World War II Experiences
"Timeless Voices" Oral History Project

Interview with

Robert A. Kraft, 398th Bomb Group Navigator
602nd Squadron, Eighth Air Force

Interviewer: Marilyn Gibb-Rice

Interview conducted at the
398th Bomb Group Annual Reunion
Cocoa Beach, Florida, September 5, 2008


The 398th has been interviewing its members as part of the Timeless Voices of Aviation project. More information about the project and a current list of video interviews can be found at 398th Timeless Voices Interviews. In addition to the video interviews, some of the interviews have been transcribed to text.


Interview with

Robert A. Kraft, 398th Bomb Group Navigator
602nd Squadron, Eighth Air Force

MGR: Interviewer, Marilyn Gibb-Rice
RK: 398th Navigator, Robert A. "Bob" Kraft

Time of Interview: 1:11:01

MGR: My name is Marilyn Gibb-Rice, and today is September 6, 2008. And we are at the 398th Bomb Group Memorial Association reunion in Cocoa Beach Florida. Would you please introduce yourself?

RK: Hi my name is Bob Kraft. I was with Dick Griffin’s crew in the 602nd Squadron. I was the navigator of his crew. After the 6th mission, I was asked to leave his crew and become the squadron navigator of the 602nd, and that’s the way I finished my missions. I finished 30 missions as the squadron navigator. Which meant that I only flew when my squadron was leading the group, leading the wing, or leading the division.

MGR: Would you please tell me what you were doing and where you were before the war?

RK: Before the war I had just graduated from High School in June of 1942. (I) had started college as an engineering student. And we knew the war was coming at us very fast, because the draft board was notifying us that we were getting high on the list to be drafted. Based on that I looked around for some other alternative other than to be drafted into the infantry. One of the things I looked at was meteorology, and I looked at the cadet program of the Army Air Force, I looked at the naval aviation program. I selected the cadet program of the Army Air Forces. But I did get 2 quarters in with in my engineering studies at the university before the time came when it was either go in, or be drafted. So I went in as a private as you will, but it was in the cadet program. I went through the cadet program in various states of the United States. I was in Wyoming, I was in Minnesota, and finally California. And then I was selected to go into the navigation program, which incidentally was something I had requested. Before the war I was a math major in high school, and I was an amateur astronomer. I knew my stars pretty well. I could name every constellation in the sky. I thought it would be kind of fun to navigate using the stars, so called celestial navigation. As it turns out I never used celestial navigation although I learned it. When you fly in the 8th air force, the suns out every day, and you never fly at night unless you are making a long distance trip let's say across the ocean, and I never did that. So celestial navigation I never got to use, but I nevertheless learned it and enjoyed it.

MGR: So where were you originally from?

RK: I grew up in Seattle Washington. Some called that the rainy state, but we loved it. It was a fun place to be, and when I went in the service a lot of people said, you’re from where? And I said, I’m from Seattle, Washington. Where’s that? Ok. But anyway, Seattle Washington is an interesting place and I did go back to Seattle after the war. I went back and studied engineering for a while, and ultimately decided to study medicine and went into the University of Washington Medical School.

MGR: Ok. So tell me about your trainings, where you were, and how you met up with your crew.

RK: I took my preflight at Ellington Field, Houston Texas. And I went from preflight into navigation school, which was also at Ellington Field in Houston. And having done that I graduated in April of ’44 with my second lieutenant's commission. It’s kind of a cute story, I had my reservation to fly to Seattle for my 10 days leave, as I graduated from navigation school. For some reason the orders were late from being cut. We missed our flights, and they were awfully hard to come by in those days. SO I took the train to Seattle on my 10 days of leave, it took 4 days to get to Seattle, 4 days to get back to Texas where I was supposed to go, and so I had 2 out of 10 days at home. But that was the war. In those days, a freight train had preference over a passenger train. So every time a freight train would come by, we’d have to pull off on the siding and let it go by. And that’s why it took 4 days to get from Texas to Seattle.

When I graduated from navigation school, I graduated with honors, and they gave me the option of picking what I wanted to do after I got my commission. And I thought I wanted to do B-25’s and B-26’s, and I thought a navigator bombardier rating would have been helpful in that regard so I asked for bombardier training too. They assigned me to a bombardier school but when I returned there after my leave home, I found out that the bombardier school didn’t exist. It had been closed several months in advance, but the Army hadn’t found out about it yet. So quickly I turned myself in as an officer without orders, and they sent me to Lincoln Nebraska, and from there I was assigned to my B-17 Squadron and then I went to west Texas again out in the desert and met up with Dick Griffin and his B-17 crew that was in training. We stayed there for 2 or 3 months until we were clever at handling the B-17 and all the things we had to do, and then we were assigned overseas and that’s why we came to England and joined the 8th air force. We did not fly a plane across as some crews did 'cause apparently they wanted the crews, not the flight, not the airplanes. That’s why in September of 1944, I flew my first missions with the 398th Bomb Group, 602nd Squadron, with the crew of Dick Griffin.

