Brief Summary of Pathfinder Techniques and Roles


RESEARCH NOTES


In 1942, a number of measures were introduced in an attempt to improve the accuracy of bombing, one of which was the introduction of the Path Finder Force (PFF) to mark the target for the main force bombers.

Over the next few years various techniques and crew roles were introduced as the marking process evolved.

The crews

Each member of the crew was specially trained to operate as part of a “navigation team” and to utilise aircraft equipped with the latest navigation aids to meet the PFF objectives of;

  • accurately navigating to the target area (*)
  • arriving at the time specified in the briefing
  • marking the aiming point with coloured indicators (flares or target indicators) so that the main force bombers could identify where to release their bombs during their bomb run.

(*) For a short while, the PFF crews were required to drop markers along the route to indicate turning points, but this was quickly stopped when it was established that the Germans were using the markers to identify the location of the bomber stream

The various techniques

Various techniques, codenamed Parramatta, Musical Parramatta, Newhaven and Wanganui, were developed to deal with the different target types and the weather conditions over the target at the time of the attack. Crews would be told which technique was to be used during the briefing before the operation.

The various roles

Irrespective of their role, each PFF crew was expected to meet the PFF objective of navigating and reaching the target at the specified time. Once there, each crew had a specific role to perform, based on previous experience.

In principle, a new crew would be given the role of Bomber or Supporter which meant that it had to be ready to start its bombing attack as soon as the aiming point had been marked by the Markers.

As the crew gained experience it would progress to one of the marking roles.

The marking role allocated to each crew typically contained up to three elements (1) the “wave” that the aircraft would be assigned to (2) the method by which the target had to be identified and (3) the marking role to be performed.

  1. Due to the sheer numbers of aircraft involved in each operation, the main force had to be broken down into “waves” and it was therefore necessary for PFF aircraft to be assigned to either the first “Primary” wave or the subsequent “Secondary” wave(s) to ensure that indicators were visible to all main force aircraft throughout the raid.
  2. There were two methods by which the target / aiming point could be identified “Visual” or “Blind”. If the crew were assigned to visual identification, it could only drop its flares or target indicators (TI) when it had visually identified the target / aiming point using the bombsight. If the crew had been assigned to blind identification, it could only drop its flares or target indicators (TI) when it had identified the target / aiming point using its navigation equipment. (It is worth noting that if a crew was unable to locate the target using its assigned method, it was required to bring the indicators back).
  3. Marking in each wave was carried out in a set sequence to ensure accuracy and continuity and crews were assigned to the roles of Illuminators, Markers, Backers-Up or Re-Centrers. Each role dictated which type / colour of flare or target indicators that would be carried. The sequence was as follows:
  • Illuminators would identify the target area and then drop their flares so that the Markers could clearly identify the aiming point(s).
  • Markers would drop their coloured target indicators on the aiming point(s) so that the Bombers, Supporters and Main Force aircraft knew that this was the point at which they needed to release their bombs.
  • Backer-Ups would drop their coloured target indicators on top of those already laid down by the Markers to ensure continuity throughout the attack. Re-Centrers would be used to perform this task when the target indicators being dropped were no longer on the correct aiming point and therefore had to be repositioned.

Examples of allocated roles

Based on the above, roles shown in documents from the period show up to three elements such as:

  • Primary Blind Marker
  • Primary Visual Marker
  • Blind Illuminator
  • Visual Illuminator
  • Backer-Up

Master Bomber / Deputy Master Bomber

Each raid was co-ordinated by a Master Bomber or a Deputy Master Bomber (who acted as a standby replacement for the Master Bomber).

The Master Bomber would orbit above the target during the raid, advising PFF crews by radio (voice) on where to drop their target indicators (particularly if the attack had gone off target) and advising the main force crews on which colours they should use as their release point.

Briefing

As previously mentioned, the technique to be used was briefed to the crews before the operation. Crews were also advised on which target indicator colours would be used and their meaning.

The following is an example from a briefing:


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

An Air Bomber’s Task List

[Courtesy of Paul Everest]

 

An Air Bomber’s Release Control Instructions

[Courtesy of Paul Everest]

Air Bomber Release Control

An Air Bomber’s Target Map

Air Bomber’ Target Map [Courtesy of Paul Everest]