Milt's War - Navigator and Bombardier Training - WWII

Note:  Milt's Memoirs are published here with the kind permission of Mr. Zack.  The views expressed in the story are those of the Author.  [The Webmaster]


Miltís Military



Part II



The Navigator/bombardier





There were definite advantages associated with becoming a 2nd Lt. Since we were now officers, we could be married and our wives could live with us off base. The pay scale was also quite different. As an officer on flight status our base pay was $150 per month plus $75 flying pay if you flew 4 hours a month, which was easy to do. Then there was an additional $21 for rations, which actually went directly to the commissary officer, and if married another $21 for rations for your wife. And also for married officers there was a $60 rental allowance. From this was deducted $6.60 for insurance, which came out to a total of $239.40 per month. This was actually very good money for February 1944.

This all was to my advantage since I had planned to get married during my 10 day leave after graduating from Aviation Cadets anyway, which I did, as did a number of other graduates. Although we were warned that off base housing was in very short supply in Roswell and that it might be a good idea to leave the wives at home, we all brought them along. In my case, the train trip from Boston to Roswell was a terrible 3 night, 4 day ordeal. There were no berths available, so we had to sit up for the duration, except for one stretch. We had about a 12 hour overnight layover before changing trains, and one of my more entrepreneurial buddies was able to get a conductor to let us sleep in a berth in a train that was not being used, for a consideration of $2.00 each. This was an outrageous price but worth it at the time.

We finally arrived in Roswell after this miserable trip and as we pulled into the station we saw nothing except desert. We checked with the conductor and he confirmed we were indeed in the right place, and the town was just over the hill. When we got to the top of the hill and looked down at the town, all the married men told their wives to get back on the train and go on to California. Of course they refused.

We had called from Boston and made a reservation for a room in the one and only hotel, so we were set for a couple days while we looked for a place to live. Or at least we thought so until another 2nd Lt. and his wife showed up for the same room. Apparently since there were two beds, it was logical that it could accommodate two couples. Of course we immediately went to complain to the clerk, whose solution was to put a screen between the two beds. This was less than an ideal situation for two newlywed couples.

The next day I reported to the air base and my wife went to look for somewhere to live for the three months or so we would be there. By luck she found a sort of hotel situation that had about 10 rooms in a circle, with a shared bath for all the rooms. It was clean and nice so she rented it for $3.00 a day, which came out over our rental allowance. After about 3-4 weeks, we found another room in a converted garage for about $2.00 a week and eventually settled into a third room slightly less expensive and in an actual house. This house had two rooms for rentals, with a bathroom in between and the owners were delightful so it was a much more pleasant situation, very homey.

None of these rooms had cooking facilities, so meals had to be taken outside. I ate lunch on base but came home for the evening meal. There was a choice of restaurants in Roswell, but all the military couples tended to gravitate to one in particular. I soon found out that if I didnít eat on base, I could take my wife to the Officers Club for dinner and mine was covered by my ration allowance. So there was another few dollars saved.

A major disadvantage to living off base was that I had to report for duty early in the morning, around daybreak. This meant getting up even earlier in order to catch the bus to the field. So I was often walking to the bus stop in the dark so black that I literally couldnít see thing, and I felt my way along the curb so I would know when to turn into the main street. Anyone who has been in the desert at night will know what Iím talking about. One early morning I was creeping along as usual and suddenly felt something warm and furry under my hand with no sound or warning. My hair stood up on end and all sorts of monstrous things flashed through my mind until it registered that it was only a dog.

Before I enlisted while I was still in Boston I had seen an article in the newspaper with a picture of Aviation Cadets going out to the planes for bombardier training with the Norden bomb sight in a black case and a .45 pistol strapped to their waist. The reason for the handgun was that, at that time, the Norden bombsight was top secret and the enemy hadnít yet captured one to look at. The article quoted a General saying that the Norden bombsight would win the war because you could drop a bomb in a pickle barrel from 30,000 feet with it. Of course, they didnít mention that you couldnít see the pickle barrel from 30,000 ft.