MGR: So can you tell me, do you remember your first mission, or... ?

RK: The first mission was Ludwigshafen, and so was my second mission Ludwigshafen. I forgotten what exactly the target was there, but I think it might have been marshalling yards or some war industry that we were trying to attack. But the missions weren’t bad. We had quite a bit of flak, we had no fighters. In fact during my 30 missions, I think we only had fighters attack us 4 or 5 times, which is quite a contrast to the people who flew 6 to 12 months ahead of us who got fighters every time and not as much flak. But as the periphery of the German war machine began to shrink, they took their flak guns with them. And flak became heavier but they were losing their fighters because of the fighter escorts that went in with us. So the later in the war, beginning say September of '44 when I began to fly, our missions were longer, flak was a little heavier, but we had almost never fighters, and when we did have fighters, they hit us quickly and were gone. They didn’t dare stay around, because our own P-51’s and P-47’s were quite an obstacle to them, they were shot down many times, as were our airplanes of course. Other missions? I would say the usual mission that I flew on, the flak was almost negligible going into the target and coming out if we stayed on course. If we wandered off course and got into places where we shouldn’t be, we sometimes picked up flak, that our superiors knew existed, and they had routed us around. But invariably there was flak at the target. Each formation goes to an initial point, and IP, that is the start of it’s bomb run. And then it has to fly a straight line from that point to the target, while the bombardier in the lead ship is calibrating his equipment, finding the target If he can see the ground, and so that 6 minute flight usually is somewhat hazardous as you can’t do evasive action, you have to stay on a straight line to keep your bombardier on sight with the target. Having said that, if we stayed on that 6 minute thing, the antiaircraft people on the ground could take also careful aim, could get our altitude correct, which was usually around 28-29,000 feet. And that’s when it became difficult for us. But once we got past the target we would quickly swerve, get out of the line of fire, and make what we called the bombs away turn, and start for home. Any other questions?

MGR: Well like, tell me your typical day, like what time would they get you up, and what would your day be like when you did have a mission?

RK: Ok. Usually if we had a mission, this was now in September through the wintertime, so the darkness usually actually stayed 'till at least 7 or 8 in the morning. They would wake us up around 4:30 or 5 O’clock. We would go have breakfast. Having had breakfast, we would get in our clothes we were going to wear for the mission, go down to the flight line and we would go into, the officers would go into one room, and I believe the enlisted men went into another room. They would hear from a big chart on the wall, where our mission was, where we were headed, things we had to know about that mission and what our purpose was. And then having done that, we would break up and the pilots would go into another room and get special pilot help. The navigators would go into another area, and be told what navigation hazards we might have and what navigation aids were available. And I think again on the enlisted men did something comparable to this. Perhaps the radiomen did their things and the top gunners did something else. This is something I don’t know much about.

Having done this, we would then go get our parachutes and our other gear we needed, our maps, and be transported out to our airplanes by jeep. And again it’s dark out there. Climb into our airplanes. If we were a wing plane, that is we were going to fly NOT lead, we would take off in the order in which was systematic for getting the squadron into the air. In the lead plane we’d usually be first, if we were squadron lead, we’d be the first in the squadron, if we were the group lead, we would be first plane in the group to lead, to take off. And then came the problem of how do you get this group of airplanes to aggregate, to get together someplace at the right altitude and make a formation.

After my 6th mission, I was selected to be the squadron navigator, so that when I did fly, I was in the lead plane. The lead plane had 3 navigators in it, believe it or not. We had 2 up front with the bombardier, we had a 3rd navigator back in the radio compartment, called the radar or mickey man. And his job was to look into a tiny scope, watch the signals that went down to the ground and bounce back up. And he could tell when he was crossing a river, a road, a town, or a coastline, and he could give a fix by intercom to the navigators up in the bow where I was. And if we were flying over an undercast, that is, we couldn’t see the ground, that was very nice to have, because if you’re navigating from the bow, you’re only using your instruments to decide where you are. That could become very difficult if the winds were changing, and when the Mickey Man called and said you’re crossing the English coast, you’re half a mile north of such and such a town. That would be a beautiful fix for us, and we’d know exactly where we were, we would mark that spot on the map, and the time we were there, and that would be a perfect fix. Other than that, it could be very difficult particularly if we were flying over clouds and we can’t see the ground. Question?

MGR: The days where it was cloudy, could you figure out where you were going and drop the bombs? Even though you couldn’t see the ground?

