#2 in a series
Lt. Eugene H. Whalen; Chicago, IL
By Paul A. Roales
I collect George Field, Illinois WW2 material because George Field was just across the Wabash River from Vincennes Ind. where I was born and raised. A while back I purchased a Second Lieutenants garrison cap on eBay because it was labeled “George Field Exchange, George Field, Ill” on the hatband. Also stamped on the hatband was the name of the manufacturer “Dobbs“, and the owner of the cap had written his name “Whalen” inside an oval on the hatband (see images below). When I acquired a copy of the George Field, Illinois Army Air Forces Advanced Flying School (TE) 1943 class book I found a Eugene H. Whalen pictured as a cadet in Squadron 8 of Class 43-E. This was apparently the owner of the cap I had previously purchased. He would have been awarded his wings and promoted to 2nd. Lt. upon graduation from flight school. So he probably bought his first cap and 2nd. Lt. bars at George Field upon graduation.
I began a search for Lt. Whalen on the www. A search of WW2 Army enlistment records revealed only one soldier named Eugene H Whalen. Although these files are not complete and Officers are generally not included, they should include Eugene H Whalen because AAF cadets start as enlisted men until they win their wings. At that point they resign as an enlisted man and reenlist as an officer. According to these files Eugene H. Whalen enlisted June 28, 1941 in Chicago, Ill. He had been born on Jan. 4, 1919; was single; and had one year of college.
A Google search revels that he was assigned to the 457th. Bomb Group (Heavy) of the Eighth Air Force in Glatton, England. A comparison of his photo from the 1943 George Field class book (left below) and the “escape photo” of him from the Bernie Baines Collection of photos posted on the 457th. web page (right below) leaves no doubt that this is the same person.
He was assigned to B-17G #073, s/n 42-38073 the “Luck of Judith Ann” of the 750th. Bomb Squadron for his first mission on March 3, 1944. The crew was: Lt. Eugene H. Whalen, pilot; Lt. James R. Cawley, co-pilot; Lt. George S. McPeake Jr., navigator; Lt. Robert J. Kunel, bombardier; Sgt. Robert J. Vaughan, aircraft engineer; Sgt. Virgil L. French, ball turret gunner; Sgt. Jerone J. Hartings, radio operator; Sgt. John C. McVey, left wing gunner; Sgt. J. W. Bartee, right wing gunner; and Sgt. Alphus J. Maddox, tail gunner. This mission was the first U. S. daylight raid on Berlin. Weather conditions were far from favorable. Lt. Whalen became the only 457th aircraft to drop his bombs when he failed to make assembly with the 457th Group (which returned without dropping their bombs) and attached his craft to the 92nd Bomb Group. He was able to see a section of the city through the broken undercast.
Their next mission was on March 4, 1944 and targeted Erkner and the V.K.F. ball bearing works in Berlin. The weather again proved to be a deterrent and prevented the bombing of the target. After crossing the Rhine River between Cologne and Coblenz, they turned back to England. No bombs were dropped.
On March 6, 1944 they tried again to bomb Erkner and the V.K.F. ball bearing works. Lt. Whalen’s crew was flying aircraft #595. A B-17G with s/n 42-31595, the “Flying Jenny”. Near Magdeburg the Group encountered heavy and vigorous enemy fighter opposition, principally by Me-210s, Me- 109s and Ju-88s. Lt. Whalen‘s B-17, flying in the high box, was damaged in an attack by an Me-109, and then collided with an Me-410 piloted by Fw W. Bonnecke of ZG26; the bomber exploded and fell into the low box, crashing into Lt. Roy E. Graves‘ B-17. The two aircraft crashed near Brachwitz, Germany. The wreckage scattered over 4 miles, to south west of Berlin. Only the tail gunner of the Graves crew survived from the two aircraft. He became a POW. Whalen’s loss is reported in MACR 3197.
On reaching the target the 457th. lead plane did not observe the lead group's bomb release so they did not drop their bombs. Therefore on withdrawal from the main target a bomb run was made on the oil refinery at Verden, near Bremen. Results were poor. Antiaircraft opposition was heavy in the Berlin area. In addition to the two B-17’s lost, five 457th. aircraft sustained damage from flak and one other sustained fighter damage. In total 69 bombers (the highest number lost by the Eighth Air Force in a single day) and 11 fighters were lost on that mission.
All 10 men of Whalen’s crew were buried in the cemetery of Brachwitz and were re-buried in the cemetery in Ardennes in Belgium after the war. The ball turret gunner and tail gunner remain buried in Ardennes. Both wing gunners could not be individually identified after the war and were buried in the Ardennes cemetery as unknowns together with 6 KIA from Lt. Grave’s plane. These 8 were later re-buried at Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis MO in a group burial. Lt. Whalen and the rest of his crew were eventually returned to the US for burial. Lt Whalen was buried in Rock Island, IL National Cemetery on Jan. 27, 1950.
(NOTE: Much of this information came from Randy Watkins and Ron ---- on the ArmyAirForces.com Forum and from the 457th Bomb Group Association Website.)
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