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Thread: Psychological assessment of operational pilots (late 1944-45)

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    Default Psychological assessment of operational pilots (late 1944-45)

    I have been looking through 10-year-old notes taken from interviews with an RCAF Lancaster pilot (deceased) who completed a 30-op tour on an RAF squadron from late November 1944 to May 1945. From the notes, the pilot mentions being called in periodically for a psychological assessment. The pilot added that the purpose of the assessment was to determine if he was medically fit to continue flying ops.
    A member of the pilot's family says that he was psychologically assessed before being sent to the operational squadron and then again after every 5 ops. Another family member recalls the pilot referring to the assessments by a nickname (something like "psych-test") but can't remember the exact phrase, and that when the pilot felt the interview was drawing to a close he would try and crack a light-hearted joke to show the Medical Officer that he still had a sense of humour.
    Recently, I have been trying to find out more about the subject. This particular pilot did not have any related problems before or after the war. I am researching the subject solely for the purpose of research; I am not researching this topic for the purpose of identifying problems in any individual or individuals.
    I can't seem to find anything published or written on the topic.
    So, if anyone has anything to add it will be appreciated.

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    Hi

    There is an Air Publication produced in 1947 and printed by HMSO so you might be lucky and get one via a library. I've only ever seen it available once for sale so fairly scarce.

    "Psychological disorders in flying personnel of the Royal Air Force : investigated during the war 1939-45", Air Publication 3139, 344 pages, HMSO, 1947. The publication abstract says: An assessment of the incidence of predisposition to psychological disorders in flying personnel showed that two-thirds of individuals who failed to withstand the stress of flying were predisposed to nervous breakdown. As this group undoubtedly contained individuals capable of adapting themselves satisfactorily to operational flying, it was decided that only severely predisposed individuals should be rejected at entry, and that those with other degrees of predisposition should be watched carefully during training and eliminated if signs of temperamental unsuitability appeared. Surveys of psychological disorder in air crew showed similar findings year by year: about 3,000 cases of nervous breakdown and 300 of lack of confidence annually, which indicated that a uniform standard of psychiatric examination was being maintained. Types of nervous breakdown were chiefly anxiety and hysteria, both together accounting for over 90 per cent of cases. Practically all cases of nervous breakdown (98.4 per cent) arose from underlying psychological rather than physical causes.

    Another potential source would be three volume set, "The RAF Medical Services" printed by HMSO in the 1950s and part of the Official History of the Second World War.

    Kind regards
    Pierre

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    Just before we get carried away with the psychiatry, etc, it should be remembered that flying in a war, and the psychiatry thereto (along with the medics, meteorology, airframe-servicing, radar, etc, etc,) was/were still in their various infancies – some better than others, but some worse!
    Whatever was written at the time about the mental state of WW2 aircrew was only being written by some who were possibly only ‘learning as they went along’! We should be very careful NOT to ascribe modern psychological knowledge to the cases that the psychologists in WW2 were presented with. The standards, and knowledge, have changed considerably.
    So – to a certain extent – we might be comparing apples with oranges? Possibly a nugatory exercise? LMF (or whatever it is now called!) did not cease to exist on VE/VJ-Day!
    I am no expert – but I’ve been scared on post-WW2 Ops both in the air, and on the ground!
    HTH
    Peter Davies
    Last edited by Resmoroh; 29th April 2014 at 16:02.
    Meteorology is a science; good meteorology is an art!
    We might not know - but we might know who does!

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    I got onto this topic of research while reading the excellent book "The Shiphunters" by R.E. Gillman DFC DFM in which he describes a fellow pilot who had lost all confidence on a heavy bomber then was sent to Malta on Blenheims. That reading jogged my memory of the Lanc pilot who mentioned that he had received regular psychological assessments. I hadn't heard about that from any other source so wondered if that particular Lanc pilot was part of a test group, or if that squadron may have been a test group, or if regular assessments were throughout the RAF and I simply didn't know, etc.
    The phrase "a uniform standard of psychiatric examination was being maintained" in Pierre's reply seems to indicate that the RAF was involved in assessments for quite some time.
    I agree with Peter's comment that RAF Medical Officers were "learning as they went along" during WW2.
    I also think that methods of dealing with the subject developed and progressed as the war went on. Although I am concerned about the problems of the people being assessed, I'm more concerned with who was assessed, how often, method of assessment; the mechanics of the assessment process.