RK: If, if the clouds were below us, and we were flying absolutely blind, from the standpoint of where we were relative to the ground, we would be navigating according to the rules of dead reckoning. And in dead reckoning, you know where you are because you know how long you’ve been flying, the direction you’ve been flying, and the speed that you’ve been flying by your airspeed indicator. So, that type of navigation is called dead reckoning. In dead reckoning you are pretty sure where you are, if you know what the wind is doing. But if the wind is doing something that you don’t know about, and sometimes that was the case, you could be blown off course, and you would love to see a little hole in the clouds, and identify where you were. Like a coast line or if you had a radar navigator, who could tell you when you crossed the Rhine river, and where you crossed the Rhine river, you’d have a fix again, and you would be back on course if you will, you knew exactly where you were. And with that combined with dead reckoning you could find the target. If the target was open, the bombardier could see it, and actually line his bombsights up for the bombing run. But if it was cloudy below, he used the mickey man, who had radar to see the city below, and the radar man could actually actuate the bomb sight, which actuates the release of bomb drop, so the radar could actually be the guy who decides when and where the bombs should be dropped. And there are exceptions to all these rules, because if the radar isn’t working, and the wind is doing crazy things, and you can’t see the ground, it’s possible to make tactical errors, that could mean dropping bombs in the wrong place.

MGR: So tell me, you said a little bit, but how did they get into formation once they took off?

RK: Ok. That was one of my jobs, was to help get the formation. We had about 12 miles away from Nuthampstead, our base, we had a radio beacon, called the Debden Buncher, buncher because that’s where the planes bunch up. They called it a buncher because that is where we would meet at a specific altitude, say 25,000 feet. So for about a half an hour after we took off, we would all climb till we got up to the 25,000 feet level, we would home in on this radio buncher, until we saw each other. And the lead plane, would sometimes then even lower its landing gear, or send off flares, to say ‘Hey, I’m the lead plane, form on me.’ And as the airplanes began to form on the squadron leads, and the squadron leads got into position for the group position. Finally after about half an hour of this we had the airplanes all grouped together in the right configuration. But then it was the navigators job, to have us come around the buncher, and leave that buncher at a specific minute, going in the right direction at the right time. And if we could leave our buncher headed for the next rendezvous place, with another group, and they left their buncher at the right moment, the two groups would come together, see each other and line up. And then a 3rd group a minute later would come in from their buncher and join us. And pretty soon we had the first combat wing, which was the 398th, and the 91st, and the 381st Bomb Groups all together. This was called the First Combat Wing. We would then fly our wing to another place, where another Wing would come in and join us, and help make the Division. Ultimately when we left England, we usually had our formations in shape, all in the right order, all going in the same direction at the same altitude, and then we’d all start to climb up to combat altitude, which was much higher. Instead of 15,000 it would be 29,000 feet, and that’s where we would want to be when we got to our target.

MGR: So, since there are so many planes that are going, like from the 398th… You had a time difference from when the first one took off to when the last one took off. So what would all the first ones, where would they go, what would they do?

RK: Ok. So from the time the first one took off, and they take off about one a minute, till the 36th plane took off, which would be a half an hour later, we all climb over to our buncher, and go back and forth until we get up to the right altitude. And so the lead plane would be the first plane to get to right altitude, right place, and it would start making circles. The other planes that are coming along later keep climbing up till they get to the right altitude, to the buncher, which is the right location. They’d see the planes that they were supposed to join, and they’d join in that formation. So the lead plane is slowly making circles around the buncher, while the other planes aggregate on them. And then when the time comes for them to leave that buncher, the navigator has to have it down to the minute, so that when they make the last turn around the buncher going in the right direction to make our rendezvous, we’ve got our formation together.


RK: It was actually, trickier for me, almost, than getting to the target and back. Because we not only had to be at the right place, we had to be at the right altitude, but we had to be on the right minute going the right direction.

MGR: And who determined which plane went where just within each squadron?

RK: Alright. Each Group told each pilot, you will be flying in this position, in this Squadron, and he knew where he had to be relative to his Squadron. He had to know where his plane had to be relative to the Group. Then the Group had to know where it was, but that was the navigator and head pilot’s job, to put it together. But each pilot knew where he belonged in the formation, each formation knew where it belonged relative to the other formations. It was a bit of magic actually, in fact, I think the German’s wondered how we did it.

MGR: And did you take off, I mean depending on your position, you took off accordingly and so you could get together the way it went?

RK: I am not entirely sure how they selected which squadron took off ahead of each other squadron. Probably the High Squadron might have taken off first, the Lead Squadron, or maybe the Lead Squadron first, then the High Squadron, then the Low Squadron. A squadron being 12 airplanes. Yeah.