The training was relatively informal. One of the reasons was that almost all the men at the field, including all the instructors, both ground and flight, were 2nd Lts. as we were, so there was little time spent on the "sir" and other formalities. That is, until one brilliant colonel decided that 2nd Lts. Should salute all other 2nd Lts. This, needless to say, was a very big nuisance to say the least. It go to be such a joke that we developed what we called the "root salute" which we did when no higher ranking officers were around. This consisted of holding ones arm down at ones side and, with hand in the salute position, bringing the hand into the "root" area and back to the side. This ruling was eventually rescinded.

We started off in the class being shown the sight and told what it was and was not capable of doing. And, even though there was no way we could repair the equipment, we were shown the internals to get a better understanding of how it actually worked. There was one part that really impressed me, a metal piece about the size of a silver dollar that had been polished until you could see no scratches under a microscope. We were also given books with information about every bomb the US had, how their figures were entered into the sight and why.

From the classroom we went to a hangar. There we saw hanging from the ceiling a list of about 20 items, which were the preflight checklist for the bombsight. We were instructed to memorize them, but always carried a printed copy with us anyway just in case. There was also a motor driven simulator on four wheels with three seats, one for the driver, one for the instructor, and one behind the bombsight for the student. In front of this was another motorized device about a foot square, with a target printed on it, which we called a "bug". The bug could be stationary or moved with the motor to simulate various situations.

The bombsight was connected to a Pilot Directional Indicator (PDI), which would change as the bombardier turned the sight mechanism to locate the target. The pilotís job was to continue to correct course in order to keep the needle he was viewing centered, which would more closely position the bombardier over the target. The sight mechanism consisted of four knobs, two of which adjusted the angle of the sight, and two were for fine maneuvering and were connected to the PDI. All four had to be worked in concert in order to get the correct alignment, which was a bit tricky and took some practice. There was also a gyroscope in the upper part of the sight, and in order to calibrate it you would call to the pilot "level, level" and he would hold the plane as level as possible while you locked in the gyroís horizontal and vertical bubbles. We started out with the bug stationary, then eventually practiced with the bug moving to simulate flight conditions like wind, yaw and so forth. We worked with the simulator for many hours until every movement and instruction became automatic. Then we moved up to the planes.

The planes we trained in were the same Beechcraft model as we used in navigation training, except it they had a Plexiglas nose, where the bombsight was. In order to get into the nose, the trainee go between the pilot and co-pilot seats, and down a step. This maneuver was not for the heavy weight or inflexible body. And while the trainee was worming his way into position, the pilot would protect his overhead instruments with his hands and arms so the studentís parachute webbing wouldnít catch on it, and whoever was in the co-pilot seat would have to scrunch way back in his seat to make room. The instructor would sit on the step leading down to the bombardier area, which put his feet right on an escape hatch. The routine was to stomp on the hatch to make sure it was closed and locked. It was a tight fit so the instructor took his parachute off. There was a story going around, which might have been an Air Corps legend like the e-mail urban legends we get now. But it told of the bombardier student who was concentrating on dropping his bomb, then turned around to say something to his instructor, and all he saw was an open escape hatch. So he quickly picked up a parachute and threw it out the hatch as hard as he could.

In the middle of the plane were 5 - 100 pound bombs on each side. These boombs were shells filled with 97 pounds of sand and 3 pounds of black powder. The powder was necessary so we could see where the bombs exploded. In the back were two seats for the students, who took turns dropping bombs during the flight. Whichever student was not dropping the bomb had to film the drop with a movie camera, which was pointed through a 4"-5" hole in the floor of the plane. Then there was the pilot, and the instructor sat in the co-pilotís seat. If there was no instructor along, one of the trainees would sit in the co-pilotís seat. Whoever was sitting there had a couple additional jobs. One was to work a hand pump to bring fuel into the cylinders so the plane could start. The second was to make sure the landing gear on his side was up after takeoff, and down prior to landing.

On our training flights we dropped bombs from two heights, 6000í and 12,000í. At night we had to start using oxygen at 5000í if we were going to climb to 12,000í, but during the day we didnít use it until a higher altitude because, somehow, someone figured out there was less oxygen at night. Each trainee had to drop 5 bombs and fill out a report on each bomb, estimating how many feet from the target, which was a triangular shack like structure, it landed. Now, if you were to drop a bomb in a vacuum, it would land right under the plane, no matter what your altitude or speed. However, in the real world with wind resistance and whatnot, the plane was always ahead of the bomb. So, in order to see where it landed the trainee had to lean over the bombsight until his head practically hit the Plexiglas. His report was confirmed, or not as the case may be, by the camera shot being made by the other trainee. At night, whoever was on the camera had to count x seconds then start the camera to be sure he caught the hit, since he couldnít watch the bomb descend. Scores were added up when we landed and we were critiqued on our performance.

