Peter Cribb

AIR Commodore Peter Cribb, who has died in Western Australia aged 92, was one of the outstanding airmen of the Second World War.

A Master Bomber of the Pathfinder Force, he flew 100 wartime operations, including an unauthorised raid on Hitler’s private retreat at Berchtesgaden.

Growing up in Menston and Bradford, Air Commodore Cribb went to Bradford Grammar and Prince Henry’s Grammar, Otley. In 1936 he went to the RAF’s officer training college at Cranwell, where he won the bombing trophy.

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When war broke out, he was with 58 Squadron, flying 26 missions, and completing his first tour, he was sent briefly to train replacements to augment the RAF’s depleted ranks.

In December, 1941, he joined 35 Squadron and took part in the initial thousand-bomber raid on Cologne. This was followed by similar raids on Hamburg and Essen.

Among his many dangerous raids were two made in 1942 at wave-top height against the battleship Tirpitz, then hiding in a Norwegian fjord.

After his 47th raid, his squadron became one of the first to join the newly formed Pathfinder Force, whose task it was to find and mark the target for the following bombers.

In January 1943, he was assigned to command the Bomber Development Unit at Gransden Lodge on the Bedfordshire-Cambridgeshire border, where he tested top secret electronic gadgets for finding targets through cloud, or confusing the enemy’s defences, and helped to evolve better bomber tactics. He frequently flew on secret operations, making the exact tally of his raids uncertain but well over 100.

In early 1944 he was put in command of 582 Pathfinder Squadron. Here he became a Master Bomber, one of the RAF’s most skilled airmen who were tasked to mark the target and then circle overhead for an hour or more, dodging flak and enemy fighters, supervising the rest of the bomber stream as it came in, bombed and left.

His raids included a number that helped smash installations for the V1 flying bomb, then switched focus to Normandy as the invasion was launched. On July 18 he was deputy master on the largest air raid of the war – more than 2,000 allied aircraft which pulverised German Panzer positions in front of Montgomery’s stalled army in Caen.

He also mastered the destruction of the sea wall on the Dutch island of Walcheren, flooding the island and forcing the German defenders to abandon their carefully prepared positions.

In late 1944 he was promoted Group Captain and appointed Station Commander at RAF Little Staughton in Lincolnshire. Tipped off that a raid was planned on Hitler’s residence at Berchtesgaden, he begged a Lancaster from friend and successor as 582 CO, Stafford Coulson, “borrowed” some returned 2,000lb bombs from the dump, collected the squadron’s most highly skilled officers, and set off on a private act of reprisal against the Fuhrer. They dropped their load on Hitler’s home and the nearby barracks, but Hitler and his entourage were in the Berlin bunker.

The European war ended a few days later and Air Commodore Cribb was transferred to command a Liberator wing in India, arriving just after the Japanese surrender but finding much to do to rescue Allied PoWs and drop supplies to starving villagers in Burma and India. Here he met his future wife, Vivienne Perry, an actress with the Stars in Battledress, who were touring in India.

Back in the UK, he was posted to the Air Ministry in Whitehall as deputy director, Technical Intelligence, (1951-53) where he was involved in the gathering of technical information regarding the war-making capabilities of the Soviet Bloc. Much to his amusement, he was also in charge of the RAF’s file on extraterrestrial sightings.

Following this, he was assigned to Bomber Command Headquarters, High Wycombe (1953-57) as head of the planning and policy staff whose principle task was to plan the introduction of nuclear weapons and the bombers to carry them.

Subsequently (1957-60) he served as commander of three RAF Stations in Germany, and then for two years was Senior Air Staff Officer, Middle East, based in Aden where one of his tasks was planning the RAF’s involvement in the Radfan War. He later ran his own business in Perth, Australia.

He is survived by his wife, three sons and seven grandchildren.