|Writerspen Home||Article Corner|
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
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 MK2 - Tom flew the MK3 as a Pathfinder pilot
On one of his training flights his
Forty years after the war. Scotland
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.
Tom Scotland flew Halifax and B-24 Liberator bombers as a Pathfinder.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Contact John Cilio at vintageflyer.com. John is a freelance writer and aviation historian.
Return to Article Corner