MGR: So then we’d have 36 planes flying?

RK: We’d have 36 airplanes. And when we were ready to leave our buncher to meet the other Group, we theoretically would have, we’d have 12 planes in the Lead Squadron, 12 planes in the High Squadron up to the right behind them, 12 planes down to the left behind them [Low Squadron], and this group of 36 airplanes would try to snuggle in as tightly as they could do safely, and stay that way even the rest of the mission.

MGR: Do you know of accidents that happened because the planes got too close?

RK: The, sometimes the commanding officers instructed their pilots to fly in with that wingtip as close to the other plane as possible for purposes of fighter protection, and massing together the machine gun capability of a group. But there are certain dangers in that, because with rough air, a wing could touch another airplane and two planes, men have been killed just because they were flying too close together and the air was rough. The planes were damaged because they touched each other. So most pilots knew how to stay safely away, but tight enough to try to get fighter protection.

MGR: So any, what missions, what cities would be ones you dreaded going to?

RK: Generally speaking, the deeper you went into Germany, the more hazardous it became as you had a longer voyage over enemy territory, and a longer opportunity for the German Air Force people to attack. There were certain cities like the Ruhr, Berlin, and other industrial cities that were extra heavily protected, and whenever we heard one of those awful names at the morning briefing, we knew we were in for a possible bad mission. Long missions generally were more difficult than short missions. Early in the war, in the early 1944, and '43 before it, sometimes the missions were only 2-3 hours long. Ours were usually 8 hours long because we went deep into Germany, and on certain occasions we went to Czechoslovakia for instance, the mission could be 10 hours long.

MGR: And did you have any kind of food or water, I mean did you have anything to eat on those long, long missions?

RK: I don’t think so, I don’t remember. In fact ironically I don’t even remember going to the bathroom during that time, and yet you’d think after 8 or 10 hours you’d need it. But I think your kidneys shut down when you’re under tension.

MGR: So tell me about your living conditions, and what it was like living over there.

RK: We lived in Quonset Huts, which were metal buildings. We had a little potbelly stove in the middle of it. It was wintertime when I was there most of the time, and we used to burn what we’d call bomb rings, which were the cardboard rings that were shipped around bombs to that they could be packaged. We could keep our room fairly warm at night, we’d have to keep stoking the fire even during the night. People say, well you probably met my friend who also flew with the 8th Air Force, well for the first place, there were probably 40 airfields, 40 8th Air Force bombers, B-17’s and B-24’s. But I didn’t know anybody that wasn’t in my barracks. We just never had the opportunity to meet people easily, when you got home from a mission you usually didn’t go over to the Officers Club and have a drink, you usually went to bed, or tried to do something to distract yourself. So I’m usually baffled by people who say ‘you must have known’ and I didn’t know; there were very few people that I really knew that I flew with, and they were usually people who lived in my Quonset Hut.

MGR: And how many were in your Quonset Hut?

RK: I’d have to guess. I’d say we had 25 maybe? They were in double bunks. High bunk, upper bunk, lower bunk. Usually if you had been there a little longer than the other guy, you slept in the lower bunk and he slept in the upper bunk. On one mission we lost so much gasoline and had an engine out, we were a lead plane, and we turned over our lead position to the deputy lead who would be flying to our right next to us. And we thought he got the message correctly that we were dropping out because we didn’t think we could get home with our fuel leaks. And we landed in Brussels, it had just been liberated by the English, just about 3 weeks before that, so the airfield was in terrible shape. They had to taxi us off into the mud. The irony about this whole thing was the message didn’t get back to the 398th what happened to us. The 398th assumed we had been shot down, even though we had thought we had told the Deputy Lead we were OK, but we were starting back by ourselves. But there is a certain hazard in flying back by yourself too. And so because of the rainy season, and the mud on the airfield, and our airplane wasn’t flyable after we landed, we stayed in Brussels for about 4 days, and when we got back to Nuthampstead, our footlockers were gone, our bedding was gone, our clothes were gone, they thought we were gone. So fortunately they hadn’t sent any telegrams to our family, and we finally got our things all back again. But, it was just a matter of communication.

MGR: Were you back in the same hut?

RK: Back in the same bed. (laughs)

MGR: That’s good. So what did you do on the days when you did not fly, but you stayed on base? What did you do in your spare time?

RK: That’s a good question. I think the days, and some days it was rainy or something, and the weather was difficult and nobody flew, on some days. You read, you played games, we all had little models of B-17’s that we filed on and worked on in our spare time. Ironically we were told never to keep a diary. I was a good boy and I never did. Then I found out after the war, that guys that kept their diary wrote books, and those of us that didn’t keep diaries couldn’t remember. So that’s the way, that’s the way it was. But generally speaking if I had been a drinking man, I suppose I could have been over at the Officer’s Club having a sip, but I wasn’t, and I think most of the time I was reading or working on my model or walking around the base or something. After I became squadron navigator then I had other jobs. I had to go down to squadron headquarters, and make sure that all my navigators were turning in their logs properly. Taking care of some of the technical aspects of the job I had.

