RARE WW2 ROYAL AIR FORCE RAF PATHFINDER PIN ON TUNIC BADGERAF Royal Air Force WW2 Pathfinder Force gilt brass tunic pocket badge.
Badge is an RAF eagle in gilt brass, to the rear is a long pin and retaining hook for affixing to the pocket flap of the tunic.
From discussions with former Pathfinder aircrew, the original badge was
made with a long pin brazed onto the reverse. The badge could only be worn while not
on operations, a stipulation that ensured that the badge was required
to be fixed by a pin and not lugs, posts or tabs, as these would leave
marks in the battledress blouse pocket flap and could potentially
indicate to the enemy, if captured, of the squadrons elite status as
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The Pathfinders were target marking squadrons in RAF Bomber Command during World War II. They located and marked targets with flares, which a main bomber
force could aim at, increasing the accuracy of their bombing. The
Pathfinders were normally the first to receive new blind bombing aids
like Gee, Oboe and the H2S radar.
The early Pathfinder Force (PFF) squadrons was expanded to become a group, No. 8 (Pathfinder Force) Group
in January 1943. The initial Pathfinder Force was five squadrons, while
No. 8 Group ultimately grew to a strength of 19 squadrons. While the majority of Pathfinder squadrons and personnel were from the Royal Air Force, the group also included many from the air forces of other Commonwealth countries.
At the start of the war RAF Bomber Command's doctrine was based on tight formations of heavily armed bombers
attacking during daylight and fending off attacks by fighters with
their defensive guns. In early missions over France and the Low
Countries there was no clear outcome on the success of the bomber's
guns, as lacking radar, Luftwaffe interception efforts were disorganized. On 18 December 1939, a force of three Vickers Wellington squadrons attacked ships in the Heligoland Bight and were detected on an experimental Freya radar
long before they reached the target area. Well aware of their approach,
the force was met by fighters which shot down 10 of the 22 bombers,
with another two crashing in the sea and three more written off on
landing. In shooting down the 15 bombers, the Luftwaffe lost only 2
fighters in return.
Although the causes for this disastrous outcome were heavily debated,
it became clear that the pre-war doctrine was not sustainable. Bombing
raids either needed to have fighter escort, which was difficult given
the range, or had to attack at night when the enemy fighters could not
see them. In the era before the widespread use of radar, and especially
the techniques needed to guide fighters to their targets even with
radar, night bombing would render the bombers vulnerable only if they
were picked up by searchlights,
a relatively rare occurrence. In fact, night bombing had been the
primary doctrine of the RAF in the early 1930s for exactly this reason,
but the introduction of much larger aircraft like the Wellington led to a
reevaluation of this policy.
Offsetting this improvement was the understanding that identifying
the targets and attacking them accurately would be much more difficult.
This meant a night bomber force was only useful against very large
targets, like cities, and was one of the reasons daylight bombing was
considered. The Germans had also studied this problem and had invested
considerable effort in radio navigation
techniques to address this, demonstrating bombing accuracies that
daylight forces found difficult. The RAF, having ignored the issue for a
number of years, lacked suitable navigation systems, relying almost
entirely on dead reckoning and optical instruments like Course Setting Bomb Sight. In limited visibility or lacking a target of relatively high contrast, accurate bombing would be very difficult.
Bomber Command pressed ahead with a night bombing campaign starting
in 1940. Bomber crews reported good results, turning for home if they
lost their way or could not find the target due to weather, and pressing
on only if they felt confident they could identify the target with
certainty. However, it was not long before reports started reaching the
UK from observers on the ground reporting that the bombers were never
even heard over the targets, let alone dropping the bombs nearby. At
first these reports were dismissed, but as other branches of the UK
armed forces complained, a report was commissioned to answer the
The result was the Butt Report of 18 August 1941, which among its blunt conclusions was the observation that by the time they reached the Ruhr,
only 1 in 10 aircraft ever flew within five miles of its target. Half
of all the bombs carried into combat and dropped - many returned
undropped - fell in open country. Only 1% of all the bombs were even in
the vicinity of the target. Clearly something had to be done to address
this, or as the other forces suggested, the strategic campaign should
simply be dropped. Instead, Frederick Lindemann wrote an infamous report on dehousing,
suggesting that the bomber force be directed against German urban
areas, destroying as many houses as possible and thus rendering the
German workforce unable to work effectively.
