No. 35 Squadron

Posting to No. 35 Squadron, RAF Graveley (July 1944)

AE Johnson and his crew were posted to “B” Flight, No. 35 Squadron at RAF Graveley in Cambridgeshire on 9th July 1944.

Part of the airfield at RAF Graveley (1946)

The squadron, which formed part of 8 Group, Bomber Command “Pathfinder Force” (PFF), was tasked with having 16 aircraft, with crew, available for operational sorties each day. Its role was to locate and “mark” targets to increase the accuracy of bombing by following aircraft.

RAF Graveley had a standard WWII built Bomber Command layout with living quarters in a dispersed site away from the main airfield.

Training and Assessment

On 10th July 1944, the crew was posted to the Pathfinder’s Navigational Training Unit (NTU) at RAF Warboys in Cambridgeshire.

It is understood that training consisted of ground training followed by three daytime exercises and one nighttime exercise aimed at improving their target marking techniques. Total flying time was about 16 hours.

Exercises mimicked typical operational sorties, with the crew required to fly long distances, accurately mark a target and return to base within a very tight time schedule.

The crew returned to RAF Graveley on 27th July 1944 and continued their training in the Handley Page Halifax and/or the Avro Lancaster.

The Avro Lancaster

The crew positions on the Lancaster differed to those on the Halifax:

AE Johnson (Pilot) sat on the port side on a raised section of the floor.

CA Butler (Flight Engineer) sat next to the pilot, on a fold down seat, which was hinged to enable the bomb aimer to access his compartment in the nose of the aircraft. His position enabled him to observe and access the instruments on the pilot’s panel as well as those on the engineer’s panel, which was attached to the fuselage behind the seat.

G B Thomas (Navigator) sat behind the pilot / flight engineer, facing the port side, with the navigational equipment and a large chart table in front of him.

R M Jenkins (Wireless Operator) sat facing forwards, with his radio equipment mounted on the left hand end of the navigator’s chart table.

H Coulton (Bomb Aimer) was stationed in the nose of the aircraft.

R Neale (Mid-Upper Gunner) was stationed in the dome shaped mid-upper turret which provided a 360 degree view over the top of the aircraft.

D Hadland (Rear Gunner) was stationed in the rear turret.

Gil Cohen Painting - We Guide to Strike

Gil Cohen’s painting “We Guide to Strike” showing the Lancaster crew in action

Operational Life

For Cecil and the hundreds of office staff, ground staff and aircrew at RAF Graveley, daily life was a mixture of ground training, air tests, air exercises (such as high level bombing, fighter affiliation and cross country) and operational sorties.

Aircrew were permitted six days leave every six weeks.

>> Operations – The Crew’s Operational Tour