World War II prisoner of war camp - Stalag Luft I


World War II - Prisoners of War - Stalag Luft I 

A collection of stories, photos, art and information on Stalag Luft I


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2nd Lt. Milton J. Kaplan 
Boston, MA.

351st Bomb Group, 511th Bomb Squadron
Navigator  (see below)
Stalag Luft I

On January 30, 1944, the Crystal Ball was shot down over  Hengelo, Netherlands  on its way to a bombing mission over Germany.  Nine of the ten crew members, were taken prisoner and held at Stalag Luft I,  the tenth member did not survive.  

Mr. Kaplan  was from Boston and had entered the Army after his third year at MIT.  He later transferred into the 8th Air Force in 1943 and trained in Texas as a B17 navigator.  While a prisoner at Stalag Luft I, he lost 1/3 of his body weight, going from 200 lbs. to 135 lbs.   He died in June 1977.    Click here to send an email to his family

Dulag Luft ID card of Milton Kaplan

Milton Kaplan's  Dulag Luft prisoner of war document:  
Per his son, Lee Kaplan : "What makes this of particular interest and particularly chilling emotion)  is the handwritten notation in German at the lower left ("Jude!"), noting his Jewish religion. My father never spoke of his experience in the camp, as so many POW's did not, so I don't know if he ever experienced harsher treatment for being Jewish."

Crystal Ball crew - WWII

Milton J. Kaplan crew on the B-17 #42-3509, the "Crystal Ball." He is the  third from the left in the front row. 

Crew of the "Crystal Ball"

Pilot Lt. Charles E. Robertson
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt. Robert P. Robbins


2nd Lt. Milton J. Kaplan
Bombardier FO Earl E. Holmes
Top Turret Gunner T/Sgt. Henry L. James
Radio Operator T/Sgt William R. Delaney
Ball Turret Gunner T/Sgt Lloyd M. Gabriel
L. Waist Gunner  S/Sgt Norris R. Stewart
R. Waist Gunner S/Sgt Emil F. Ambrose
Tail Gunner S/Sgt Earl W. Winburn

 All were taken prisoner, except Emil Ambrose, who was killed in action.

From our guestbook:

Name: Steve Kaplan
Hometown: Plymouth, MN
Sent: 5:48 PM - 5/21
Thank you so much for making all of this information available to the families of those who flew the B-17s and who experienced an imprisonment of which they rarely, if ever, spoke. 


Duties and Responsibilities of
Excerpt from the Pilot Training Manual of the B-17 Flying Fortress

The navigator's job is to direct your flight from departure to destination and return. He must know the exact position of the airplane at all times.

Navigation is the art of determining geographic positions by means of (a) pilotage, (b) dead reckoning, (c) radio, or (d) celestial navigation, or any combination of these 4 methods. By any one or combination of methods the navigator determines the position of the airplane in relation to the earth.


Pilotage is the method of determining the airplane's position by visual reference to the ground. The importance of accurate pilotage cannot over-emphasized. In combat navigation, all bombing targets are approached by pilotage, and in many theaters the route is maintained by pilotage. This requires not merely the vicinity type, but pin-point pilotage. The exact position of the airplane must be known not within 5 miles but within of a mile.

The navigator does this by constant reference to groundspeeds and ETA's (estimated times of arrival) established for points ahead, the ground, and to his maps and charts. During the mission, so long as he can maintain visual contact with the ground, the navigator can establish these pin-point positions so that the exact track of the airplane will be known when the mission is completed.

Dead Reckoning

Dead reckoning is the basis of all other types of navigation. For instance, if the navigator is doing pilotage and computes ETA's for points ahead, he is using dead reckoning.

Dead reckoning determines the position of the airplane at any given time by keeping an account of the track and distance flown over the earth's surface from the point of departure or last known position.

Dead reckoning can be subdivided into two classes:

  1. Dead reckoning as a result of a series of known positions obtained by some other means of navigation.

    For example, you, as pilot, start on a mission from London to Berlin at 25,000 feet. For the first hour your navigator keeps track by pilotage; at the same time recording the heading and airspeed which you are holding. According to plan, at the end of the first hour the airplane goes above the clouds, thus losing contact with the ground. By means of dead reckoning from his last pilotage point, the navigator is able to tell the position of the aircraft at any time. The first hour's travel has given him the wind prevalent at altitude, and the track and groundspeed being made. By computing track and distance from the last pilotage point, he can always tell the position of the airplane. When your airplane comes out of the clouds near Berlin, the navigator will have a very close approximation of his exact position, and will be able to pick up pilotage points quickly.

  2. Dead reckoning as a result of visual references other than pilotage.

    When flying over water, desert, or barren land, where no reliable pilotage points are available, accurate DR navigation still can be performed. By means of the drift meter the navigator is able to determine drift, the angle between the heading of the airplane and its track over the ground. The true heading of the airplane is obtained by application of compass error to the compass reading. The true heading plus or minus the drift (as read on the drift meter) gives the track of the airplane. At a constant airspeed, drift on 2 or more headings will give the navigator information necessary to obtain the wind by use of his computer. Groundspeed is computed easily once the wind, heading, and airspeed are known. So, by constant recording of true heading, true airspeed, drift, and groundspeed, the navigator is able to determine accurately the position of the airplane at any given time. For greatest accuracy, the pilot must maintain constant courses and airspeeds. If course or airspeed is changed, notify the navigator so he can record these changes.


