When Eighth Air Force gunner Art Krieger turned his camera on one of the other Consolidated B-24 Liberators in his squadron’s formation, he probably didn’t realize he was making a self-portrait. Swathed in heavy flight gear, his oxygen mask firmly in place in the thin air at an altitude of 20,000 feet, Krieger’s own face squints back at us, reflected in the shiny Plexiglas of the big bomber’s tail turret.
Krieger flew his first mission on July 7, 1944, in a B-24 carrying a load of twelve 500-pound demolition bombs destined for a Junkers aircraft factory in Aschersleben, Germany. He wrote about the mission after his return to base:
“We bombed plant making new JU-188s, and hit target well. Just as we passed the target on the right a formation run right into a flak wall and the fighters jumped them at the same time. It was hell and 24s were going down like flies. Going down in flames, two blew up and about three spun and broke up on the way down. As we were over the target a P-38 chased a ME-109 up to our right side, just off our wing, about a hundred yards off and got a direct hit and the 109 just blew to little bits. The bits floating down in small bits of flame. We lost a number of 24’s but can’t say. Was a hot mission but cold as hell there at 20000. If all the missions will be like this one, I’m ready to call it quits already.”
Krieger survived World War II and a dozen of his photographs and a handful of papers—notes to a friend describing his wartime experiences—found their way to the National Air and Space Museum Archives, one of the numerous small collections of material contained in the Archives’ Technical Reference Files.
Melissa Keiser is chief photo archivist in the Archives Division of the National Air and Space Museum.