By 1940 the British had also started development of a number of similar aids, and was already testing the Gee hyperbolic navigation system on combat missions. These would be available in quantity in early 1942, just as the first of the new "heavies" (the Avro Lancaster and Handley Page Halifax)
would be arriving in quantity. Accepting Lindemann's arguments after
intense debate, plans began for a major offensive starting in the spring
of 1942 with the express aim of destroying German cities.
Faced with exactly the same problems as the RAF, the Luftwaffe had developed radio aids that were widely used during The Blitz of 1940/41. Lacking enough equipment to install in all their aircraft, a single experimental group, Kampfgruppe 100,
was given all available receivers and trained extensively on their use.
KGr 100 would fly over their target using these systems and drop
flares, which the following aircraft would then bomb on. On rare
occasions KGr 100 was used as a pure bombing force, demonstrating the
ability to drop bombs within 150 yards of their targets in any weather.
The KGr 100 unit itself would, in mid-December 1941, be redesignated I.Gruppe/Kampfgeschwader
100, as the basis for a new Luftwaffe bomber wing, or Kampfgeschwader
(literally "battle formation") that bore the same unit number.
The same problem of supply faced Bomber Command, who expected to have
only 300 Gee sets available by January 1942, all of them hand-built
examples. Mass-produced models were not expected until May. As it turned
out, both predictions proved optimistic. An obvious solution to the
Bomber Command's problems would be to simply copy the German technique
of placing all available sets in a lead force. This was first proposed
by Group Captain S. O. Bufton. Bomber Command's commander-in-chief Arthur "Bomber" Harris
disliked Bufton and argued against the idea, with the backing of the
majority of his Group commanders. His view was that an elite group would
breed rivalry and jealousy, and have an adverse effect on morale. His personal preference was for competition within groups to deliver improved bombing. Sir Henry Tizard,
advisor and one of the chief scientists supporting the war effort,
said, however, "I do not think the formation of a first XV at rugby union makes little boys play any less enthusiastically."
Studying the German results, notably reports by R. V. Jones, convinced the Air Ministry
that the technique was sound, and they overrode Harris' objections and
forced the matter. Harris responded by suggesting the pathfinders be
distributed among the squadrons, but again his objections were
overruled, as this would not produce the desired result of having the
targets clearly marked in advance of the arrival of the main force. A
specialist force was formed up in August 1942 by transferring existing
squadrons from the Bomber Command groups to make up the "Path Finder
Force" (PFF). The Force initially comprised five squadrons - one from
each of the operational Bomber Command Groups: No. 1 Group contributed No. 156 Squadron RAF (equipped with the Vickers Wellington medium bomber), No. 2 Group No. 109 Squadron RAF - then "special duties" - (Wellingtons and Mosquitoes), No. 3 Group No. 7 Squadron RAF (Short Stirling heavy bombers), No. 4 Group No. 35 Squadron RAF (Handley Page Halifax) and No. 5 Group No. 83 Squadron RAF (Avro Lancaster). The PFF was commanded by an Australian officer, Air Vice-Marshal Don Bennett. [note 1] However, Bennett was not the first choice—Harris opposed the first choice of the Air Ministry, Basil Embry, the leader of 2 Group.
The squadrons were located on adjacent airfields within No. 3 Group
at Oakington, Gravely, Wyton and Warboys. No. 3 Group was responsible
for the Force administratively though it was under the direct command of
The PFF was first put into action on the night of 18/19 August 1942, when 118 Bomber Command aircraft attacked Flensburg.
