Marshall Stelzriede's Wartime Story

Experiences of a B-17 Navigator


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Introduction

In 1998 I came across a journal which I had written while in the service during the years 1942 to 1945, covering my experiences as a navigator with the Eighth Air Force in Europe during World War II. I had forgotten about this journal until I accidentally found it while rummaging through my attic. My original intention was to type it up on paper, make photocopies of it, and distribute these copies only among my family, relatives, and friends who I thought might be interested. At the urging of my family, I put it on the Internet, but only in an abbreviated form. However, I received many comments from persons who had viewed that abbreviated Website, telling me that there was a need for more detailed information about the personal experiences of those who had served in the Air Force in wartime, and that the Website should be expanded. Some of these comments were from historians, teachers and students from grade school through college who wanted more information for use in their studies. It was for these reasons that I greatly enlarged and enhanced the contents of the Website.

The narratives and photos presented on this Website cover the entire four years of my military career. The first fifteen months were spent as an Aviation Cadet, the fun time that was a precursor to the dire seriousness of war. Half of this time was devoted to an unsuccessful period of pilot training that extended as far as the advanced flight school. However, my experience as a pilot trainee came to a conclusion for reasons I shall explain. The rest of my time as an aviation cadet was spent in training for a commission with the rating of aerial navigator.

After I received my commission, I was transferred to what was known as phase training. Phase training in the stifling heat of south Texas brought together our ten-man crew that was to work and fight together for the duration of 25 combat missions. The flight to the European Theater of Operations, by way of countries that we would never have visited under any other circumstances, was a real adventure for all of us. All of our raids are described in fairly intimate detail on this Website, along with discussions of how we spent our time between missions.

After completion of those raids, I was transferred to a port of embarkation to be shipped back to the Zone of the Interior (USA). However, against my will I was "volunteered" by a superior officer to be transferred into a newly formed long-range transport squadron that needed navigators. This assignment actually ended up providing me with many exciting experiences. First I flew, in an unarmed B-24 that was modified for use as a transport aircraft, all the way across North Africa and the Middle East as far as Teheran, Iran, and then back to England, over waters frequently patrolled by the Luftwaffe. One additional long-range flight took me to Washington, D. C. and then back to England. Upon completion of that flight, I was finally shipped back to the States. I spent the final year of the war teaching radar navigation at Victorville, California, to B-29 crews leaving for the Pacific.

This Website also contains news articles covering our missions. Most of these news articles were taken from The Stars and Stripes, which was the U. S. Armed Forces newspaper, and describe such details as intended targets, types of aircraft involved, casualties, battle strategy, and personal accounts by crewmen. There is also an aircraft photos section, which contains photos and drawings of most of the aircraft types mentioned on this Website. A section on wartime patriotic/propaganda posters from the U.S., Great Britain and Germany has also been included. Before the advent of television, such posters were displayed in public places and were a common way for governments to inform and educate people about topics relating to the war, and to promote patriotism. Also contained on his Website are excerpts from the "Pilot Training Manual for the B-17 Flying Fortress". This manual was issued to B-17 pilots during World War II and was considered to be the "textbook of the B-17". Finally, we have included some of the music that was popular during the war years and some radio broadcasts and speeches from the period.

It should be noted that there are undoubtedly factual errors in some parts of the journal accounts and news articles, since both were written immediately after the events occurred, and before all of the actual facts were confirmed by responsible authorities. Also, I'd like to apologize in advance for the poor quality of some of the photos appearing on this Website. The camera and film used in those days were not of the best quality to begin with, and the photos have deteriorated somewhat more throughout the years.

My son, Tom, designed this Website from material that I presented to him, proofread the text, and is responsible for the site's organization and maintenance.

Marshall Stelzriede passed away on January 1, 2005. This Website will remain as a tribute to him and to all of the other brave men and women who served so valiantly during World War II so that we might live in freedom today.

Summary of Military Service


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