No. 8 Group RAF

No. 8 Group RAF
No. 8 Group
Active 1918 - 1919
1 Sep 1941 - 28 Jan 1942
8 Jan 1943 - 15 Dec 1945
Country United Kingdom United Kingdom
Branch Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg Royal Air Force
Part of RAF Bomber Command
Motto We Guide to strike[1]
A Mullet of eight points surmounted by an arrow enflamed, point downwards, in bend sinister[1]

No. 8 Group RAF was a Royal Air Force group which existed during the final year of World War I and during World War II.


World War II

Formation in World War II

The Group was re-established as No 8 (Bomber) Group on 1 September 1941 only to be disbanded around five months later on 28 January 1942.

Birth of the Pathfinder force

At the start of the war Bomber Command carried out several daylight raids but the losses incurred from lack of escorting fighters when operating over Europe led them to switch the majority of their later strategic bombing missions to night time. This reduced losses, but made identifying and then hitting a target accurately very difficult. To reduce this problem, Pathfinder squadrons were created. The creation of the Pathfinder force was a source of one of the bitterest arguments of the Second World War. Initially the brainchild of Group Captain S. O. Bufton (a staff officer for whom Bomber Command's chief Arthur "Bomber" Harris had special contempt), Harris thought an elite would breed rivalry and jealousy, and have an adverse effect on morale. 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".

Eventually, Harris was forced to accept the idea. In order to minimise any adverse effects, Harris decided that every Group would have its own pathfinders, but again a bitter argument ensued and, eventually, Harris lost and a separate group was formed: 8 Group, commanded by an Australian officer, Don Bennett, who was very highly regarded within the RAF.[2] However, Bennett was not the first choice — Harris opposed the first choice of the Air Ministry, Basil Embry, the dashing young leader of 2 Group.

Formation of the pathfinder force

The Force was initially formed in August 1942 by creaming the best Squadrons from the existing Bomber Command Groups to make up the 'Pathfinder Force' (PFF), a tactic that understandably did not go down too well with the Group Commanders. Pathfinder Force (PFF) initially had no better tools than the rest of Bomber Command, flying its fair share of Stirlings, Halifaxes, Lancasters and Wellingtons. When new aircraft, such as the de Havilland Mosquito became available, PFF got the first ones, and then made good use of them by equipping them with ever more sophisticated electronic equipment, such as Oboe, a highly accurate radio navigation and bombing aid. 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".

Recruitment & Training

The PFF crews thereafter found their way in the Force via varied routes; crews or individuals could volunteer at any time while serving with Main Force squadrons, while aircrew who showed promise in their training could also find themselves seconded into the force. Some crews in mid-tour could also be transferred into PFF when numbers were needed to be made up to establishment where required. Recruits were given a two week course in marking techniques at RAF Warboys before posting to a Squadron. Bennett addressed each intake personally and the crews came to have an intense sense of loyalty, pride and professionalism in their membership of 8 Group. The PFF crews were also granted a step up in rank, and increase in pay, but had to do a 45 trip tour rather than the usual 30 trips, for as long as they were serving in PFF. In the end, Harris was proved wrong about PFF's effect on morale - the gilt PFF badge allowed to be worn on their uniforms was genuinely a sought-after achievement.


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 2 Pathfinders would fly abeam of each other and use their navigational aids such as Gee and H2S to find the target area. Flying in between, but aft of the "Finders" were the "Illuminators"
  • "Illuminators"; this Pathfinder aircraft would drop parachute flares over the target area to simply illuminate the ground for the "Markers".
  • "Markers"; once the aiming point was identified the "Markers" would drop their Target Indicators (TIs). These TIs were designed to burn with various and varying colours (red, green & yellow) to prevent the German defenses lighting decoy fires. Various TIs were dubbed 'Pink Pansies', 'Red Spots' , and 'Smoke Puffs'. 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.

Reformation of Group 8

The Pathfinder Force was redesignated No 8 (Pathfinder Force) Group on 8 January 1943[3] and it was a key component of Bomber Command. It consisted of specialist squadrons that marked targets for the main attacks of Bomber Command aircraft. Its aircraft used navigation aids such as Gee, H2S and Oboe to find the targets of attack more accurately than the main force on its own could. It was disbanded on 15 December 1945, though its badge and motto (We guide to strike) were subsequently authorized on 11 March 1953. 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.

The Peenemunde raid (17/18 Aug 1943), saw the introduction by 8 Group of the highly dangerous role of "Master Bomber". Originally called Master of Ceremonies, the Master Bomber's role (usually a highly experienced crew) was to circle the target and broadcasting radio instructions to both Pathfinders and Main Force aircraft, correcting aiming points and generally co-ordinating the attack.

The proportion of Pathfinder aircraft to Main Force bombers varied enormously 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; a huge improvement in accuracy. The success or failure of a raid now depended overwhelmingly on the Pathfinder's marker placement and how successfully further marking was corrected.

Rivalry in Bomber Command

There certainly was some rivalry, but this was mainly between 8 Group and 5 Group, and was driven by the personal rivalry between Bennett and the leader of 5 Group, Sir Ralph Cochrane. Cochrane was an advocate of precision low-level marking, and lobbied heavily to be allowed to prove himself, and that 5 Group could attempt targets and techniques that 8 Group would not. Cochrane's specialists 617 Squadron proved his point when they attacked the Ruhr dams (Operation Chastise) requiring bombing from a height of 60 feet (20 m), and later, at high altitude using the new Stabilizing Automatic Bomb Sight, achieved an incredible and very necessary accuracy of only 94 yards (86 m) at the V Weapon launch site at Abbeville (16/17 December 1943). 5 Group invented various techniques, such as the '5 Group corkscrew' to evade enemy fighters, and the '5 Group quick landing system'.

The PFF flew a total of 50,490 individual sorties against some 3,440 targets. The cost in human lives was grievous. At least 3,727 members were killed on operations.

Air Officer Commanding

1918 to 1919

1941 to 1942

1943 to 1945

  • 13 January 1943 Air Vice-Marshal D C T Bennett
  • 21 May 1945 Air Vice-Marshal J R Whitley



  1. ^ a b Moyes 1976, p. 347.
  2. ^ Bennett was to be the youngest officer promoted to RAF Air Vice Marshal, at the age of 33, in 1943. His awards include Commander of the Order of the British Empire, CBE, and Distinguished Service Order, DSO.
  3. ^ Moyes 1976, p. 348.<


  • Bennett, D.C.T.. Pathfinder. Goodall paperback, 1988. ISBN 0 907579 57 4
  • Moyes, Philip J.R. Bomber Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. London: Macdonald and Jane's (Publishers) Ltd.,

External links

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