PFF bombers were the first 31 aircraft of the raid, including
Stirlings, Halifaxes, Lancasters and Wellingtons - from No. 7, 35, 83
and 156 squadrons. Flensburg, on an inlet of the Baltic, was in theory
an easy target for the PFF on their first operation, but the winds
shifted and the bomber force drifted north of the target to a part of
Denmark whose coast also had many inlets. 16 PFF crews claimed to have
marked the target area and 78 Main Force crews claimed to have bombed
it. Reports from Flensburg stated that the town had not been hit at all,
but a Danish report showed that the towns of Sønderborg and Abenra and a
large area of Denmark up to 25 miles north of Flensburg were hit by
scattered bombing. 26 houses were destroyed and 660 were damaged but
only 4 Danish people were injured. The raid was a dismal failure. This
was much to the delight of both Harris and other detractors of the
strategic force as a whole.
The PFF's second mission was against Frankfurt
on the night of 24/25 August. The group once again had great difficulty
identifying their target in cloudy conditions, and most of the bombs
fell in open country north and west of Frankfurt. Local reports stated
that some bombs fell in the city, with 17 large and 53 small fires and
with moderate property damage. 5 people were killed, including 2 Flak
gunners, and 95 people were injured. The outlying villages of Schwalbach
and Eschborn were heavily bombed. 6 Lancasters, 5 Wellingtons, 4
Stirlings, 1 Halifax were lost, 7.1 per cent of the force. 5 Pathfinder
aircraft, including that of the commanding officer of 7 Squadron, were
among the losses.
The PFF finally proved itself on the night of 27/28 August 1942 against Kassel.
There was little cloud over the city, and the Pathfinders were able to
illuminate the area well. Widespread damage was caused, particularly in
the south-western parts of the city. Kassel reported that 144 buildings
were destroyed and 317 seriously damaged. Several military
establishments were hit and 28 soldiers were killed, more than the
civilians roll of 15. 187 civilians and 64 soldiers were injured. Among
the buildings severely damaged were all three of the factories of the
Henschel aircraft company. Of the 306 aircraft attacking the target, 31
were lost, 10.1 percent of the force.
The next night the PFF operated against Nuremberg
as part of a force of 159 aircraft. Crews were ordered to attack
Nuremberg at low altitude, and the PFF used new target illuminators
adapted from 250 lb bomb casings. Photographs showed that these were
placed with great accuracy and the crews of the Main Force claimed to
have carried out a good attack. However, a report from Nuremberg stated
that some bombs were dropped as far away as the town of Erlangen, nearly
10 miles to the north, and 4 people were killed there. In Nuremberg
itself, the number of bombs recorded would indicate that approximately
50 aircraft hit the town. 137 people were killed; 126 civilians and 11
foreigners. 23 bombers were shot down, 14.5% of the force. Most of these
were Wellingtons, who lost 34% of their number.
On 1/2 September 1942 the PFF illuminated Saarbrücken as part of a 231 aircraft force, but post-raid analysis showed this to be Saarlouis,
13 miles to the north and situated on a similar bend in the river. The
next night a force of 200 bombers were led by accurate marking in Karlsruhe,
and the raid was considered a great success, with estimated 200 fires
were seen burning. Reconnaissance photographs showed much residential
and some industrial damage. A very short report from Karlsruhe says only
that 73 people were killed and that 3 public buildings in the city
centre were hit.
As the PFF gained proficiency, new problems had become clear. Many
bombers in the Main Force lost their way to the target and either bombed
randomly or turned for home. Another problem was that the illuminators
would go out before the raid was complete, leaving the following
aircraft to bomb on visible fires, if there were any. This led to the
problem of "creepback",
when the newly arriving bombers would drop their bombs on the near side
of the fire so they could turn for home earlier. This led to subsequent
bombs slowly walking backward along the attack vector, away from the
To address these problems the PFF adopted new techniques. Their force
was split into three groups for each raid. The "illuminators" would
drop white target illuminators at points along the attack vector,
allowing aircraft to follow these markers over long distances and thus
avoid getting lost en route. The "visual markers" would drop coloured
target indicators on the target, but only if they were sure it had been
identified. Finally the "backers-up" or "fire starters" used the visual
markers' flares as the aim point for their own incendiary bombs to light
fires in the proper location, which would burn longer than the flares.
The new technique was first employed on 4/5 September 1942 on a raid of 251 aircraft against Bremen.
The weather was clear and the PFF marked the target correctly, with the
majority of the following Main Force finding the target and bombing it.
