George P. Korb, a World War II B-17 navigator who survived being a prisoner of war and later established a roofing company, died March 5 from liver failure at the University of Maryland’s St. Joseph Medical Center. The Kingsville resident was 95.
On Nov. 2, 1944, he was a 21-year-old lieutenant assigned to the 8th Air Force’s 457th Bomb Group and was flying his 18th mission — and ultimately his last — deep into the heart of Germany.
Mr. Korb was lead navigator aboard a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, part of an air armada of 1,100 bombers whose mission was to strike the I.G. Farben Leuna oil refinery at Merseburg that produced synthetic aviation fuel.
As a member of a crew of 10, Mr. Korb had authority once the “wheels were up and until they hit the ground again,” he said in a 2015 video oral history for the Historical Society of Baltimore County. “I was responsible for getting the airplane to the target.”
His plane led the formation as 500 German fighters engaged the bombers in an attack that placed them under heavy fire for half an hour.
“After we dropped our bombs we were jumped by German FW 190’s,” Mr. Korb wrote in an unpublished account. “They shot out our controls and killed my co-pilot, who was riding as tail gunner.“
Mr. Korb was firing back at enemy fighters when one of the German planes tore off the B-17’s left wing and another rammed it, setting the plane on fire.
“I had been hit by flak and blood was flowing out of my mouth and the pilot gave orders to bail out,” he wrote. “I bailed out at 33,000 feet and did not open my chute until I was at about 2,000 feet.”
“There were dogfights and pieces of airplanes falling down,” Mr. Korb said in the interview.
The mission was a costly one. Air Force historians say the 8th Air Force lost 38 of the B-17s as well as 28 fighters, while 481 bombers suffered damage.
“I landed with four or five other fellows and one who was badly burned,” Mr. Korb told the historical society. Several civilians observed the crew and arrested them.
They were turned over to a German air force officer, then eventually “interrogated and then transported to Stalag Luft III and photographed, registered and given German dog tags, I was #8750,” Mr. Korb wrote. Stalag Luft III at Sagan, now in Poland, was the setting for the nonfiction book and 1963 film “The Great Escape.”
Mr. Korb said that while in captivity, his basic diet for seven months was a one-inch slice of bread that had been made with sawdust. Barracks held 150 men, and were unheated. Nine men were assigned to a room where they slept on narrow bunks.
“There was no water, no showers, and you wore the clothing you had when you got shot down,” Mr. Korb told the historical society. “You passed a razor around. There were no toilets and there was an outhouse with 200 holes and when it got full, the Russians had to clean it out.”
With Russian forces nearing the Oder River, he and other prisoners were forced to march from Jan. 27 to Feb. 4, 1945, from Stalag Luft III to Stammlager XIII-D in Nuremberg, Germany.
At times, they marched “72 hours without sleep,” Mr. Korb wrote. “There was a foot of snow and it was 15 degrees below zero.”
In April 1945 they were made to march again, this time to Moosburg in Bavaria to Stalag VII-A, where they remained until they were liberated by Gen. George S. Patton Jr.’s 14th Armored Division on May 3.
Mr. Korb was discharged in 1946 with the rank of lieutenant. His decorations included the Purple Heart, POW Medal and Air Medal with Two Oak Leaf Clusters.
George Phillip Korb was the son of William G. Korb Sr., founder of Korb Roofers in 1922, and Lottie E. Korb, a homemaker. He was born in a Warwick Avenue rowhouse, and later moved with his family to Monroe Street, and then in 1939 to Irvington.
He was a 1941 graduate of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. While in high school he worked for his father installing tin roofs and making skylights. By age 18 he was a trained sheet metal mechanic.
He enlisted in the Army Air Forces in 1942 and was activated in January 1943. After basic training in Miami, he was sent to Selman Field in Monroe, La., where he was trained in primary and advanced navigation.
He wanted to become a navigator, he said in the historical society interview, because “I was good at math.”
After being trained as a B-17 navigator at Ardmore Army Air Base in Oklahoma, he traveled to Newfoundland, Northern Ireland and then England, where his crew was assigned to the 457 Bomb Group, 751st Bomb Squadron at the Royal Air Force Field at Glatton.
Other flight missions included runs to Cologne, Hanover, Hamburg, Regensburg, Kiel and Belgium, where his crew bombed ahead of the paratroopers who landed during the ill-fated battle at Arnheim.
After World War II he was recalled to duty during the Korean War and served for 21 months, first in Baltimore and then with the Air Defense Command in Pittsburgh. He remained active in the Reserves until 1966 and was discharged with the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1983.
Also after World War II, he and a brother established Korb Brothers Inc. They separated in 1949 and Mr. Korb founded George Korb Co. Inc., which grew into one of the largest roofing and sheet metal companies in Baltimore.
He dissolved the business in 2016.
Reflecting on his wartime experiences, Mr. Korb said in the oral interview that “fighting never solved anything … but somebody had to do what we done.”
His wife of 64 years, the former Elaine Schneider, died in 2009.
Services are private.
Mr. Korb is survived by a son, Phillip Korb of Carney; a daughter, Deborah Polhamus of Carney; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.