These missions were either flown on automatic or manual pilot, the method was preset with the assignment. When the plane was on automatic pilot, we set it up ourselves as we flew along. We would set in the correct variables of height, left/right and tilt, and invariably got better scores since we were essentially controlling the plane. After a few flights, there came a time when the instructor told us to go up on our own and let him relax on the ground.

Since we were the new breed of Navigator/Bombardier, we had to fly a couple of navigation missions to keep us in practice. These were actually a lark. We had no instructors, and were already navigators and 2nd Lts., so we could do pretty much as we pleased. And we didnít have to keep the five minute logs we did as cadets, only an entry every half an hour. On one night mission I was first navigator on the return flight from wherever, and decided to use only celestial navigation and nothing else to see how I would do. We arrived in the dead center of the field, but my time was off by about 5-6 minutes. But I felt quite good about being that close, at least under no pressure.

We graduated in April 1944, the first with dual ratings of navigator/bombardier. At that time we were given a different Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) number, 1036, which was different than a navigator or bombardier alone. We were looking forward to training on our new aircraft, but were disappointed to learn that there were no aircraft available to train in. Instead, we received orders to report to Deming, New Mexico, where we would become temporary flight bombardier instructors.


We arrived in Deming, which was not that far from Roswell, in May 1944. When we got there the married couples were not too happy at all. We all thought Roswell was a small nothing town, but Deming was far worse. Of course our first concern was finding a place to live and anticipated the hassle we went through in Roswell. We scanned the ads and bulletin board notices for anything likely, with no luck. So we grabbed a cab and asked the driver if he knew of anything. Our luck finally turned. He told us he had a trailer for rent on his land, actually he had two vacant ones out of about seven total. We asked him to please take us there to check it out.

The trailer was actually smaller than a normal sized room, but we grabbed it knowing there was nothing else available. It had a fold-up table and a fold-up bed to economize on space. There was a water tank, which you filled with a hose, and an icebox. For the ice box, every 2-3 days you had to call a cab which took you into town for a quarter, where you bought a chunk of ice for a quarter which you put on the bumper of the cab, and then the cab took you back for a quarter. It also cost a quarter to get to the field by cab. This was definitely a two-bit town.

The cab driverís wife was a dear. When we first arrived, we complained about itchy scalp, and she knew immediately what the problem was. She brought us right into the house where she deloused us with kerosene. I donít know too many strangers that would do this for someone.

There was a swimming pool on the property, but he couldnít get parts for the pump so we were never able to use it while we were there. We all used a bathroom in the main house, but we could cook in the trailer which was equipped with a propane stove and enough cookware and tableware for at least two. We let another couple who came in with us know about the second unit and they snapped it up quickly. So we were not unhappy with our living arrangement.

We reported to the field and went through the usual orientation. We were advised that we would be training Aviation Cadets in the use of the Norden bombsight both on ground and in flight. We each were assigned around 6 cadets, which would be our students for the duration of their training. For the ground training we got the job of monitoring the simulator training, mostly at night, while the regular instructors took it easy. Watching cadets do the same thing for three or four hours a night got a bit tedious. We felt like we werenít really needed and were being taken advantage of getting the dirty work. And we didnít really want to be there anyway, we were ready to be out taking care of the enemy. So as sort of an act of defiance, we wouldnít wear our Bombardier wings, only our Navigator insignias. This really irritated the regular instructors, which were also 2nd Lts., and the flight leader, who was a 1st Lt. We were still a bunch of arrogant jerks.

We were also asked to give some ground classes in navigation, nothing in depth, just basically how you figure out how to get there and back, in case something went wrong. That wasnít too bad, at least that was something the regular instructors didnít know and we felt a bit more useful.

