Ken Strom, B-17 Navigator

 
Ken Strom, B-17 Navigator, United States Army Air Forces, Eighth Air Force, First Air Division, 401st Bomb Group (Heavy), 612 Bomb Squadron, Deenethorpe, England, Station 128. 30 Missions. Distinguished Flying Cross.
 
(The following summary is condensed from notes of a public presentation made by Ken Strom at the Scott Hosier WW II Roundtable in Rochester, MN on March 14, 2011. The Evening's Program (Short Rounds) and a Video DVD is available (MLT Group, Rochester, MN 55901.)
 
Inducted 1942 age 22 years
Basic training, then sent to Chicago to work at the IBM unit at the Main Post Office, Chicago. He had previously worked for IBM.
Applied for the Aviation Cadet program
More Training
Classification at San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center: Due to a need for glasses he could not become a Pilot so he became a Navigator.
Navigation school: Hondo Texas (a hot summer)
Received 2nd Lt. commission.
 
Specialized training (Advanced School) in radio and celestial navigation and pilotage.
His job as Navigator was to know where you're at and give the pilot headings.
While tight formation flying the pilot just followed the plane ahead.
Flak was scary. After the Initial Point the plane's heading was not varied and the Bombardier took over flying the plane. He was on the left side of the nose of the plane behind the Bombardier and also manned the right side nose gun. The armorers loaded his gun before takeoff.
 
Memorable missions: In Nov. or Dec. 43 he flew his first mission to Bordeaux, France from his base 60 miles north of London. They headed straight south and then approached from the west. The primary target was covered with clouds, so they went to the alternate target at Cognac and encountered FW-190 fighters (with the yellow noses). Their radio operator was killed, which was the only casualty during their entire 30 missions.
 
England was socked in with clouds. At 500 feet they broke out of clouds and tried to find an airfield. If they didn't find one in several minutes the pilot was going to go up, and the aircrew would bail out in parachutes. They found a short P-38 runway and landed and they spent New Years Eve, Dec. 31, 1943 at that airfield.
Ken kept a piece of flak that bounced off his flak jacket that he said "saved me from a Purple heart." He also kept a small piece of shattered plexiglass.
 
On his last mission he had to go beyond Berlin, beyond Germany, to Stettin (sp?), Poland. On most missions they got up and took off in the dark at 7 am and flew 8-10 hours. On this 30th mission they unloaded their bombs and hit the target. There was flak and fighters and they were over the Baltic Sea when they lost an engine. The engine was windmilling and on fire. They considered Sweden as an alternative place to land but it was their 30th or last mission so instead they shot flares asking for an escort through the Baltic Sea to the North Sea and four P-38s showed up. He said this was when the Navigator earns his keep and he gave the Pilot a heading. They were going faster and very slowly descending and made it back to base before the others.
 
After 30 missions he became an Instructor of Navigators and went to Galveston, Texas to Navigator Instructors' School. He then taught at Pueblo, Colorado and some of his students were Chinese students learning how to navigate.
 
 
 
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