Radio navigation makes use of various radio aids to determine position. The development of many new radio devices has increased the use of radio in combat zones. However, the ease with which radio aids can be jammed, or bent, limits the use of radio to that of a check on DR and pilotage. The navigator, in conjunction with the radio man, is responsible for all radio procedures, approaches, etc., that are in effect in the theater.


Celestial navigation is the science of determining position by reference to 2 or more celestial bodies. The navigator uses a sextant, accurate time, and many tables to obtain what he calls a line of position. Actually this line is part of a circle on which the altitude of the particular body is constant for that instant of time. An intersection of 2 or more of these lines gives the navigator a fix. These fixes can be relied on as being accurate within approximately 10 miles. One reason for inaccuracy is the instability of the airplane as it moves through space, causing acceleration of the sextant bubble (a level denoting the horizontal). Because of this acceleration, the navigator takes observations over a period of time so that the acceleration error will cancel out to some extent. If the navigator tells the pilot when he wishes to take an observation, extremely careful flying on the part of the pilot during the few minutes it takes to make the observation will result in much greater accuracy. Generally speaking, the only celestial navigation used by a combat crew is during the delivering flight to the theater. But in all cases celestial navigation is used as a check on dead reckoning and pilotage except where celestial is the only method available, such as on long over-water flights, etc.

Instrument Calibration

Instrument calibration is an important duty of the navigator. All navigation depends directly on the accuracy of his instruments. Correct calibration requires close cooperation and extremely careful flying by the pilot. Instruments to be calibrated include the altimeter, all compasses, airspeed indicators, alignment of the astrocompass, astrograph, and drift meter, and check on the navigator's sextant and watch.

Pilot-Navigator Preflight Planning

  1. Pilot and navigator must study flight plan of the route to be flown and select alternate air fields.
  2. Study the weather with the navigator. Know what weather you are likely to encounter. Decide what action is to be taken. Know the weather conditions at the alternate airfields.
  3. Inform your navigator at what airspeed and altitude you wish to fly so that he can prepare his flight plan.
  4. Learn what type of navigation the navigator intends to use: pilotage, dead reckoning, radio, celestial, or a combination of all methods.
  5. Determine check points; plan to make radio fixes.
  6. Work out an effective communication method with your navigator to be used in flight.
  7. Synchronize your watch with your navigator's.

Pilot-Navigator in Flight

  1. Constant course - For accurate navigation, the pilot -- you -- must fly a constant course. The navigator has many computations and entries to make in his log. Constantly changing course makes his job more difficult. A good navigator is supposed to be able to follow the pilot, but he cannot be taking compass readings all the time.
  2. Constant airspeed must be held as nearly as possible. This is as important to the navigator as is a constant course in determining position.
  3. Precision flying by the pilot greatly affects the accuracy of the navigator's instrument readings, particularly celestial readings. A slight error in celestial reading can cause considerable error in determining positions. You can help the navigator by providing as steady a platform as possible from which he can take readings. The navigator should notify you when he intends to take readings so that the airplane can be leveled off and flown as smoothly as possible, preferably by using the automatic pilot. Do not allow your navigator to be disturbed while he is taking celestial readings.
  4. Notify the navigator of any change in flight, such as change in altitude, course, or airspeed. If change in flight plan is to be made, consult the navigator. Talk over the proposed change so that he can plan the flight and advise you about it.
  5. If there is doubt about the position of the airplane, pilot and navigator should get together, refer to the navigator's flight log, talk the problem over and decide together the best course of action to take.
  6. Check your compasses at intervals with those of the navigator, noting any deviation.
  7. Require your navigator to give position reports at intervals.
  8. You are ultimately responsible for getting the airplane to its destination. Therefore, it is your duty to know your position at all times.
  9. Encourage your navigator to use as many navigation methods as possible as a means of double-checking.

Post-flight Critique

After every flight get together with the navigator and discuss the flight and compare notes. Go over the navigator's log. If there have been serious navigational errors, discuss them with the navigator and determine their cause. If the navigator has been at fault, caution him that it is his job to see that the same mistake does not occur again. If the error has been caused by faulty instruments, see that they are corrected before another navigation mission is attempted. If your flying has contributed to inaccuracy in navigation, try to fly a better course next time.

Miscellaneous Duties

The navigator's primary duty is navigating your airplane with a high degree of accuracy. But as a member of the team, he must also have a general knowledge of the entire operation of the airplane.

He has a .50-cal. machine gun at his station, and he must be able to use it skillfully and to service it in emergencies.

He must be familiar with the oxygen system, know how to operate the turrets, radio equipment, and fuel transfer system.

He must know the location of all fuses and spare fuses, lights and spare lights, affecting navigation.

He must be familiar with emergency procedures, such as the manual operation of landing gear, bomb bay doors, and flaps, and the proper procedures for crash landings, ditching, bailout, etc.


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This site created and maintained by Mary Smith and Barbara Freer, daughters of Dick Williams, Jr.