Wartime Memories of Roger D Thorngren
2nd Lt Roger Thorngren was a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress Bombardier flying in the European Theater of Combat Operations. He was in the 8th Air Force, 95th Bomb Group, 13th Wing. He was assigned to the 334th Squadron based in Horham England near the larger town of Ipswitch.
Roger flew 8 missions during the war… 5 bombing missions and 3 “Chow Hound Missions” dropping food to the starving people of Holland after the Germans flooded their farmland.
Roger at age 93, shared these memories during a series of phone conversations and interviews with myself – his son.
As an Officer in the Army Air Corps, he was given 10 hours of flight time in a Piper “Cub” while beginning his training at Fayetteville, Arkansas. Later he was transferred to San Antonio, Texas where Officers were assigned to training as either Pilots, Bombardiers, or Navigators. Dad wanted to be a pilot but the Army had other ideas and he was assigned to training as a Bombardier.
He also was given additional training in aerial gunnery from the back seat of a T-6 “Texan”. Dad was accompanied during much of his training by his brand new bride – Carol Peugh Thorngren, which was a rather uncommon arrangement for officers in training.
Nearing the end of the flight training program, Roger was flying with a crew in Tampa, Florida. When the crew received combat orders to England, Roger was held back. All newly trained bombardiers were held back due to a change in bombing tactics.
Previously, every B-17 had its’ own bombardier. As a formation of bombers approached the target area, each bomber tried to bomb from the same spot in order to hit the target. This resulted in the entire formation trying to occupy the same spot in the sky at the same time. Needless to say, this was not a practice conducive to safety and a long life.
The new tactic was to have a single bombardier in the lead aircraft drop on target with all the other bombers dropping when he did from their individual positions in formation. This tactic did not require as many bombardiers, so all the bombardiers in my Dad’s class were taken off their crews and held back to repeat the class, until being sent on to Europe with a new crew.
Roger received a letter from the pilot of the crew he originally trained with – Don Lathrope from West Virginia. He described how things were in England. Dad wrote him back from Florida and eventually, weeks later he received his own letter back stamped “Deceased”. Rogers’ entire first crew had been killed when their aircraft had run out of gas returning from their second combat mission.
Dad and his crew were eventually shipped off to England aboard the liner Queen Elizabeth which at the time was being used as a very fast troop carrier.
In Europe, Roger and his crew flew in an aircraft named “Bubbles”. Dad’s pilot was a Lt Simpson, co-pilot was Lt Sheets and the navigator was Lt Kinter. They flew 5 combat missions together.
Roger remembered Lt Kinter as a "fine navigator, always cool - flack never bothered him."
Mission #1 was to Hamburg and was a bad mission with lots of flack.
Mission #2 was to Hanover and was not as tough as Hamburg.
Mission #3 & #4 were to the sub pens at Kiel.
Mission #5 was a very long 10 hour mission to Eger, Czechlaslovakia.
Missions #6, #7 and #8 were “Chow Hound” missions to drop food to the starving Dutch people.
Towards the end of the war, the Germans decided to punish the Dutch for collaborating with the allies, so they opened all the dikes and flooded the countryside – destroying all the crops. The English began a program to drop food to the starving people of Holland and the Americans followed suit. Dad could not remember the details, but a deal was struck with the Germans to allow the Allies to drop food to Dutch while the Germans would hold their fire.
Dad and his crew were on one of the very last missions of the war which was a “Chow Hound” mission. Additional military personnel were allowed to fly along and observe the food drops as they were not considered combat missions. A normal B-17 crew was 10 men but for these missions the plane could carry up to 20 men.
The last bomber crew lost in the war was on this mission and Dad knew the crew. He had trained at the same as them in Florida and shipped over on the Queen Elizabeth with them. Only the navigator and one gunner survived of the 20 men aboard.
Roger said that everyone suspected that the Germans had shot at them. The plane had 2 engines out. 1 engine caught fire and they could not get the fire out. The pilot was Lionel Scurman nicknamed “Spider” from New Jersey. The surviving navigator – Cook (nicknamed “Cookie”) told Dad that “Spider” did everything right. They followed all the emergency procedures and could not get the fire out, so they were forced to ditch. Unfortunately, the water was very rough that day and the waves were high. The ditching did not go well and only 2 men survived.
After that mission, Dad remembered a conversation he had had with “Spider” where Dad asked him if he knew of anyone from his home town that had been hurt in the war. Scurman had told him that he knew of several, and that his home town in New Jersey named a street after each fallen warrior. “Spider” laughingly added that he expected to have a street named after him! “Spider” and his crew were buried in a military cemetery in England.
See: https://www.CAFSOCAL.com or www.orgsites.com/ca/caf-socal
Roger has also been entered into the registry at the American Air Museum of Britain at:
More information about the 95th Bomb Group with wartime pictures can be found at:
http://95thbg-horham.com/wordpress/about/crew-photos/ crew photos
http://95thbg-horham.com/wordpress/about/airfield/ base airfield photos of Horum
http://95thbg-horham.com/wordpress/bw-shots-around-the-base/ (try the slide show)
http://95thbg-horham.com/wordpress/aircraft-nose-art/ aircraft nose art
http://95thbg-horham.com/wordpress/42-3037-b17-f/ aircraft photos
http://95thbg.org/j3migr/ 95th Bomb Group Memorial Foundation
http://www.8thafhs.org/bomber/95bg.htm 8th Air Force Historical Society
http://95thbg.org/j3migr/px/px-open-for-business Pins, Patches and Memorabilia for sale
More information about the 334th Squadron can be found at: