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Donald Clifford Tyndall Bennett

(1910—1986) air force officer and politician


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(10 September 1910–17 September 1986). Born in Toowoomba, Queensland, the fourth son of a wealthy pastoral family, Bennett was educated at Brisbane Grammar School where his matriculation results were below the standard required to gain entry into his desired course in medical school. Influenced by stories of pioneering flights, including the early bush pilots of Qantas, Bennett determined upon a career in the RAAF. He failed his first medical examination and it was not until July 1930 that he reported to the Air Board, one of an entry of 15. The original intention of the authorities was to send two or three out of the graduating class to serve with the RAF, but in the case of Bennett's class they were told that because of the financial exigencies arising from the Depression, all would have to agree to accept a transfer to the RAF as a condition of training with the RAAF. Bennett accepted this condition, and passed out second in his class, coming top in flying. He served in the RAF in a variety of positions, and in March 1934 gained the very rare qualification of a First Class Navigator's licence, but finding little challenge in the peacetime service resigned on 11 August 1935. For the next five years he was a pilot for Imperial Airways, and set a number of records for long-range flights. In 1940 he was invited by Lord Beaverbrook, Minister of Aircraft Production in the British War Cabinet, to establish a trans-Atlantic ferry route. Bennett led the first flight of Hudson aircraft from Gander airfield, Newfoundland, to Ireland on 11 November 1940, during which he acted as navigator, drawing on his outstanding navigational skills. He remained in command of the ferry service until July 1941, and on 9 August 1941 he rejoined the RAF with the rank of group captain (subsequently reduced to wing commander) and was posted to command the new elementary navigation school. After establishing the school and setting its curriculum in place, he moved in December 1941 to No. 77 Squadron where he flew many sorties until mid-April 1942, when he joined No. 10 Squadron. After only several days in his new position he joined a bomber force in an attack on the German battle-cruiser Tirpitz, was shot down and escaped into Sweden, and managed to return to England within a month; for this he was awarded the DSO. On 5 July 1942, he was instructed to form the Pathfinder Force, an elite group of aircraft equipped with the most advanced radar and blind bombing devices and manned by hand-picked crews, whose task it was to guide the massed formations of Bomber Command to their targets with the greatest possible accuracy. Bennett personally developed the marking techniques used by the Pathfinders, which became indispensable in the bombing campaign from 1943. Bennett was promoted to air vice-marshal that year and made CBE; the following year he became CB. He was widely regarded as the outstanding tactician of strategic bombing in the war and the most brilliant and technically able navigator, an ability that was the basis of his, and the Pathfinders', wartime success. He served as Liberal MP for Middlesborough West from 1945 to 1947, and continued his involvement in the development of civil aviation.

From The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Military History.


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