The de Havilland Mosquito with the Pathfinders

The association of the Mosquito with the Pathfinders began in August 1942. In that month No. 109 Squadron, a special duties squadron that had been working on the new Oboe radar navigation system, was transferred to the Path Finder Force (No. 8 (PFF) Group from January 1943). At the same time the squadron received Mosquito B. Mk IVs.

The Oboe system used two radar ground stations to pinpoint the position of an aircraft, guiding it to its target. It would be used by a small number of Pathfinder aircraft, which would find the target for a raid and mark it with flares. The main bomber force would then aim at the flares. If the Pathfinder’s could find their way accurately to their target, Bomber Command would have a way to bomb any target in Germany.

No. 109 Squadron flew the first Oboe mission on 20/21 December 1942, attacking a power-station in Holland. The success of this mission led to the first combined raid on the night of 31 December 1942/ 1 January 1943. This time two Mosquitoes from No. 109 Squadron used Oboe to find Düsseldorf. Once over the target they dropped parachute flares, and a force of eight Pathfinder Lancasters bombed the flares. This sky marking system could be used to bomb specific towns or cities in Germany in just about any weather. It was not precision bombing – the parachute flares were moving targets – but “Bomber” Harris didn’t want precision bombing – the last thing he wanted was for 200 Lancasters to drop their bombs on the exact same place!

The Oboe system could be used for precision bombing, as demonstrated on the same night as the Düsseldorf raid, when another force of Mosquitoes from No. 109 Squadron used it to bomb the German night fighter base at Florennes, Belgium.

After nearly a year as the only Mosquito squadron in the Pathfinders, No. 109 Squadron was joined by No. 105 Squadron in June 1943 and No. 139 Squadron in July 1943.

The Mosquito squadrons now began to combine Pathfinder duties with bombing raids of their own. The three Mosquito squadrons became known as the Light Night Striking Force (although Air Commodore Donald C. T. Bennett, the command of No.8 Group, preferred the term Fast Night Striking Force). While the main bomber stream could hit one or two targets per night, small numbers of Mosquitoes could be found roaming across Germany, keeping the air raid sirens busy. By the end of the war No. 8 Group contained eleven Mosquito squadrons.

Two developments helped make the Mosquito into an effective bomber. The arrival of the B Mk IX in April 1943 and then the B Mk XVI in December 1943 allowed the Mosquito to bomb from ever increasing altitudes, making it increasingly difficult for German night fighters to intercept the raiders.

More importantly, in April 1943 the B Mk IV was modified to carry the 4,000lb “cookie”, by then the standard bomb used by the heavy bombers. The first operational use of the capacity did not come until 23 February 1944, when No. 592 Squadron dropped the big bomb on Düsseldorf. The number of 4,000lb bombs dropped by the Mosquitoes of No. 8 group increased steadily. In the first five months of 1945 Mosquitoes dropped 2,959 “Cookies” on German targets. Berlin alone was visited 170 times by the LNSF. The B Mk XVI was the main Mosquito type used to drop these bombs.

This is not to say that the Pathfinder Mosquitoes concentrated entirely on bombing raids. They continued to act as Pathfinders for the main bomber stream, often both leading a raid and taking part in it.

The Pathfinders was also used for other special duties. One of these was “spoofing”. This involved a small flight of aircraft dropping Window, originally developed to block German radar, to mimic the radar signal of the main bomber force. This was done by dropping Window at careful intervals along a set route. It was first tried by No. 139 Squadron, on 18/19 November 1943. The hope was that the German night fighters would be directed onto the false bomber stream, ignoring the main stream. It could also be used as a double bluff, with spoofing force flying ahead of the main bomber force, in the hope that the Germans would realise that the first apparent raid was false and then ignore the main force. The same spoofing technique was later used by Lancaster bombers of No. 617 Squadron on D-Day, to create a fleet of ghost ships crossing the channel from Kent to the Pas-de-Calais.

1944 saw the appearance of H2S, a downward looking radar system that could clearly pick out urban areas. As this was carried by the aircraft, it did not have the same range limits as Oboe, and was ideal for targeting cities that contained large areas of water, amongst them Berlin, which contains large lakes.

The Pathfinder Mosquitoes ended the war with a most impressive record. In 28,215 sorties they had only suffered 108 losses, a lose rate of only 0.03%, the lowest of any aircraft type in Bomber Command. The Mosquitoes of the Pathfinder Force played a crucial role in improving the accuracy of Bomber Command, which by the end of the war had become a precision weapon, even ifit was not always used as such.

Squadron

Date

Route to Pathfinders

109

1 June 1942

From Special Duties

105

June 1943

Transferred from Bombers

139

July 1943

Transferred from Bombers

627

November 1943

Formed for Pathfinders

692

1 January 1944

Formed for Pathfinders

571

7 April 1944

Formed for Pathfinders

608

1 August 1944

Reformed for Pathfinders

128

15 September 1944

Reformed for Pathfinders

142

25 October 1944

Reformed for Pathfinders

162

18 December 1944

Reformed for Pathfinders

163

25 January 1945

Reformed for Pathfinders

 Mosquito Bomber/ Fighter-Bomber Units of World War 2, Martin Bowman. The first of three books looking at the RAF career of this most versatile of British aircraft of the Second World War, this volume looks at the squadrons that used the Mosquito as a daylight bomber, over occupied Europe and Germany, against shipping and over Burma. [see more]  
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (15 April 2007), The de Havilland Mosquito with the Pathfinders, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_mosquito_pathfinders.html

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