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Thread: Did Bomber Command Squadrons have Flying Instructors on their establishment?

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    Default Did Bomber Command Squadrons have Flying Instructors on their establishment?

    During my research on 78 Squadron I have come across something which I don't understand. In September 1944 sufficient men are posted in to the Squadron to make just over 10 complete crews. The majority of them, enough for almost 6 complete crews come from 41 Base, almost 3 crews worth come from 61 Base and almost enough for 1 crew from 635 Sqn, the remainder come from 1666 HCU, HQ 4 Gp and one on Commissioning.

    What I can't understand is one pilot who comes from 41 Base, with a complete crew less Wireless Operator; he does 1 op as a 2nd pilot before taking his crew and a WOp that he has picked up from within the Sqn on operations. He then goes on to complete a further 22 operations in the 8 months up to the end of the war, however his crew is constantly changing, the only constant is his Navigator. He also, in comparison to others who arrive at the same time, operates very infrequently until early in 1945 when he is promoted to Squadron Leader and Flight Commander. He appears to be the first choice when taking 2nd pilots on their first operation including the new Commanding Officer.

    Research indicates that my man was a pre war civilian pilot, gaining his pilots certificate in September 1933. I cannot find him in AIR 78 so assume he joins as an officer, he is commissioned July 1940, FO in July 1941 and Flt in 1942. My assumption (although I have nothing to back this up, apart from his age) is that he has been employed as a flying instructor somewhere and that his tour with 78 Squadron is his first tour. He is 31 when commissioned and 35 when he starts his tour.

    So is it possible that he is employed as some sort of flying instructor within the Squadron? I haven't come across anything like this before.

    Daz

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    Daz,
    I would say off the top of my head that I cannot see why Bomber Command, or any particular unit of Bomber Command might have required the services of a qualified flying instructor on their establishment(s). However it is no secret that many QFIs were on the strength of BC units, although normally as aircraft captains, flights and squadron commanders, etc., or even as Station or Base commanders. Nevertheless they had almost certainly been appointed to these positions because of their long experience in either the RAF (including prewar service) or in civil aviation as commercial pilots or flying instructors (for clubs or schools). All pilots serving in BC, from "newbies" to the most wrinkly veteran, were fully qualified (by the standards of the day) as 2nd pilots, or captains of heavy aircraft, so that any question as to their suitability in these positions as pilots could be quickly assessed by their flight or squadron commander, although it had to be accepted that most pilots were assessed as "average". There were always a few pilots assessed as "outstanding" or "exceptional", but the average pilot was just that - a product of production line training and the randomness of gene mixing. If the flight or squadron commander (probably the former) happened to be a QFI, then all the better, but I doubt that this was often the case. It is likely that BC did have temporary and/or permanent posts for QFIs for specific purposes, but they would, I imagine, be concentrated within the OTUs and HCUs, etc, where they were really needed rather than with squadrons of the line. My 10 cents worth.
    David D

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    David

    Thanks for your views. I just can't understand why he would be posted in with a complete crew (there was a WOP posted in at the same time that didn't join any of the other new crews) and then only fly 2 operations with this crew. There after with the exception of his Navigator the crew is constantly changing and his frequency of operating is somewhat spartan when compared with other aircraft captains; at one point even the Wing Commander is flying more frequently.

    I get that he may have struggled to get away from the training system if he was an instructor especially as he is quite old by comparison to other pilots of the day, I just can't understand what he was doing when he wasn't on operations.

    I guess it will just be one of those unanswered mysteries, he died in 1961 so I can't ask him.

    Thanks again

    Daz

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    Daz,
    We seem to be slightly at cross purposes here. If a pilot is posted to an operational squadron with a complete crew (presume directly from OTU/HCU courses), then it is highly probable that the RAF's expectation is that this crew will function as trained, and hopefully complete a full tour. However as the crew seems to have become fragmented somewhat (except navigator) with no known cause, then we can only but speculate as to what occurred. Were two or three members injured or killed in a motor vehicle accident for instance, or did a disease epidemic sweep through the station? Or did the captain himself suffer spasmodic indifferent health? I think the presumed history as a flying instructor may be a bit of a red herring, although there could be something in it. Even had he completed a long and successful career as a civilian flying instructor (and maybe even in his early years as an RAF officer), this would not in any way preclude him from volunteering for operational duty, with no strings attached. In fact many would say that he was being "rewarded" for all that unsung service being thrown around by pupil pilots by being set free to fly on operations. I know of one pilot trained in NZ very early in WW2 who was immediately sent to a flying instructors' school, and he spent the following FOUR years at ONE Service Flying Training School as an instructor, and rose to hold the post of Chief Flying Instructor as a Squadron Leader. He then volunteered for operational service, and was appointed commanding officer of a fighter squadron (equipped with Corsairs) and completed one operational tour. Admittedly this is an extreme and uncommon example, but such things did happen. However as to your man's erratic sortie rate, and was older than average (and his permanent crew was seemingly non-existent), he could have taken on the role of father figure for new crews (not really an official appointment!) as you suggest. The fact that he was (presume after due consideration by his superiors) promoted to Squadron Leader (acting?) and appointed flight commander says volumes as to the respect he seems to have acquired on this squadron, which is about as good as it can get, despite his seemingly rocky start on operations. If he had already completed a long career as an instructor, this would have been seen as a contributing factor, and this could have provided him with patience and understanding of inexperienced and younger pilots. Not to say that all instructors were initially of such good character, but instructors tended to be judged by the quantity and quality of pupil they turned out, and if these standards were less than average then that instructor might be asked to reconsider his career choice.
    David D

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    David

    The crews came into 78 Squadron from Base units, not directly from HCUs. The majority came in from 41 Base, another group from 61 Base, plus a part crew from 635 Squadron and some individuals from 1666 HCU, HQ 4 Gp and one who is returning to the Squadron having been commissioned from the ranks. Initially the questions I asked myself were:

    Why was a chap who joined in early 1940 only just getting on to ops?
    Is it because of his age?
    What has he been doing since 1940? Perhaps he was a flying instructor given that he gained his pilots licence in 1933.
    Why did the WOp who came from 41 Base at the same time not join his crew? He spends just over a month on the Squadron before moving to 76 Squadron
    Why did he fly very infrequently and with different crew members - not a dedicated crew?

    He is clearly well respected within the Squadron as he is promoted to Squadron Leader and Flight Commander, is the first choice to take novice pilots on their baptism of fire flights. He gains a DFC at the end of his operational tour, having completed 24 operations with the Squadron at the end of hostilities. The other members of his original crew go on to join other crews, none are killed in routine accidents (RTAs etc). There is no major bout of illness on the Station, indeed the Station Sick Quarters are often reported as being empty.

    I guess I will have to try and get his death certificate and apply for his records to see if that sheds any light on the matter. I'm not sure that it will but this has got me curious. I haven't seen this happen to other pilots in the Squadron.

    Thanks again

    Daz

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    Hi Daz, I think you've unearthed a real one-off there, good luck with further research! I'm imagining a squadron CO in late 1944 would be delighted to get such a vastly experienced and senior pilot. BC had invented an early form of 'continuous improvement' by that stage of the war - everything that could be measured was, with attendant league tables etc. Squadrons wanted to top the tables for AP photo results, landing times, servicing stats, failure rates etc. Crews were measured on bombing practices, landings, nav logs and other functions. I guess an experienced instructor would be a godsend, however ad hoc the arrangement. But none of that goes anywhere towards explaining the peculiarities and inconstancy of his own crew arrangements. I look forward to hearing more if you can crack the service record!

    Richard

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