The Eighth Air Force missions to attack the ball bearing plants at Schweinfurt, Germany, in August and October 1943 resulted in two of the greatest air battles in aviation history. David M. Williams was the lead B-17 Flying Fortress navigator on both of these missions. Born in 1921, and raised in Valparaiso, Indiana, he developed a keen interest in aviation. At age 15, he won first prize in a national contest for his scale model SPAD; and 2 years later, he received a first place at Purdue University for his 3-view drawing of a Curtiss P-6 Hawk. The day after Pearl Harbor, he volunteered for the Army’s Aviation Cadet Program.
He requested navigator training and graduated first in his class at Mather Field, California, in October 1942. Following B-17 training, Williams was assigned to the 401st Bombardment Squadron of the 91st Bombardment Group at Bassingbourne, England. His first mission in April 1943, to Bremen, Germany, was a trial by fire, with six of eight squadron aircraft shot down. In August, he was selected to be lead navigator for an attack on critical ball bearing factories in Schweinfurt. He was chosen again to lead the second mission on 14 October, a day known as “Black Thursday” because of the heavy losses.
Volunteering to stay beyond his tour commitment, Williams was shot down in February 1944 and interned at Stalag Luft I. As a POW, he taught navigation and led a 10-man tunnel digging crew. Liberated by the Russians in 1945, he returned to the US and attended pilot training. After earning pilot wings, he flew B-29 and B-50 Superfortresses, and B-47 Stratojet bombers with the 43d and 306th Bomb Wings. Later assignments included Chief of Second Air Force War Plans at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana; Chief of Special Reconnaissance at Strategic Air Command Headquarters; and Plans Officer at the Pentagon.
In 1963, Colonel Williams returned to Germany, but this time as the US Air Attaché and later as the first Defense Attaché. Retiring from the Air Force in 1967, he managed Boeing Aerospace Group’s market research effort in Seattle until 1971. Until his second retirement in 1983, he was Group Vice President of the National Data Corporation and President of its largest subsidiary. His decorations include two Legions of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Soviet Order of Patriotic War, and West Germany’s Grosse Verdienstkreuz.