Original WWII 379th Bomb Group B-17 WHIRLAWAY Tail Gunner Grouping - Order of the Winged Boot
Original Items: One-of-a-kind set. Staff Sergent Willis H. Volkening ASN 379th Bomb Group, 524th Bomb Squadron. Sergent Volkening flew 30 missions as a Tail Gunner and Waist Gunner from December 11, 1943 to June 8, 1944. Records indicate mission numbers 47, 48, 53, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 79, 83, 86, 90, 94, 95, 99, 100, 101, 104, 109, 116, 129, 130, 132, 134, 135, 136, 138, and 139. The crew on "Whirlaway" for Mission 62 were as follows:
McCall, Donald P, 2nd Lt, Pilot
Gurney II, Charles L, 2nd Lt, Co-Pilot
Darling, Daniel A, 2nd Lt, Nav
Daniels, Robert Y, 2nd Lt, Bomb
Cvitkovich, John P, TSgt, R Op
Feirs, James H, TSgt, TT
Hively, Eugene F, SSgt, Ball
Sciligo, George (NMI), SSgt, RW
Lantigne, Joseph A, SSgt, LW
Volkening, Willis M, SSgt, Tail
Most of this crew went down on Mission 71 in another aircraft. According to Association records, Donald McCall, Charles Gurney, and Joseph Lantigne were taken POW, the rest of the crew returned to base.
Following his return to duty, records show Sgt. Volkening flying with a number of different crews (including Mission 116 in "Aphrodite", commanded by Col. Maurice Preston, Commanding Officer of the 379th Bomb Group), but the following list on Mission 129 (flown in "Ol Gappy/Topper", the high mission aircraft of the 379th at 157 missions) is the crew he was most associated with:
Bersinger, John W, 1st Lt, Pilot
Carpenter, George R, 2nd Lt, Co-Pilot
Beloberk, Peter M, 2nd Lt, Bomb
Zehel, Wendel L, SSgt, Togglier
Kyler, Louis J, TSgt, R Op
Thomas, George (NMI), TSgt, TT
Clinton, John W, SSgt, Ball
Volkening, Willis M, SSgt, Waist
Kile, Kenneth B, SSgt, Tail
Several unofficial insignia existed that were presented to aviators who survived some more of the harrowing experiences all flyers faced. These were never officially approved, but were worn by U.S. Air Force personnel. Both the Order of the Winged Boot and the Gold Fish Club originated in the Royal Air Force and were adopted by U.S. personnel in the European Theater. The Order of the Winged Boot was given to flyers who were shot down behind enemy lines and evaded capture to return to their commands.
Although these insignia were titled and often awarded in a lighthearted and humorous way, the fact is that aviators were well aware of the experience that they represented. The patches were commonly worn on the left pocket flap of the service uniform coat below the wing badge and ribbons. Within the Royal Air Force and sometimes also by U.S. airmen they were worn under the lapel since they were not regulation.
Volkening's uniform tunic has an absolutely stunning full bullion version of the winged boot which can found under his left lapel.
Included in this wonderful grouping are the following items:
- Class A uniform jacket with full bullion version of the winged boot patch, Staff Sergeant bars, 8th Air Force patch, sterling silver aerial gunner wings with LEAD AIRCREW rectangle, Sewn on medal ribbons: Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters, European-African-Middle Eastern with one battle star, Presidential Unit Citation, name in ink on internal lining that reads Volkening.
- Type A-4 Flight suit with leather name tag that reads W.H. Volkening in size 34 offered in excellent condition.
- Purple Heart in original case.
- Air Medal in original case
- National Defense Medal in original box
- Air Corps Overseas Garrison Cap.
- Air Corps Life Vest Dated 1942 by Stebeo Industries.
- Army Issue Shirt, Trousers, Knit Scarf.
- 3 x canvas waist belts, one with Army Air Corps insignia.
- Overcoat with 8th Air Force Insignia.
- Studio portrait photo
- Physical record card
- Extra patches
- Bomb mission photo
- 379th Bomb Group Association jacket
- Additional research including missions/crew members.
All in all, this is an exceptionally rare grouping, due to the number of missions he flew and the Order of the Winged Boot that he was given for surviving behind enemy lines and making it back to fly more missions. An incredible piece of U.S. WWII 8th Air Force history!
The 379th Bomb Group was activated November 26, 1942, at Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho. It consisted of four squadrons of B-17s, the 524th, 525th, 526th and 527th. Overseas movement began in April, and in May the 379th arrived at Kimbolton, England, AAF Station 117. Its first combat mission was the bombing of German U-boat pens at St Nazaire, France, on May 29, 1943. Colonel Maurice A. Preston was the original commanding officer until October 10, 1944, when he became the commander of the 41st Combat Wing headquartered at Molesworth. Colonel Lewis E. Lyle then assumed command of the 379th Bomb Group until May 5, 1945, when he became commander of the 41st Combat Wing. Lt. Col. Lloyd C. Mason was then named commander of the 379th Bomb Group, and was followed by Lt. Col. Horace E. Frink.
