Don Bennett

220px-Air_Marshal_D_C_T_Bennett_CH13645Air Vice Marshal Donald Clifford Tydall Bennett CB. CBE. DSO. RAF. was born in Queensland, Australia on 14th September 1910, the youngest son of a grazier.

In 1930 he joined the Royal Australian Air Force, transferring to the Royal Air Force, and the flying boats of number 20 squadron.  It was here that he developed a passion for accurate flying and precise navigation that would never leave him.

He left the RAF in 1935, retaining a reserve commission, to join Imperial Airways, where over the next five years he specialised in long distance flying and in doing so broke a number of records. In 1938 he flew the Mercury part of the Short Mayo Composite, a piggy back seaplane/flying boat combination (Mercury being the upper seaplane part of the combination), across the Atlantic, earning the Oswald Watt Gold Medal for the feat.

Bennett was also a pioneer in techniques which would later become commonplace, amongst them air to air refuelling.

In 1940, Bennett was tasked setting up the Atlantic Ferry Organisation, the role of which was the delivery of thousands of aircraft manufactured in the USA and Canada.

1941 saw Bennett re-commissioned into the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve as a Squadron Leader to oversee the formation of the Elementary Air Navigation School for the training of Observers (later Navigators).

However, he was soon promoted to Wing Commander, and appointed to command 77 Squadron RAF Bomber Command flying Whitleys.

In April 1942, Bennett moved to command number 10 Squadron equipped with the Handley Page Halifax, and it was with this squadron that in June 1942, he was shot down during a raid on the German Battleship, Tirpitz. 

However he managed to evade capture and returned to Britain via Sweden, where he and his co-pilot were both awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO)

In July 1942 Bennett  was promoted to Group Captain and appointed to command the new elite Pathfinder Force, a unit tasked with improving RAF Bomber Commands navigation and bombing accuracy, as up until then ‘accuracy’ had been  defined as within three miles of the aiming point

The role of the new Pathfinder Force was to lead the Bomber stream to the target area and to drop markers for the rest of the bomber force to aim at, a task which on many occasions meant that they had to fly over the target several times during a raid, to renew the markers, and exposing themselves to the targets defences each time.

In 1943, Pathfinder Force was upgraded to Group status and Bennett was promoted to Air Commodore and then Air Vice Marshall, at 33 years of age, the youngest officer ever to hold that rank.

He remained in command of Pathfinder Force until the end of the war, overseeing it’s growth to 19 squadrons, a training flight and a Meteorological flight.  He worked tirelessly throughout campaigning for better equipment, in particular more Mosquitos and Lancasters to replace the assortment of often obsolete aircraft the force had started with.

Don Bennett died on 15th September 1986, and his ashes were subsequently buried at the foot of the Allied Air Forces Monument