MGR: Since you were lead navigator or squadron navigator, would you know ahead of time where you were going before others did?

RK: No. All I knew was that the Group said, tomorrow these three squadrons were flying. If you were the fourth squadron that wasn’t flying, that was called being stood down. I remember vividly one day at 4am or 4:30am the man shook me and said Kraft, you’re flying, and I said, no you’re wrong, we’re stood down. He said Kraft wake up, you’re flying! I said, hey! Our squadron is stood down today, go back and check. Kraft, wake up, I’m telling you, you’re flying! So I got up, and sure enough. What they had me do that day, my squadron wasn’t flying that day. I had to take 6 B-17’s, go out ahead of the Division, and all we had in our bomb bays was chaffe which is tin-foil. We were dropping tin foil ahead of the division, just to fowl up the radar capabilities of the Germans, who use radar for their anti-aircraft guns, to estimate our altitudes and all that. So of all my missions, I only had bombs for in most of them, and I had tin foil on one of them.

MGR: And did that get classified as a mission? RK: Yes it did, it sure should have. We were out all by ourselves. We were over the target before it was bombed.

MR – Do you remember where you were going, where you went?

RK: You know, I can’t remember the city. It was in eastern Germany, it was a long mission. It was as far east as Berlin, but it was South of Berlin. I can’t name the city, Mannheim I think, but I’m not sure.

MGR: Did you ever take leave and go off the base?

RK: Yes, about once every three weeks, we were given usually two days in London. This is when I first developed a love affair for the city. We could take the train from Royston, which was near us. The trip took two hours, it was only 30 miles, but it took two hours, it had many stops. After we got to London we would go to Piccadilly Circus. There we’d go to the Red Cross Club, which ran a couple, three hotels for army people, air force people. That was always a great pleasurable thing. Usually we had to get back, we had two nights away and we’d have to get back, and we were flying again. Sometimes when a squadron was stood down, they would have us stood down for two days or three days while we all took a quick leave, and some of the squadrons had this happen to them. Once during my tour of duty, we had what was called “Flak Leave”. There they sent us to a Red Cross facility which was an English manor, that they put us up, with sheets on their beds. They had orange juice brought to our beds before we woke up in the morning. They really tried to pamper us, these were lovely. I only got to do this once, I think everybody else did it only once. It was intended to be a break for those who felt they needed a rest.

MGR: And why was it called ‘Flak Leave’?

RK: Well, I think it was given that as kind of a joking name, to try to get us away from flak, which we had to have when we flew, and here we went on a Flak Leave and we didn’t have to have flak.

MGR: What do you remember about the food?

RK: On the base? I thought it was good, I was easy to please. I came from a family where meat and potatoes was our customary food, and I was easily pleased. We had for instance, scrambled powdered eggs, I liked it. A lot of the guys fussed about it, and said they were terrible. I said, you know, they are pretty good! We had lots of things like sausage that could be shipped, where it was vulnerable to spoilage. But powdered eggs and sausage was quite commonly used as our bill of fare.

MGR: So when you left he base, was there anything special that you’d get to eat that you didn’t have on the base, do you remember anything like that?

RK: Oh yeah. Well when we were in London, the friends that I would go into town with used to kid me, because I had never heard of Lasagna, I had never heard of Latke’s and a lot of Jewish foods I hadn’t eaten before, there was a lot of Italian food I had never had before. I was sort of a meatloaf and potatoes type from home, and I enjoyed eating different foods that London offered that I had never had before.

MGR: So back to some of your missions, did you ever have to bail out, or were you ever shot down?

RK: No, I was fortunate. We had to force land once because we had too many holes. We came across the North Sea once with two engines out on the same side, but we made it back to our base. The one time I had to force land on European soil, we were fortunate in that it was Brussels, and Brussels had been liberated so we were in friendly territory. Had it been a month earlier, we would have been taken captive if we had done that. I did have one bad mission where my bombardier was wounded, and we had to take care of that. We took a flak burst right under our nose. I was knocked down, one piece of flak hit me square in the chest. Fortunately I had put on my flak vest and it hit a piece of steel instead of me. Another piece of flak went through my oxygen mask, and I didn’t even know about that because I thought I was the same thing that had hit me in the chest. But on the next mission I put on my oxygen mask, and it didn’t feel right, until I looked and saw it had two holes in it, and that was from that mission before. And I remember when our bombardier was wounded, I remember, a lot of people don’t realize we were in cabins, where the room temperature of the cabin was 40 below zero. I couldn’t even pick up a metal pencil and make a notation in my log because it would freeze to my fingers. So if I used a wooden pencil or I wore gloves, it was ok. But when the bombardier was bleeding, if we tried to, if we kept the thing uncovered, the blood would freeze the minute it got out on the skin, but so would his hand, so we would have to cover his hand up, but then it would bleed. So using pressure points, we finally had that solved. Incidentally he lived to tell about it, so that was the happy part.

