Pathfinder who raided Hitler's lair dies

Air Commodore Peter Cribb in a Halifax bomber in 1942


It was late 1944 and Peter Cribb, one of the Royal Air Force's elite Pathfinder commanders, was stuck behind a desk when he heard a raid was being planned against Hitler's rural retreat. He managed to get hold of a Lancaster bomber, "borrowed" some bombs, quickly put together a crew and, as his son Julian Cribb puts it, "the conspirators set off on a private act of reprisal against the Fuhrer".  

They successfully flattened Hitler's Berchtesgarden com­pound But when he found out Pathfinder forces chief Don Bennett is said to have hit the roof. 

Peter Cribb was the last of the Bennett Pathfinder com­manders. He died in Perth on Monday night, aged 91.  A Commander of the British Empire and twice awarded the Distinguished Service Order, Cribb, who later became Air Com­modore , was one of the few to sur­vive three tours and almost 100 official raids over the heavily defended skies above Europe. 

Julian Cribb said his father's navi­gator, Canadian William Grierson-Jackson, put it down to his father's intense focus, even as flak was exploding around them. "He had an absolute 100 per cent concentration and he never lost that when he was in the air," he said. "Jacko thinks that's why they got back. Cribb was involved in an early raid against one of the German fleet's mightiest battleships, the Tirpitz, which in 1942 was hiding in Norway's Trondheim Fjord, fly­ing a heavily laden Halifax bomber, Cribb guided the plane barely 15m above the water and dropped the load of bombs from below mast height, as anti-aircraft guns took aim from all directions. 

As a master bomber and squad­ron commander in Pathfinder Force, his job was to drop flares to mark targets and circle above as the rest of the raiding party drop­ped their bombs. He took part in the first 1000-bomber raid on Cologne and was also involved in raids to destroy Hitler's V-l flying bombs. 

Julian Cribb said his father, a "kind and humorous" man, never liked to talk about the war. If he did, it would often be about the lighter moments. Such as the time he had tried to burn "Jacko's" hat in Trafalgar Square. "They got a swag of med­als and went into London and got thoroughly pissed," he said. And Peter decided he'd fill Jacko's hat with lighter fluid and put it on the lion and was just about to set fire to it when this bobby came out and said 'Oi, oi, oi. You can't do that'. And Peter said, 'We're just honourable members of the service making a sacrifice to the gods of war. Can you cite any regulations that say we can't do this?' And the bobby said, 'It's against blackout regulations!'" 

In 1966, he moved to Western Australia with his wife, Vivienne Perry, whom he had met while in India, together with their three sons. 

The West Australian June 2011

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