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    Peter
    You mentioned that many fields of development were in their infancy during WW2.
    Here's a link to an RCAF article from 1942 showing that aircrew selection was one of the fields in the infancy stage.

    http://pubmedcentralcanada.ca/pmcc/articles/PMC1827481/

    The format is what I'm looking for but I'm primarily interested in operational aircrew.
    I hope the link pastes onto the forum site alright.

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    Grounded, Hi,
    Just read that paper. Very interesting. You might find some useful info from the RAF Physiological Laboratory (which turned into the Institute of Aviation Medicine) at RAE Farnborough - they did a lot of work on the subject. That in its turn has gone, or been combined with something else. But you might try the Farnborough Aviation Sciences Trust (at http://www.airsciences.org.uk/) who will probably be able to steer you in the right direction.
    I had to smile when I read about the Ishihara Test. At one stage you had to be regularly tested in SSQ to retain one’s Airfield Driving Permit. On arrival at SSQ the Cpl Medic would say “Usual rules?”, and if you said “Yes” then the test began. It was the same Ishihara book every time. He would say “Page 7?”. You would say “Pink 6 on a green background.”, etc, etc. You never actually looked at the pages, you just had to remember what was on each page.
    !! The roles were then reversed. If you scored more than the Cpl you got your coffee for free. If he scored more than you, you had to make a small contribution to the coffee-swindle!!
    HTH
    Peter Davies
    Meteorology is a science; good meteorology is an art!
    We might not know - but we might know who does!

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    Gosh. This is serendipity. Just last night, I submitted a 4000 word essay on 'LMF' as a part of my MA in Air Power.
    Today , whilst idly checking a reference for one of my chums the Googlenet brought me to this discussion. I can help.
    Someone else on here mentioned the 1947 HMSO Publication, 'Psychological Disorders in Flying Personnel' indicating that it is rarer than a rare thing.
    Well, it might be, but the National Library of Australia has put it on line! The address is: http://nla.gov.au/nla.gen-vn4864969-p
    It is a big old boy, 78Megabytes, so it may take a while to load, but worth it. How strange that this conversation is going on right now.
    I would be very interested if you were prepared to share the notes you have from the Lancaster pilot.
    I am more interested in the non-kinetic side of Bomber Command, aircrew stress, FIDO and the like than the bombs and bullets.

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    Adam
    Thanks for the link!
    Unfortunately, I am almost certain that the family members of the Lanc pilot would not agree to let the interview notes out, but I can ask.
    From what I have gathered so far, the vast majority of problems arising from the stresses of operational flying were successfully resolved by Medical Officers at the squadron level.
    I have been referred to the book, "The Cream of the Crop: Canadian Aircrew 1939-1945" by Allan Douglas English. With that, and your link to the online copy of "Psychological Disorders in Flying Personnel of the Royal Air Force: investigated during the war 1939-45" I have enough to chew on for now. I expect the queries I have will be answered.

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    Grounded

    No worries. If it helps, I compiled a 3,500 word bibliography for my essay - about 60 book references and loads of papers available on the internet. There is a heap of stuff out there!

    Cream of the Crop is good, also Wells, Courage and Air Warfare, London: Frank Cass, 1995 - but that one is a very expensive book -a library job or look on line for the PhD thesis he wrote and then used in his book.

    English is your man though, he has written a lot on LMF, discipline and related subjects. Big Canadian influence, he is after all a Canuck, but jolly good. He wrote an article in 'War and Society' called "A Predisposition to Cowardice? Aviation Psychology and the Genesis of 'Lack of Moral Fibre'". If you like I can send you my Bibliography [not exhaustive, but I spent over a month searching and reading and it has some TNA source documentation listed], if you let me have an email address.

    If you're dumb enough, you can have my essay as well!

    Adam

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    Adam
    Thanks for the extra references.
    Yes, I would like a copy of your essay and bibliography.
    Simply click on the word "grounded" at the heading of one of my posts. A menu will pop up. Send the material as a Private Message.

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