put on my mission gear.
johns, blue flannel underwear wired for connection to the plane's electrical
system, O.D. wool pants and shirt, low-cut brown oxford shoes, black wool
tie. Over this, my flying coveralls. Over everything, fleece-lined boots,
leather fleece-lined pants, jacket, and a hat. I picked up my navigation
kit, two bags, one like a briefcase and one like a zippered notebook. Just
to make sure Ernie Warsaw hadn't borrowed anything I looked inside: E6B
computer, Weems plotter, two triangles, pencils, eraser, a collection of
U.K. maps, plotting charts, my logbook. Check. After checking the clip to
make sure it was loaded, I strapped on my .45 revolver. 'Carry it always,'
we were told.
The briefcase. Yep. Five #10 grocery sacks, just about how many I would
need when I got airsick and vomited…Okay. Ready for the blue.
From “A Wing
and a Prayer” by Harry H. Crosby, 100th Bombardment Group.
shared the nose of the aircraft with the bombardier and was responsible
for keeping track of where the plane was and what heading the pilot needed
to fly to reach the next waypoint on the mission. A bomb group would have
a lead navigator that flew in the lead aircraft that actually navigated
for the entire group. The navigators in the rest of the group would keep
track of their position just in case their aircraft had to drop out of
formation and find their way home on their own.
looking over the navigator's table through the two windows that
were positioned in front of him. Overhead are two gauges, remotes
from the flight deck. To the right one can just see the handles
for the right cheek .50 caliber machine gun. This gun was often
crewed by the navigator in combat.
Lead navigators used
a number of methods to navigate. It is here where the term "Ships
of the Air” probably was most descriptive. The navigator of a B-17
could, and often did, navigate by the sun and stars. Above his position
was a small Plexiglas dome where the navigator could take readings from
these heavenly bodies. This was most commonly used when bomber crews made
their way from the states to England via Iceland and not many visual landmarks
existed. During combat, however, most navigators used a combination of
pilotage (using visual landmarks to gauge ground speed and location),
radio triangulation, or just dead reckoning (the idea that flying at a
certain speed, with a certain wind, on a certain heading, mathematically
a plane should be in a certain spot) to find their way to and from the
target. The radio operator would assist the navigator in his duties by
providing periodic radio “fixs” from know radio stations or
transmitters. With the horrible weather encountered in Europe, sometimes
navigating became more of an art, sprinkled with a lot of luck, rather
than science and skill. Later in the war with the development of sophisticated
navigation aids such as Gee, navigation became a bit easier.
desk of the navigator. Here the navigator would spread his charts
and logs to plot the aircraft's course and record important information
during a mission.
The navigator also
recorded a mission log much like the radio operators. They would record
what time they reached their waypoints, where along the route enemy activity
(either fighters or flak) were encountered, when fighter escort would
appear and when they left, when and where friendly aircraft were seen
to go down and how many chutes were seen to come from the aircraft, as
well as any other important events along the route. When it came to enemy
activity, they would record not just when and where, but also the number
of enemy engaged (when it came to fighters), their skill (either expert
pilots or accurate, very accurate flak), and the intensity (fighters pressed
home attacks until last minute, flak was moderate, light or heavy). Lead
navigators also would radio their position back to England about every
fifteen minutes or so enabling the brass to track the progress of the
In the event that
a bomber had to fall out of formation and go it alone back to base, it
was up to the navigator to find the way home. Navigators would have charts
and maps that not only showed the terrain, but would also show areas of
known flak installations and fighter bases. They usually tried to avoid
such areas when flying alone but sometimes battle damage or wounded would
necessitate the quickest route home regardless of enemy activity. Many
times navigators who showed a talent for true navigation by getting a
crew home safely on their own found themselves being trained to be a lead
navigator for the group. Since the enemy knew that the lead ship held
the groups best bombardier and that he was doing the aiming for the group,
enemy fighters tended to concentrate on the lead ships leading to a very
short life span for lead navigators and their lead crews.
Just like the rest
of the crew, the navigator was also responsible for protecting the aircraft.
Usually he would man one, if not both, of the cheek guns located on either
side of the nose. On B-17s up to and including the "F" model,
the left cheek gun was the navigator's primary weapon while the bombardier/toggler
covered the nose guns and right Cheek gun. However, once the "G"
model introduced the nose turret the bombardier/togglers usually stuck
to the nose turret controls and let the navigator man both cheek guns
because of their limited fields of fire.
The navigator, like
the pilots and bombardier, was a commissioned officer usually with a starting
rank of 1st Lieutenant.