The University of Wisconsin Press

World War II / Memoir


Return from Berlin
The Eye of a Navigator
Robert Grilley

With an artist’s eye, a B-17 bomber navigator recalls his WWII experiences

During the summer of 1944, the now-legendary American Eighth Air Force was engaged in a ferocious air battle over Europe to bring the Allies victory over the German Third Reich. This is the story of one B-17 navigator and his crewmates, men who faced extraordinary danger with a maturity beyond their years. This vivid and detailed account of combat flying and its psychological toll also recalls the beginning of Robert Grilley’s development as a painter of international renown, as he spends his off-duty time drawing the peaceful Northamptonshire landscape around Deenethorpe airbase.

Wakened with flashlights on their faces in the predawn hours, he and his crew repeatedly face the Luftwaffe in battles five miles high, flying through flak “so thick you could get out and walk on it.” Stretching their stamina to the limits, they succeed time after time in their missions to bomb munitions works, railyards, the Leuna synthetic oil plant at Merseburg in eastern Germany, the V2 rocket research center at Peenemünde on the distant Baltic Coast, and even to strike Hitler’s capital city, Berlin.

But Grilley finds interludes of unexpected grace and restoration on his days off, making serious drawings from nature at the neighboring Yokehill Farm. There he slowly cultivates a friendship with a curious eight-year-old, the lively child Elizabeth, who becomes for the combat flyer a symbol of survival.

Robert Grilley is professor emeritus of art at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. A respected figure painter and teacher, he has shown his work at museums and galleries thoughout the United States, including a large retrospective at the Wichita Museum.

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cover of Grilley is art of bomber over peaceful landscape

June 2003
176 pp.   6 x 9 
12 b/w photos, 1 map, 4 color illus.    

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Return from Berlin has wonderful dialogue and will appeal to a general audience. It has great significance for the psychology of war.”
—Joseph V. Smith, University of Chicago

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