The results were considerable, with post-raid analysis showing that 460
houses had been destroyed, 1,361 seriously damaged, and 7,592 lightly
damaged. Added to this list were hundreds of light and medium industrial
buildings, including the Weser aircraft works and the Atlas shipyard
and associated warehouses. The raid was a complete success.
Another improvement followed with the conversion of larger bomb
casings for the target indicators, starting with the "Pink Pansy" in an
adapted 4,000 lb casing. Using these for the first time on the night of
10/11 September, 479 aircraft attacked Düsseldorf
and caused enormous damage. In addition to thousands of houses
destroyed or heavily damaged, 39 industrial firms in Düsseldorf and 13
in Neuss were damaged so much that all production ceased, and 19,427
people were "bombed out".
The Germans were well aware of the RAF's target marking, and quickly
deduced the basic strategy was a copy of their own from 1940/41. German
intelligence reports from later in the war show a wealth of information
on the PFF. On the night of 15/16 October 1942 on a raid by 289 aircraft against Cologne,
the Germans lit a decoy target indicator that received the majority of
the Main Force's bombs. Only 1 4,000 lb, 3 smaller General Purpose, and
210 incendiary bombs hit the town, of a force of almost 70,000 bombs in
Follow-up efforts during October and November were mostly small
raids, including a number against cities in Italy. Weather and
operational problems meant that raids during this period were limited
and of greatly varied results.
New systems, increasing tempo
On 20/21 December 1942, H. E. Bufton personally led a force of 6 de Havilland Mosquitoes on a raid against a power station at Lutterade, a small town in Holland. Led entirely by the new Oboe
navigation system, several bombs fell within 2 km of the target. The
test was considered a success. A follow-up under more realistic
conditions was carried out on the night of 31 December 1942/1 January
1943 against Düsseldorf,
with 2 Mosquitoes leading a force of 8 Lancasters. Only one of the
Oboes worked, but that was enough for the following heavies to bomb on
and hit a number of industrial buildings. Another mission by 3
Mosquitoes attacked the German night-fighter control room at Florennes
airfield in Belgium, but there was complete cloud cover and the results
were not known. It was clear by this point, after less than six months,
that the PFF concept was a great advance.
Picked crews from the bomber groups were allowed to transfer and the PFF soon expanded into a completely new Group - designated No. 8 Group (PFF) - in January 1943. In April 1943 the group's strength was increased by two squadrons, with No. 405 (RCAF) Squadron,
flying Halifaxes and No. 97 Squadron, flying Lancasters. In June the
Pathfinders gained two more squadrons - Nos. 105 and 139 Squadrons, both
of which were flying Mosquitos from RAF Marham. Later in the month Pathfinder HQ moved from RAF Wyton to Castle Hill House in Huntingdon.
When new aircraft, such as the de Havilland Mosquito became available,
the PFF got the first ones, and then equipped them with ever more
sophisticated electronic equipment, such as Oboe, the radio navigation and bombing aid.
By January the pace of Bomber Command missions had dramatically
increased, with major raids being carried out almost every day. On 11/12
February 1943 against Wilhelmshaven, the PFF used their H2S radar
for the first time, dropping parachute flares above the heavy cloud
cover in a technique known as "sky marking". The follow-up force
observed an incredible event, a huge explosion seen through the complete
cloud cover that lingered for 10 minutes. It was later learned this was
the explosion of the naval ammunition depot at Mariensiel, which
destroyed 120 acres. Mission size continued to grow throughout, and
although many missions continued to mark the wrong targets or fail for
other reasons, the damage being caused continued to increase. On one
particularly successful raid against Essen on 5/6 March 1943, 160 acres of land were destroyed with 53 separate buildings within the Krupp factories hit by bombs.
On the night of 20/21 June 1943 another change in technique was
tested by 60 Lancasters (mostly from 5 Group) against Zeppelin works at Friedrichshafen
which were believed to be making radar. In this raid one of the
Lancasters was equipped with new high-frequency radio equipment that
allowed them to communicate with the other bombers in the attack force.
The follow-up force consisted of several groups, including PFF
aircraft, who marked the target based on radio instructions from what
would become known as "the Master Bomber". Another group of aircraft
were to attempt a new technique, bombing at a specific time after
passing a ground feature, in this case the shores of Lake Constance.
