Six B-24s From Baker Box Downed
The men – the boys, really – were right from Central Casting. An All-American crew. Ready and able for the mission of July 2, 1944. The pilot was 2nd LT Laurence Whittaker, of Little Rock, Arkansas. His fellow officers were Flight Officer Ernest C. Phillips, copilot, from Chester, Pennsylvania. The navigator was 2nd Lieutenant John F. Wark, of Dorchester, Massachusetts, and the bombardier was 2nd LT Russell M. Sharples, of Thorton, Ohio. Only LT Sharples was married.
There were six gunners: Staff Sergeant Hugo O. Perttola, of Detroit; Staff Sergeant James A. Riley, of New Rochelle, NY; Technical Sergeant Gordon O. Nyen, of Atlanta; Sergeant Warren C. Klein, of Queens; SGT Carl F. Sutter, of Rochester, New York; and Sergeant Archie L. Hyslop, like SSGT Perttola, also from Detroit. Sergeants Perttola, Klein and Sutter were all married.
One member of the crew was not aboard their B-24 as it warmed up on the runway at Stornara, Italy. He was 2nd LT Paul Edlund. LT Edlund had been badly wounded on a previous mission and was fighting for his life in the base hospital. The flight crew’s target on this day was the Shell Oil Refinery at Budapest, Hungary. It had been attacked before, and the German Luftwaffe was ready.
By the end of the day, 20 US Army Air Corps aircraft were destroyed. From LT Whittaker’s unit, the 456th Bomb Group alone, six B-24’s were downed. That evening, 1st LT Marvin E. White, the Squadron Intelligence Officer, tried to make sense of the huge loss suffered on the raid. His report read:“On July 2, 1944, six of our B-24 bombers from Baker Box were seen shot down in the target area…Reporting crews were unable to distinguish between these aircraft as to number, and as result a definitive report cannot be made on each individual ship. It was reported, however, that two aircraft were seen to disintegrate in mid-air, two seen going down with engines on fire, one with wing broken off and one with tail shot off.”
Two years later, the only two survivors of the Whittaker crew were asked by the Air Corps to provide a report regarding their slain crew mates. The two, 2nd LT Wark, and Staff Sergeant Riley, provided brief, poignant testimony. Of LT Sharples, one testified, “I cannot understand why he was not saved as I think he got out of the plane all right.”
Of LT Whittaker, on his 26th mission, the report said that he “did not have a chance to get his chute on” and that he was later seen dead on the ground, pulled from the wreckage of the bomber.
For SGT Hyslop, the facts provided were perhaps the most grim. No one knows how he died, but one speculated that he “may have blown out of the ship.” His remains were found on the ground, decapitated.
LT Edlund, the crew member fighting for his life at the base hospital, survived, and after the War, became the Mayor of his hometown, Garrett Park, Maryland.
How can I get a copy of this post and the pictures? My father is John F Wark. Let me know. Thanks so much.
Leslie Wark Dunlap
Hi Leslie: this post was the result of a complex research project for relatives of F/O Phillips and LT Whittaker. For photos, you should track down “Youth, the First Victim of War”, 2003, by Paul Edlund; I assisted Mr. Edlund with research for preparation of this book. I may also have some photos of the crew in my files. There is certainly research work I can assist you with in connection to this mission. Please contact me at Bill.Beigel@ww2research.com. Best, Bill
I was wondering if there was any additional information about the crew, or more specifically Gordon Nyen? I am going on a school trip to the World War II Memorial, and I was assigned to research Nyen. Thank you so much!
Bill, My name is Chip Corley and my Aunt is Cynthia Wolfe. My Great Aunt was Helen Ruth Berch and was Lawrence “Whit” Whittaker’s widow. They were married seven months to the day of the July 2, 1944 mission. My aunt contacted you either directly or through Roger Phillips. In 2000 my aunt contacted me and told me that Helen Ruth had been married to a pilot who died in the war and that’s the first time anyone in my family. When Helen Ruth remarried she never spoke of it until her second husband passed. she asked me if I might be interested in doing some research since I’ve always been a WWII aviation buff and a long time aviator and I was in. I did my research on trying to find out who shot down Whit’s and the other five bombers from the 456th that morning. I’ve decided to get in my closet and dig up all my stuff since the disk I had scanned it on has vanished. I interviewed Sgt James Riley by phone and recorded it and had it transcribed. At some point in our search for John Wark we heard he had died in 1971 after choking on a sandwich or something like that. I haven’t dug up anything yet as today is the first time since October 2003 When the three of us went to Maryland to visit Paul Edlund. I purchased a book on J/G 302 by Willi Reshke and his claim on two of the B-24s matches the record of the 456th> would like to get in touch with Leslie Wark as I have a letter her father sent Helen Ruth after he got out of POW camp describing to her what happened to Whit and the crew. You may have a copy as I think that’s where the quote about Hyslop is from, but until I dig everything back up. One other thing is that the Hungarian “Puma” group claimed those six one minute before but doesn’t match and a researcher from Slovokia told me the Hungarians made a claim for almost every aircraft that went down in Hungary. In 2001 I sent a letter to Willi Reshke and he replied a couple days after 9/11.
Hi Chip: Looks like you’ve done some great research work here. Let me know if I can be of any research assistance. I remember the story of LT Whitaker, F/O Phillips and the rest of crew very well. Best, Bill
Hi Bill. This really got away from me but I just read the above message from Chip Corley. I was amazed he had a letter from my dad, John Wark. I would really like a copy of it. I was thinking about my dad’s war experience and realized we have very little information about. Please let me know if you can forward this to Chip or have a way I can contact him. Thanks so much. Leslie Wark Dunlap
Hi, Leslie. Thank you for your comment. Since you and Chip have each requested to be in touch with the other, I’ve sent an email to put the two of you in touch. Nice to see these connections happening; it’s great that Chip has this letter from your dad. Best, Bill.
Lt Russell Sharples was actually from Thornville, Ohio not Thornton. The lady he was married to was my mom. Her maiden name was Wava Eileen Foster though she went by Eileen. They married when she was 18. She was presumably widowed by the time she was 19. She was told Russ was presumed dead although that was sketchy. He never returned and she never heard any more of his remains. My mom passed away August 1, 2012. I know she always kept whatever keepsakes she had of him. There may be something in the boxes I haven’t gone through yet. Mostly we have always wondered whatever happened to him .
Thanks for this note and the correction of the town where LT Sharples lived. Some years ago, I researched LT Sharples and his entire crew (for the next of kin of two of the men on board on their final mission), and have extensive records on the search for his remains, and a great deal of detail on his crew mates. Best, Bill