MGR: So tell me about your crew members.

RK: Well our pilot, we were all about 19, 20, 21 years of age. But my pilot was an older man, 26, and because of that we called him Pop. So Pop Griffin, who was our 26 year old pilot was the old man on our crew. And bless his heart, he lived till about 2 years ago. So I think he was close to 90 years old when he died. We had a good crew I think. We had a waste gunner unfortunately that panicked. He finally had to be taken off the plane, he couldn’t tolerate the stress of being shot at. The rest of us I think did ok.

MGR: Did you know about the Woodman Pub, and were you ever in it?

RK: While I was on the base, I think I was in it once. I was a teetotaler at the time and I didn’t have any interest in going in there and having a drink.

MGR: Did you have any interactions with the local people?

RK: I would say zero.

MGR: You just didn’t have time.

RK: Well, and again, if I had been a person that liked to sip a little drink once in a while, I probably would have met some of the local people. But I didn’t, and for that reason, my social relationships were only with other guys that were flying. We didn’t even get to know the base ground people at all. We knew who they were but not their names.

MGR: So tell me about becoming the Squadron Navigator.

RK: Well as matter of fact, after my sixth mission, I was approached by the Operations Officer of our Squadron. He said Kraft, we want you to fly with us, we are making you Squadron Navigator. I said, that’s great, what all does that entail? Well you will fly in the lead ship, whenever our squadron flies and leads. And for your first three missions you will fly with the outgoing Squadron Navigator, and I did. To be Squadron Navigator meant that I would have an advance in rank, I was a second lieutenant at the time, and Squadron Navigator called for captain. So they elected to give me my 1st lieutenant bars, and then my captain’s bars a couple weeks later. So I have a record I think of being a first lieutenant for the shortest possible time. It was quite an honor. I said to them one time, why me? Why did you pick me? And he said, Kraft we have a record on you. You got honors in navigation school, and this is what you get for it.

MGR: That was good. Did you receive any special medals?

RK: I have a Distinguished Flying Cross. It was awarded to me after the incident where our bombardier was wounded, and I was knocked down. We had chaos in our bow, but fortunately we did ok.

MGR: Did you communicate with your parents or anybody back home?

RK: Sure, not by phone, but we wrote to each other. I think maybe cookies on a few occasions, yeah.

MGR: So do you think you were afraid when you were flying your missions?

RK: You know that’s a good question, because I don’t remember being afraid. I had so many jobs to do, just getting out to the airplane, and getting settled. After becoming the lead my mind was on so many thousand things, every time we came to the initial point where we had to put on our flak vest, you never knew. You thought this was it. But it turned out not to be crucial. We took flak bursts on most of our missions on the bomb run, but I really don’t remember being afraid. I think I was too busy or scared or something. That doesn’t make any sense, being scared and not afraid. I don’t’ remember being afraid in the sense of it interfering in what I had to do. I always had tasks I had to do. It was busy. In the lead plane, we had a bomb site that was busy. We had to give the signal when to release bombs. When the time came that bombs were away, we had to be able to give our pilot the heading he had to turn to. And in this one occasion when we had chaos in the bow, we were not able to give our pilot a new heading. He just turned the plane, you always want to turn the plane… You are on a bomb line and they are shooting at you, you want to quickly bank and get off that line. He turned to what he thought would be a reasonable heading. We were in chaos in the bow, we were even off the intercom, we couldn’t talk to him. He did the best he could. Finally when we got our act together, we realized he was on the wrong heading, and we corrected him. I think a couple bursts of flak came up on that new heading, so we were somewhere we shouldn’t be, but we got back on course, and it turned out well. You always worry in the lead plan, that inadvertently, you might get your whole group into trouble. We were afraid that could have happened, but it really didn’t.

MGR: So when he turned, everybody else turned with him?

RK: Oh, he was the lead plane, they had to turn with him. He did the best he could but they probably wondered, what’s happening. He knew we had taken a burst. I’m not sure but he may have taken a few flak fragments in that same explosion.

MGR: So where in the plane did you sit?

RK: Oh, the navigator sits way up in the bow, ahead of the pilot. There is a little compartment up there that is big enough for about two people, but in the lead plane we had three up there. The bombardier sits in a chair at the very, very furthest bow way up by the window. The navigator or navigators stand up behind him. Usually we stood up for eight hours back there. There were two of us and there weren’t any chairs. Usually we sat on the turret, which was raised just a little bit. It’s funny though, the time flies by, and you don’t realize you’ve been standing for six or eight hours.

MGR: So tell me what happened once you got back from a mission?

RK: Well after you come back from a mission, you land. A jeep comes out picks up the personnel from that flight, drives us back. Then we go back to interrogation, where each crew is talked to independently by the information officers, who want to know, did you hit your target, did you have any flak, did you see fighters, do you know you were on course, do you know if you hit your target or not. They want to know as much as they can. There were planes that came along afterwards and photograph if they can, but if there is a cloud cover, even that’s not possible, so sometimes it would be days before they knew if we were successful in trying to hit what we intended to hit. Then they offer you a drink of whiskey, and again I was a teetotaler so I didn’t mess with that. It probably took 45 minutes to an hour of interrogation, and then we were turned loose and we would go back to our barracks. Then you could hit your sack, or do whatever you wanted to do, go have a meal. But you’d want to get some of those clothes off and get into some more comfortable clothes.

MGR: Alright, anything else just about the time you were over there?

RK: You mean over there in England?

MGR: Yes.

RK: It seemed like it was a cold winter when we were there. England has some funny things that I had never run into before. I remember the wires on the fences had ice, in places where the ice had dripped down and frozen, and you had little hanging Icy droplets on fences and things. I imagine this had a problem for the maintenance people taking care of the airplanes. They did all the repairs I think on the airplanes outdoors. If it was below freezing, I should think it would be difficult to put a rivet in a patch or work on an engine, or change a propeller, when a propeller is so cold that it would freeze your hands. That didn’t affect us too much because once we got into our airplane, and you got up and going, and we were dressed properly, it was cold anyways for us. So it didn’t make any difference what the temperature was on the ground. Once you get up to 25,000 feet it’s probably 10 or 20 below, when you get up to 28,000 feet it’s 40 below. As I mentioned earlier navigators had to be careful as they had to make log entries as to where they are and what the time was, and you couldn’t use any pencil or pen that had metal in it, because it would be too cold to hold in your fingers, unless you had gloves on.

MGR: And you were there for Christmas?

RK: Yes. I don’t remember anything special for Christmas, I probably remember it was a Christmas Day. I don’t think I flew on Christmas Day, but it’s possible. Usually as a Squadron Navigator, I flew every five or six days. Even though my squadron flew, if it flew behind another squadron, and not in the lead plane, then I wasn’t involved. So the only times of course I flew was when I was in the lead plane. I had other responsibilities. Most navigators, all they had to do was about every 15 minutes, they had to make an entry in their log as to where they think they are, or what time it was, or how fast they are going, or what their heading is, or what their altitude is. But in the lead plane, we had to keep correcting the pilots heading, so we kept out of flak zones, and so that we to the best of our knowledge, were on course. There were some exceptions to that, where navigators in the lead plane because they lost their radar equipment, or lost their visual ground corrections, sometimes we could have been many miles off course, and not known it, hoping to correct for it. That’s why we had some of the special features such as radar to help us.

MGR: And did the lead plane also be the one that had the Norden bombsight in it?

RK: We always had the lead bombardier in our plane. He was one of several in the formation, I think, and he had the Norden bombsight. The Norden bombsight is only good if you can see the ground. Well, I said that wrong. It’s still being used by the release of bombs, but the pilot can fly the plane, based on what the bombsight is telling it because he puts it on automatic pilot. But if the bombardier can’t see the ground, to see his own scope, then the radar man can take over the bombsight, and set the angle of the bombsight based on what he sees by radar. Sometimes the radar man was the man that actuated the bombsight, which actuated the airplane, and then it was up to the bombardier, as the bombsight went to the click position, had to be sure the bombs were releasable, and the bomb bay doors were open. Then we had toggliers in other planes of our formation. These were usually enlisted men, who sat up in the bow of the airplane, where the bombardier used to sit. They could man the chin guns if necessary. They had a toggle switch, so they watched that lead plane. When those bombs appeared, he hit his toggle switch, so he released the same time he did. And that’s the way a formation can drop all it’s bomb in one place. There’s an exception to that of course. Sometimes the bombs were dropped TRAIN, and that means instead of one salvo of bombs, they released click, click, click, one at a time. This is if they were hitting a railroad yard or something that is long, and they wanted to spread out the destruction they were trying to create over a long distance, and they don’t want a salvo, they want train bomb release.

MGR: And they had some kind of setting or something, or did they manually do it?

