Harold Kloth of Lexington Manor in Port Charlotte, Fla. flew 30 combat missions as the pilot of a B-17 bomber nicknamed “Royal Flush” as part of the 8th Air Force in Europe during World War II.
He was a member of the 447th Bomb Group, 711th Bomb Squadron, 47th Wing of the 8th Air Force, flying out of an air base in southeast England near a little town called Rattlesden. He retired as a major from the Air Force 17 years later.
At age 20, a couple of weeks after the Japanese attacked Pear Harbor, Kloth dropped out of the University of Virginia, where he was a freshman, and signed up for the Aviation Cadet program. After graduating from the program, he spent a short time with Ferry Command but was eventually ordered to Randolph Field in Texas as an instructor pilot.
“I took a dim view of that,” the 87-year-old former bomber pilot said. “The only thing I could do was volunteer to become a B-17 pilot. I figured I’d rather be killed by a German than by another American learning how to fly.”
He was sent to Drew Field in Tampa for his B-17 training. The field is now the location of Tampa International Airport.
“The B-17 was a beautiful plane to fly,” he recalled. “It would take a lot of punishment before it went down.”
Kloth said he flew into Rattlesden on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He and his crew flew their first combat mission over Germany a couple of weeks later.
“We had one mission, it was our 17th or 18th, when we came back with over 300 flak holes in the ship. None of the flak (from German anti-aircraft guns) did any serious damage to the plane,” he said. “I don’t recall the mission. It could have been a German ball-bearing plant.
“On our next mission we got shot down. We landed at an air base on the south side of Antwerp, Belgium. The British controlled the south side of the city and the Germans held the north side,” he said.
“I can’t remember the target, but it was some kind of a German manufacturing plant. We lost our first two engines over the target,” Kloth said. “We dropped out of formation and were flying low. We were lucky because there weren’t any German fighters around that day.
“We lightened the ship as much as we could. Our ball turret had been converted to a radar unit. We dropped the unit out, and one report is that the radar landed in the middle of a German air strip. They are probably still trying to figure out what kind of a weapon that was,” he said.
“Belgium is all chopped up into little farms with stone fences. The only safe place to land a bomber was at an air field,” Kloth said. “We knew generally where we were and spotted an air field below. What we didn’t know was who controlled the field.
“On our final approach, the ground crew was firing red flares our way, which is a signal not to land. But there was nothing I could do but land because our fourth engine had just burned up.
“About that time, a Spitfire with English markings flew in ahead of us and landed. The English had just taken over the field,” he said.
By the time they arrived back at their base in England a week later, word had gotten around that their bomber had gone down in flames.
“We had trouble finding all our possessions when we returned to base,” Kloth said.
During the entire 30 missions that he and his crew flew in Europe, the only injury from enemy fire came when a tiny piece of flak from a German 88 mm anti-aircraft gun struck the bombardier in the leg.
“He wasn’t awarded a Purple Heart for his injury,” he said. “Our outfit required you had to spend 24 hours in the hospital to be eligible for a Purple Heart.”
On V-E Day, May 8, 1945, when the Allies announced the surrender of German forces in Europe, Kloth was on 30 days leave at his home in New Jersey. He was about to return to Homestead Air Force Base in Florida to start training to fly a B-29 “Super Fortress” in the Pacific. However, he was sidetracked when the service decided it didn’t need any more B-29 pilots.
Kloth and his wife moved to this area in 2001 and were preparing to move into Lexington Manor on March 24 when she died on Feb. 12.
Now it’s just him and his pup, Shanghai.
“I don’t know what I’d do without my dog,” Kloth said.
This story first appeared in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, June 22, 2009. Republished with permission.
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