One evening when I was assigned to supervise about 40-50 cadets in the simulator hangar, the Sergeant in charge of the hangar came to me and said, "Lieutenant, two of the cadets sneaked out while you werenít looking." I thanked him and told him I would handle the matter. I called the cadet flight leader over and asked him if he had a roster, which I was sure he had. He said yes, he did, and I requested that he do a roll call at the end of the session. He took the roll call and, sure enough, there were two cadets missing. Fortunately they werenít my students, and I told the flight leader I wanted these two to report to me on the flight line the next morning. And just to scare him a bit more, I said I would speak to their bombardier instructors to see what I could do about having them declared AWOL. The two miscreants reported as requested and, after reaming them out a bit, I told them I would talk to their instructors and let them decide what to do. I donít know that the upshot was, but I donít think they were likely to pull that stunt again.

When they started flight training, it was the first time some of the students had ever been in a plane. At this base, instead of two students per flight there were three, but we still carried 10 bombs. Each student was to drop three, which left one to bring back, which never made any sense to me. However, we instructors had to drop 10 bombs a month to stay in practice, so we would use the 10th bomb to build up our requirements. Also, at Deming a log was required for each bomb dropped either by a student or instructor. The log had to include things like altitude, wind velocity, direction, etc.

Being in charge of cadets during flight training was not always a lark, they werenít always the best behaved or conscientious students they could have been and their main goal in life was not to make my life easier. One of the first incidents occurred shortly after takeoff on one training flight. The three students were sitting two in the back, and one in the catwalk between the pilot and co-pilot/instructor seats with his back to them. We had taken off quite close to the plane ahead of us, and as a result there was a lot a turbulence from the prop wash of the plane in front of us. The poor kid sitting in the catwalk jumped up and started to run to the back of the plane. I managed to reach around and grab his parachute harness and drag him back to sit down on the catwalk. When we landed after the flight, I asked him what he thought he was doing taking off like that. He said "I wasnít going to stay in that damned plane, I was going to get out." I told him to listen carefully to me because I was only going to tell him this once. If anything went wrong on a flight, he was to wait until he saw my parachute open, because I would be the first one out of the plane.

Not all the problems were so amusing. During one flight, the first three bombs dropped landed all over the place. Thinking there might be something wrong with the sight itself, I instructed the pilot to return to base, where I preflight checked the sight myself. I discovered that the man in charge of the preflight check had forgotten to check one thing, which was to throw the lever that locked the sight to the base on the plane. He was a good kid so I didnít really ream him out much, but since we returned with seven bombs still on board, we had to have the mechanics check the sight out. Of course they didnít find anything wrong, but for some reason there were no questions or repercussions of any sort.

The really hairy problem was the result of one of the cadets not checking all the shackles that the bombs were hung on which opened to let the bomb drop when it was released. I was up front watching a cadet when I heard a click indicating that a bomb was released. Another cadet came running up from the back yelling, "Lieutenant, you have to come see what happened!" We were flying at 12,000 ft on oxygen, so I had to take my oxygen mask off and go to the rear to where the bombs were hung. I was horrified to see that, instead of the bottom bomb dropping, the one on top of that dropped onto it. There was no way we could lift it up and re-hang it in the shackle. When loading the bombs into the plane, there are cotter pins in each bomb that are removed to allow the detonator to engage on impact and create the explosion. I had the men replace the cotter pins in all ten bombs, and told the pilot to radio the field and tell them we were coming back in with two loose bombs. I also told the pilot heíd better try his best to grease the plane in or he would wind up with a bomb up his ass. He made a perfect landing, I hardly felt a thing. Again, we got by with no repercussions, which was quite fortunate, but I donít think anyone on that flight ever forgot to check the bomb hangers again.

I did manage to get in trouble all by myself though, without any help from the cadets. The Norden bombsight was no good under 600 ft., and there was an adapter sort of contraption to be set up by the student bombardier in order to drop bombs at low level. We had seen and used this before in our own training, but I attended the ground school where the cadets were supposed to learn how to use this to see how this instructor presented it. The instructor was terrible and did a miserable job of trying to explain how this thing was operated. Everyone was completely confused and had no idea how to set this thing up, which was unfortunate since the training flight the next morning was going to be a low level mission in order to use this piece of equipment. I knew the cadets bombs were going to be all over the place since no one really knew how to set up the adapter, and I was right. As an instructor, I had to write up a full report on each training mission and turn it in. In my report for this mission, I commented that "For what the cadets learned in the class yesterday, they didnít do too badly." I was told to report to the squadron commanderís office the next day, where he reamed me out but good, wanting to know what I meant by writing such a report. I was ordered to write a new report flunking all the cadets on the missions. Of course, I only had one response I could give, which was "Yes, sir." But it was worth it to get my two cents in.

After about four months of this cushy duty as bombardier instructors, we finally got the orders we were waiting for, to report for training on our aircraft. However, much to our shock, we were to go to Columbia, South Carolina for training on B-25s, not the new B-29s as we had been promised. So the excitement of finally getting down to the real business we came for was tempered by our disappointment at not having the prestige aircraft.


Before reporting to Columbia, SC for B-25 training, I had a ten-day leave, during which we went home to Boston. Riding on trains at that time was not a pleasant experience. They were full of military personnel moving from one base to another and getting a seat was tricky. It was also difficult to walk down the aisles since the floors were filled with men in uniform. We were fortunate and were able to get seats both going to and coming from Boston.

We had the usual problem of finding a place to live when we got to Columbia, but did find a room in what looked like an old style southern mansion, complete with pillars in front. Unfortunately, when we got to the room and opened the stove, we found it crawling with cockroaches. Lots of cockroaches. Of course we started looking for something else immediately and while we were looking we were told that we could apply for a transfer to Greenville, NC and the transfers were usually granted. I did and it was, but we did have to stay for awhile until the paperwork went through.

Aside from bugs, my outstanding memory of Greenville was that the town was almost entirely military. There were three separate bases around the town, our B-25 training area was one of them, there was also an infantry training base and I forget what the third one specialized in. When we went into town on a Saturday night, all you saw were uniforms. It got to the point where I would duck into a doorway when I saw a group of enlisted men coming to avoid having to return salutes.

While I was going through the paperwork process, I was asked if I had had a leave yet. So I asked what the paperwork showed and was told it showed Iíd had none, so I allowed as how that was right if thatís what the records showed. So I was granted another 10-day leave before having to report to Greenville. So it was back to Boston for another vacation.

For a change, when we got to Greenville we had no problem finding acceptable housing. I reported to my assigned squadron and found that all the six man crews had already been matched up except mine because I was the only one that managed to get a leave. So we were 10 days late getting together. I met my pilot, co-pilot, engineer, tail gunner and radioman, all of who had also gone to aerial gunnery school, and we had the usual indoctrination. Before we were ready to fly, we were taken all through the plane on the ground, had ground classes, and I had to work with my pilot on a simulator like the one we trained on with the Norden bomb sight. Basically I had to train my pilot on how the bomb sight worked, explain the directions and instructions I would be giving him over the intercom during a bombing mission, and how to follow the PDI.

By this time I needed to log some flying time to qualify for my flight pay since I kept going on leave, so I managed to get a ride on a training flight with another crew. It was a great opportunity to get a feel for what the B-25 felt like in the air, and I was thoroughly enjoying the ride until we were returning to base and the pilot said, "We have a problem. I donít know if my wheels are up or down." We did a flyby so the tower could take a look with their glasses, and they reported they wheels were definitely down. But they had no way of knowing if the landing gear was locked, so we went in for the landing with much trepidation. We landed safely with landing gear locked, much to our relief. Later that day someone said to me "Hey, we had some excitement today. There was a plane in trouble and there were ambulances and fire trucks and everything out on the runway." I said "Thanks for telling me, I was in that plane."

Our flight training consisted mainly of single planes flying during the day from point A to point B and back. There were some bombing missions and gunnery practice missions over the ocean shooting at targets. And we had missions to learn how to lay down a smoke screen, and also flew over an air base and took pictures in case we had occasion to need to do that overseas. And there were several night missions so I was able to practice my favorite celestial navigation.

For the most part the training was uneventful, but we did have our moments. One day we were flying a simulated bad weather mission with a three plane element. There the pilot of each plane was "under the hood", which meant they were wearing colored goggles and the windshield was covered with a shield of the opposite color so the pilot could see only his instruments. The co-pilot and the rest of the crew could see out with no problem. The routine during bad weather is, when entering a cloud formation, the lead plane would stay on course and the planes on either side would fly a 45į angle for 2 minutes then return to course, to separate the planes during the poor visibility. When they broke into clear air, they would return to formation. During training, the "poor visibility" was designated as x minutes, then return to formation.