Like many B-17 bases in England, the airfield at Kimbolton was originally a fighter base for the British. When it became evident Germany was not going to invade England, the RAF decided it didn't need many inland fighter bases and was happy to lease most of them to the United States as airfields for heavy bombers. The runways and perimeter ramps were too thin to accommodate the weight of our Flying Fortresses and Liberators, so the United States paid the British to repair and replace the runways to meet necessary specifications.
The attached photo of the airfield as it was submitted by one of our associate members, Mark Ellis of Los Angeles. Some of the only remaining structures from years ago can be seen in the cluster of buildings in the low-center-right of the picture, not far from the road where the memorial to the 379th is located.
The 379th Bomb Group was one of 12 heavy Bombardment Groups in the First Bombardment Division of the United States 8th Air Force. All B-17s of every Group within the 1st Bombardment Division had a large triangle painted at the top of the vertical stabilizer. Each Group's assigned code letter was painted in the triangle. The 379th's planes were assigned the letter K, and were known as the Triangle K Group.
The 379th Bomb Group flew its first 300 missions in less time than any other heavy Bombardment Group. During all of its 330 bombing missions, it dropped 26,640 tons of bombs on enemy targets, shot down 315 enemy aircraft and lost 141 of its B-17s to enemy action.
Eighty of those 141 Fortresses were shot down between May 29, 1943, and March 31, 1944. The other 61 Fortresses were lost between April 1, 1944, and April 25, 1945. One record lists 345 Fortresses assigned to the 379th Bomb Group during World War II. It is very startling that more than 43% of those 345 Fortresses were lost to enemy fighters and anti-aircraft guns.
Information in the 8th Air Force News indicates the 379th Bomb Group lost one B-17 to enemy action for every 70 sorties flown, for a loss rate of one bomber for every 22 missions. This compares to 1 bomber lost per 30 sorties by the Group with most bad fortune, and 1 bomber lost per 230 sorties for the Group with the least bad fortune. The average loss rate for the 40 Bomb Groups was 1 bomber per 88 sorties.
The 379th led the 8th Air Force in bombing accuracy, flew more sorties than any other heavy Bomb Group and had a lower loss and abortive ratio than any unit in the 8th Air Force for an extended period of time. Some of its other accomplishments include: development of the 12-plane squadron formation and 36-plane integral Group, and use of a straight-line approach on the entire bomb run.
In May 1944 it was announced that the 379th had made an unprecedented "8th Air Force Operational Grand Slam" during the preceding month. This meant that during April the 379th was first in every phase of bombing in which Bomb Groups of the 8th Air Force were graded. The 379th Bomb Group was the only unit ever awarded the 8th Air Force Grand Slam, a very unique honor that included recognition of the following achievements:
1 - Best Bombing results (greatest percent of bombs on target)
2 - Greatest tonnage of bombs dropped on target
3 - Largest number of aircraft attacking
4 - Lowest losses of aircraft
5 - Lowest abortive rate of aircraft dispatched.
The 379th received two Presidential Unit Citations for its accomplishments in combat. The Group flew its last combat mission on April 25, 1945. The 379th Bomb Group remained active for two years, seven months and 29 days. During this period approximately 6,000 personnel were assigned to the Kimbolton airfield. The Group was deactivated on July 25, 1945, at Casablanca, Morocco, Africa.
(Data about the 379th Bomb Group is from "Screwball Express" and is printed here with the permission of Ken Cassens, author of the book, with all rights reserved)
SQUADRONS OF THE 379th BG (H):
524th Bombardment Squadron
525th Bombardment Squadron
526th Bombardment Squadron
527th Bombardment Squadron
Assigned 8th AAF: April 1943 - Wing/Command Assignment:
8th AF, 1st Bomb Division, 103 PCBW: May 1943
8th AF, 1st Bomb Division, 41st Combat Wing: 13 Sept.1943
1st Bomb Division, 41st Combat Wing: 8 Jan 1944
1st Air Division, 41st Combat Wing: 1 Jan 1945
Group COs: Col. Maurice A. Preston 26 November 1942 to October 1944
Col. Lewis E. Lyle 11 October 1944 to 5 May 1945
First Mission: 29 May 1943, St. Nazaire, France
Last Mission: 25 April 1945, Pilsen, Czechoslovakia
Total Sorties: 10,492
Total Bomb Tonnage: 26,460
Tons Aircraft MIA: 149
Kimbolton 20May43 To 12Jul45 (Air Ech Bovingdon 24Apr43 to 21May1943
Claims to Fame:
Flew more sorties than any other Bomb Group in the 8th AF
Dropped a greater bomb tonnage than any other Group
Lower abortive rate than any other Group in action from 1943
Pioneered the 12-plane formation that became standard during 1944
"Ol Gappy" a B-17G, flew 157 missions, more than any other bomber in the 8th AF
Distinguished Unit Citations - 28 May 1943 to 31 July 1944
Operations this period 11 Jan 1944 to all 1st Bomb Division
8th Air Force Operational Grand Slam - May 1944
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