg, in northern Germany, in the lead were a mixed group of 31 bombers – the first Pathfinders.

The Pathfinder aircraft were officially squadrons of the RAF Bomber Command during World War II. A young Australian commander, Group Captain (later Air Vice Marshal) Donald Bennett, was to mould the Pathfinders into a force that brought Bomber Command into the electronic age. His leadership brought H2S navigational radar and target-marking techniques that enabled Pathfinders to literally light the way with flares. Now bombers could achieve the accuracy needed to win the war while they risked German night fighter radar tracking.

Pathfinder crews found themselves attempting ever increasingly sophisticated and complex missions that were constantly in modification. As Pathfinders became more specialized some aircraft were assigned as "Finders” aircraft tasked with dropping sticks of illuminating flares, at critical points along the bombing route to aid navigation and keep the bombers on course. Others functioned as "Illuminators,” aircraft flying in front of the main force dropped markers onto the designated 'aiming point' already illuminated by the "Finders". Still other aircraft, "Markers" would drop incendiaries onto the targets just prior to the main bomber force arrival.  As the war wore on, a highly dangerous role of "Master Bomber" Pathfinder was introduced. They would circle the target broadcasting radio instructions to both Pathfinders and Main Force aircraft coordinating the attack.

In 1942 Tom Scotland was a new Australian pilot destined to be selected as a Pathfinder. He boarded a ship in Australia bound for Britain.. It was a long trip, made longer by the necessity of skirting German U-boats. Passing through the Panama Canal and traveling through New York, his ship joined a convoy that survived an attack by submarines. Scotland, the author of a book, “Voice from the Stars: A Pathfinder's Story,” arrived in a Britain when shortages were pervasive because many supplies were being sunk by German submarines and from regular enemy bombing attacks.  

Halifax Bomber banking on a journey to target

Halifax MK2 - Tom flew the MK3 as a Pathfinder pilot

On one of his training flights his Halifax bomber suffered serious mechanical trouble when the left wing of the crew's plane caught fire. He urged his crew to bail out while he quickly searched for somewhere to land the burning aircraft. Somehow he escaped death and injury in his spectacular crash landing, encircled in flames as he came to a stop in a field beside Drub Lane in Devils Glen. He managed to miss houses, businesses and people as he crashed through stone walls coming to a stop just short of a set of populated row houses.

Forty years after the war. Scotland received a letter from a man who had witnessed the crash of his aircraft beside Drub Lane. The memories it unearthed prompted Scotland and his wife to return to England and reunite with the people of Devils Glen and his surviving Pathfinder crew. During his trip home from the reunion, his memories stirred, Scotland decided to write his account of the war years. His book, Voice from the Stars: A Pathfinder's Story, tells the story about the intricacies and real life drama of the war in Europe and follows his search for the voice in the stars which so often seemed to help out in times of difficulty.

When his pathfinder squadron began its Italian operations the losses were considerable, weather conditions, experience, terrain and strong defenses covering the strategic targets took their toll. The Pathfinder techniques steadily improved in target finding and flak avoidance. Scotland’s story shares how he heard the news about friends who were also flying in Europe and colleagues in the 614 squadron who unluckily became missing in action or who died during the course of their duties, sometimes on the same mission.

Tom Scotland DFC

Tom Scotland flew Halifax and B-24 Liberator bombers as a Pathfinder force pilot.

His story provides interesting insights about experiencing life during WWII; the training, the missions, anticipation, time off duty and explains the amazing feats which confronted them during many of their bombing raids. Scotland stared the reality of death squarely in the face on a number of occasions. On one foggy mission he recalled, "Down, down, down I sank. Would the plane finish up amongst the houses surrounding the valley? I lifted the nose of the Halifax to miss a road. I felt so peaceful. What would death be like?" The reader can start to sense how a pilot’s depression starts to seep into a mind as you begin to feel the anxiety and difficulty of daily death defying missions. Yet, almost as quickly as you sense despair it disappears replaced with the excitement of taking leave into nearby towns or achieving success in an important mission.

His book provides rare insights including the frustration experienced at the long delays in getting to the war zone and then once there, facing the enemy, completing the job and returning home. His book has been described as a war story with a difference. It is a compassionate true story filled with human emotions; grief, love, death, beauty, tension, fun and fortitude. Writing took three years to complete and part of its triumph is found in the personal gains which came from its writing. Mr. Scotland said, "Through writing the book I gained a relationship with my eldest son,". "He wanted to know all these stories at a much younger age but I couldn't tell him then, so because of the book a relationship between us was born in our adult years."Scotland's wife Laurel said. "It also has meaning for people who weren't there but who had fathers and uncles who were and they want to know more about it. We know it has also helped those whose husbands and fathers didn't come back. "They wanted to know what it was like and needed to say goodbye with some memories. 

 Voice From The Stars  - Tom's first book

Scotland fortunately kept many of the documents, letters, records and photographs of his war years and relied on these and his own memories to write this the book. I read his 300+ page book in one afternoon. You will feel as if you have spent a day with Mr. Scotland, talking one-on-one about his experiences. You may break into a cold sweat remembering the mission where friendly aircraft bombed through his aircraft. One bomb, armed and ready to wreak havoc on the enemy sat lodged in his disabled aircraft. At the end of the war Scotland's crew was the only crew left flying out of Italy of those who trained together at Marston Moor and Upton. The book introduces you to an exceptionally well disciplined, skilled, lucky and humble WWII pilot.

His experiences caused him to become a man on a search. It is a search for the meaning of existence, the purpose of life and death and the Voice which brought him answers in the most unexpected times and places. Cartoon drawings by one of his crew add WWII classic humor to this spellbinding autobiography. Scotland comments on Voice from the Stars: A Pathfinder's Story as only a member of the Greatest Generation would; "We had survived. We had received back our lives. We could go on with living. The war was over."  If you have an interest in WWII aviation, (or Australian stories) order his book.   It is a treasure in many ways.

 Contact John Cilio at vintageflyer.com. John is a freelance writer and aviation historian and lives in the USA.


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