We were in the lead ship with an instructor aboard, and after about an hour everyone got a bit bored, and the atmosphere was a bit relaxed to put it kindly. The instructor had his feet up on the instrument panel and was reading a comic book. The engineer was in the crawlway to my bombardier compartment doing heaven knows what, probably sleeping. I had crawled into the top turret to play with the unarmed machine guns, which I would swing round and round and point every which way. Because I was in the turret, I could see both planes and during one of my swings I saw that the plane on the left had banked back into formation, but didnít stop. He kept on coming and I knew that in about 10 seconds he would crash right into us. So there I was, in the turret, no headphones on and no way to alert anyone in time, when at the last instant I saw the other plane head straight down. My guess is the co-pilot of that plane must have seen us looming large and pushed the stick straight forward to avoid collision. I didnít see them for the rest of the mission.

I scrambled down from the turret on very wobbly legs and asked the instructor if he had seen anything, or if he had heard from the other plane. Of course he didnít see anything, he was engrossed in his comic book, and he hadnít hear anything from them either. After we returned to base, we learned that while the plane was taking a nose dive, both engines conked out, and between the two pilots they would get one started, then the other at which time the first one would conk out again. Somehow they managed to pull out of the dive, saw an auxiliary field to land in, and blew a couple tires out on the landing but made it safely. The next day or so two civilians from North American Aviation, the manufacturer of the plane, came out to interview the pilots. I happened to be walking by as they were headed into an interview room and head them ask the pilots if the plane was going straight down when the engines quit. I head them say "Oh, no" right before they disappeared into the room. Walking back from the bus to our hut, it dawned on me what could have happened. I stopped short and started shaking for a few minutes. When I calmed down, I could return to the room but I was still quite shaken.

On gunnery missions we were always warned to fire the machine guns in bursts, not to hold the trigger down. That would cause the barrel to heat up and whatever round was still in the chamber would automatically "cook off", or heat up and fire on its own. These gunnery missions were flown single file across the ocean to the target, turn around and circle back to land. We happened to be one of several planes that had a gunnery instructor aboard, and his instruction to us was "When we get to that goddamned target, keep your finger on the trigger so we can finish the mission and go home." Apparently other instructors said the same thing because the inevitable happened. When we got back to base, we would always find planes with holes in them, one plane had its antenna shot off, and some planes had a hole or two in the tail section.

Another problem on the gunnery flights was that several of the men got ill and threw up from the gunpowder fumes. We were fortunate to have strong stomachs in our crew. When the pilot fired his six machine guns, you could see the air speed indicator drop about 5mph from the recoil. During these gunnery flights over the ocean, we only flew a few hundred feet off the ground, and I remember watching people run out of their houses to see what the racket was, then turning tail and running right back in when they saw us. But they were better off than the owner of a voice I heard over the radio on one of our bomb training missions. I had managed to drop a bomb quite a ways away from the target, but quite close to the spotterís position, and over the radio I heard "Please sir up there, there is live people down here, live people."

The last training mission consisted of the whole squadron flying as a group, each to drop one bomb on the same target. This was a very tight formation and to me it looked like the wings were going to hit. I kept leaning away from the plane next to us like it would help, but after my scare during the bad weather flight, I wasnít comfortable seeing anything that close to us in the air. But we all managed to drop our bomb and arrive home safely.

By this time it was December 1944, and we received orders to report to an air base in Georgia to await orders for an overseas assignment. That meant the wives had to return home and wedded bliss was put on hold for who knew how long. But we were finally going to get down to business and have at the enemy so the adventure was about to begin seriously, so off to Georgia we went.

 Milt's War - Index

Chapter 1

The Cadet
Preflight Training

Flight Training

Aerial Gunner

Advanced Navigation

Chapter 2


Bombardier Training

B-25 Training

Chapter 3

Getting There
Getting Settled
Getting Into It
Getting Captured

Chapter 4

Prisoner of War
Temporary Quarters
A New Home

Chapter 5


The Beginning of The End
War Stories
Waiting for Liberation
Heading Home

Chapter 6

Recuperation &  Vacation
The VA
Sharing Our Stories

Old Friends and New

Returns to Main Index

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