Nearly 10% of the bombs hit the factory in what was considered a great
A combination of these techniques was first used on a large raid to great success on the night of 17/18 August 1943 in Operation Hydra against German rocket research at Peenemünde.
596 aircraft were led by a Master Bomber to a series of target
indicators dropped at several different locations around the target
area. By dropping different colours of indicators and calling aircraft
to attack each one in turn, the entire area was heavily bombed. The
aircraft from No.5 Group used their time-and-distance technique again.
The estimate has appeared in many sources that this raid set back the
V-2 experimental programme by at least 2 months and reduced the scale of
the eventual rocket attack. The V-2 team had to hastily move their
testing facilities elsewhere. The Master Bomber became a common feature
of large-scale raids from this time on.
The United States Army Air Forces operated a similar force within the Eighth Air Force for "blind-bombing" through overcast on daylight missions using H2X radar-equipped bombers, for which it also used the terms "Pathfinder" and "PFF" as well as "master bomber".
Rivalry in Bomber Command
Although the AOCs of the Groups had been mixed in their enthusiasm
for the Pathfinder Force, they generally supported it. AVM Roderic Carr
(4 Grp) was opposed to its creation but had identified Bennett (10 Sqn
was in 4 Grp) as the sort of person suitable for the job and passed over
a squadron of Halifax heavy bombers. AVM Coryton had been a greater
opponent but supplied a squadron of the new Avro Lancasters.
There was rivalry between 8 Group and 5 Group, and was driven by the personal rivalry between Bennett and the leader of 5 Group, Sir Ralph Cochrane. Through the CO of 617 Squadron Leonard Cheshire,
Cochrane was an advocate of precision low level marking, and lobbied
heavily to be allowed to prove the theory, and that 5 Group could
attempt targets and techniques that 8 Group would not.
Cheshire personally marked targets using first a high speed medium bomber, the Mosquito, then later a Mustang fighter bomber. 617 Squadron achieved high levels of accuracy using the Stabilizing Automatic Bomb Sight; with the necessary accuracy of only 94 yards (86 m) at the V Weapon launch site at Abbeville.
5 Group also invented various techniques, such as the "5 Group
corkscrew" to evade enemy fighters, and the "quick landing system".
Light Night Striking Force
The Light Night Striking Force was an outgrowth of the Pathfinder Force use of the Mosquito bomber.
Both fast and long-ranged it could carry a sizeable bombload. Under 8
Group, the number of Mosquito squadrons was built up. These were used
for harassing raids on Germany.
To the two (Oboe-equipped)
Mosquito squadrons already in Pathfinder Force added a third (No. 139)
in June 1943 which Bennett intended to use for diversionary raids to
draw the German nightfighters away from the Main Force.
In February 1944, an entirely Mosquito raid was successfully carried
out against Düsseldorf. It was formed of the usual marker aircraft from
105 Squadron, 692 Squadron Mosquitos each carrying a single 4,000 lb "cookie"[note 2] and backup aircraft with 500 lb delayed action bombs.
With Harris' support, Bennett formed more Mosquito squadrons to
expand the LNSF; giving him 9 bomber squadrons as well as the
Oboe-equipped markers and 8 Group's own meteorological Mosquitos. Over
two years, the LNSF achieved 27,239 sorties. Their best month was March
1945 with nearly 3,000. This was achieved for the loss of just under 200
aircraft lost on operations or "damaged beyond repair".
The PFF flew a total of 50,490 individual sorties against some 3,440 targets. At least 3,727 members were killed on operations.
The proportion of Pathfinder aircraft to Main Force bombers could
vary according to the difficulty and location of the assigned target; 1
to 15 was common, though it could be as low as 1 to 3. By the start of
1944, the bulk of Bomber Command was bombing within 3 miles of the PFF
indicators; an appreciable improvement in accuracy since 1942. The
success or failure of a raid now largely depended on the Pathfinder's
marker placement and how successfully further marking was corrected.