RK: Yes, he could set them so they’d click and go one per second, depending on how many there are he could set them so they’d be sequenced at different time intervals. More commonly the bombs were dropped salvo, which means they were dropped all at the same time. Then of course it was up to the bombardier to close his bomb bay doors, and that is the time that the pilot will want to make his bombs released turn, and get off that path. Because that path is what the anti-aircraft people have all got their guns aimed at, and you want to get off that so that you can get away from the flak.

MGR: So what do you think you’re most proud of?

RK: I think I’m probably most proud of the fact that I was selected to lead. When you stop and think about that, if there are 36 airplanes in your group, and you’re leading the group, and there are 10 men in each one, there are 360 men, who are depending on you to keep them from harms way.

MGR: So what did you do after the war?

RK: Well after the war, I came back and went into my engineering studies. I thought I wanted to become and electrical engineer. After two more years at the university, I started to question if I wanted to be an engineer or not. Believe it or not, I thought for a while there I wanted to become a Methodist minister. I even prepared for seminary. I went a year to Northwestern University, whether there is a Methodist seminary. I tried that and decided, no that isn’t what I wanted to do. About that time I got married, and my wife and I were talking about it one day. She said, you like science, you’re interested in people, and problems and that sort of thing, why not go into medicine? And is says, I can’t do that. My close friend from years ago knew he wanted to be a doctor when he was 10. But I said, I’d look into it. I went to the advisor at the University of Washington, and said, you know I’m thinking about going into medicine. He said, I wouldn’t do that if I were you. You’d have to go back and get a year of post graduate pre-medicine requirements, then what would you do if they turned you down, you didn’t get into medical school? I said, I think I can do it. So anyway, despite his contrary advise, I did do that, and I took a year of pre-medicine, I was accepted into medical school, and I made a medical career and I loved it. So it was probably a good decision. I graduated from medical school, I did 3 years of family practice, where I delivered a lot of babies, and took care of kids with runny nose and that sort of thing. I could tell that wasn’t it, it still wasn’t what I wanted to do. A friend of mine who was a pathologist, said, why don’t you think about pathology? We have a training program that starts in our local hospital here that starts next fall. I bounced this off my wife, we decided to do it. And I spent two years in Tacoma Washington at a private hospital learning my first pathology. But I knew I had to get some academic pathology too, and my chief asked me where I wanted to go? I said, I don’t know. He said, how would you like to go to Columbia? We’re in Washington state, Columbia’s in New York. Well I interned in New York, what else. He says, how about University of California. I said, hey now we’re talking. So he called on his friend who ran the Department of Pathology at the University of California in San Francisco, and said I’ve got a spot for you there. So we did, we came down and took two years at Cal, thinking we were going to go back to the northwest to do pathology up there. As it turned out when I finished my training, I looked around in the state of Washington, and I couldn’t find a job up there. Pathologists don’t just hang shingles up, they have to get a contract with a Hospital, and sometimes are a little hard to find. Suddenly a really nice one opened up in northern California, and I stayed there for 30 years at Peninsula Hospital in Burlingame, and that turned out to be a nice thing. My kids, I have three, all became Californians, although my daughter was born in the state of Washington. Pathology has been a nice thing for me, and I have always felt it was a good decision. My daughter, who wanted to be a doctor too, went into ophthalmology, and she’s a practicing eye surgeon now. Interestingly enough she is also a concert organist and concert pianist. She has concertized in many of the great pipe organs of the world, including Notre Dame in Paris, the National Cathedral in Washington D.C., and this year she’s going to do Saint-Sulpice organ in Paris. Which is considered perhaps by the organists of the world, one of the great organs of the world. I’ve had a good life, as a pathologist, and as a family member. Coming back to this reunion of the 398th, I realize that I’m still in pretty good shape. A lot of my compatriots are gone now, we don’t have as many veterans as we used to have, but we are trying to hang out as long as we can.

MGR: As a second generation person in this bomb group, I want to thank you for your time and your service in the 398th Bomb Group, and I want to thank you for doing the interview.

RK: Thank you. My pleasure.



See also:
    1. Richard A. Griffin's Crew - 602nd Squadron - 26 September 1944
    2. Return to 398th Timeless Voices Interviews to view and listen to the interview.


      1. Lt. Robert Kraft was the Navigator on Richard A. Griffin's 602nd Squadron crew for his first 6 missions, then he became Squadron Navigator for the 602nd SQ.
      2. The above transcription was provided by Ben Weaver (grand-nephew of Robert Kraft, 602nd Navigator), November 7, 2017. Ben is a volunteer transcriber
      3. The transcription was obtained from a video file.
      4. Punctuation, grammar and minor word changes may have been made to improve readability.
      5. Additional information may be shown in brackets [ ].