PFF crews found themselves given ever increasingly sophisticated and
complex jobs and tasks that were constantly modified and developed
tactically during the bombing campaign from 1943 until the end of the
war. Some of the more usual tasks were as:
"Finders"; these were 8 Group aircraft tasked with dropping sticks of
illuminating flares, firstly at critical points along the bombing route
to aid navigation and keep the bomber stream compact, and then across
the approximate target area. If conditions were cloudy then these were
dropped "blind" using H2S navigational radar.
"Illuminators"; were PFF aircraft flying in front of the main force
who would drop markers or target indicators (TIs) onto the designated
'aiming point' already illuminated by the "Finders". Again, if
conditions were cloudy H2S navigational radar was used. These TIs were
designed to burn with various and varying colours to prevent the German
defenses lighting decoy fires. Various TI's were dubbed "Pink Pansies",
"Red Spots", and "Smoke Puffs". "Illuminators" could include Mosquitoes
equipped with "Oboe" if the target was within the range of this bombing aid.
"Markers"; would then drop incendiaries onto the TIs just prior to
the Main Force arrival. Further "Markers" called "Backers-Up" or
"Supporters" would be distributed at points within the main bomber
stream to remark or reinforce the original TIs as required.
As the war wore on, the role of "Master Bomber" was introduced. This was an idea that had been used by Guy Gibson in the Dam Busters raid.
Bennett wanted to lead raids but was denied operational flying as
Harris was not prepared to risk losing him. The appointed Pathfinder
(usually an experienced senior officer) circled the target, broadcasting
radio instructions to both Pathfinders and Main Force aircraft,
correcting aiming points and generally co-ordinating the attack.
Types of marking
Three types of target marking were developed by the Pathfinders.
These were known by the codenames Parramatta, Wanganui and Newhaven -
the names coming from locations in Australia, New Zealand and the UK
which had links with Pathfinder staff. If the Oboe system was used to determine the release point then the word "Musical" was used as a prefix, e.g. "Musical Parramatta".
- Parramatta used navigation aids such as H2S radar or Oboe radio signals to drop the markers.
- Newhaven used illumination flares dropped above the target area to
light it up sufficiently for a visual marking by the Pathfinder
- Wanganui was used when the target was obscured by cloud, industrial
haze, or a smoke screen. Oboe or H2S was used to release the markers
over the unseen target. The target indicators used were on parachutes to
give an aiming point that could be seen by the main force. This was
also known as "sky marking".
In all cases, further target Indicators would be dropped in the
course of the raid to reinforce the marking and to compensate for
earlier TIs either burning out or being extinguished by the bombing.
For marking the Pathfinders used a number of special "Target
Indicator" (TI) markers and bombs. These ejected coloured flares or
illuminated the target.
- Candle Aircraft, TI, Bomb, Type H
- the candle was the basic indicator. About 2 feet long by about 2
inches in diameter, it ejected flare pellets (that burned for 15
seconds) sequentially. The type H was filled with alternately coloured
pellets (red/yellow or red/green or yellow/green) and illuminated for
about 5 1/2 minutes in total
Candles and other pyrotechnics were used as the fillings for the various Target Indicator bombs.
- No. 1 Mk 1 TI Bomb
- No. 7 Mk 1 Multi-flash Bomb
- No. 8 Mk 1 Spotfire Bomb
Squadrons and stations
Between 1942 and 1945
83, 97 and 627 Squadrons were passed to 5 Group in April 1944
On 30-Mar-14 at 00:49:56 GMT, seller added the following information:
Please note: This auction is for the pin on badge only which is shown in the listing picture with red background.
The other pictures below the description are for display purposes only from archive pictures and are not included in the auction . ie tunic / paperwork / badge on original card are just reference pictures and not part of the auction.
On 30-Mar-14 at 19:55:17 BST, seller added the following information:
The letter to Mrs Layne, along with the other pictures in the descriptive part of the listing (ie the picture of the tunic pocket showing the placement of the pin badge and the picture of the pin badge on original card) are placed in the descriptive part of the listing for reference use only.
The only item for sale in this listing is the RAF Pathfinder pin on tunic badge as pictured in the pictures part of the listing ie the pictures with the red background and described in the descriptive text part of the listing.