Danish WW2 Pilots

Niels Charles Jensen

(1920 - 1990)

2nd Lt Niels Charles Jensen was one of the more than 30,000 Danish-Americans who served in the US armed forces during the Second World War. He was trained as pilot and served in the Eighth Air Force. He was shot down on 9 September 1944 during a mission to Ludwigshaven. He became a PoW for the rest of the war.

Niels Charles Jensen was born on 13 March 1920 in Massena, New York. He was the son of Charles Bernhard John Jensen and Sigrid Augusta Nicoline Jensen (née Ljungren).[1] Both parents were born in Copenhagen, Denmark, the mother to Swedish parents.

Jensen’s father served as a Gerdarme in the Royal Danish West Indian Gendarmerie Corps in 1911-14.[2] He arrived in New York in 1916 from the Dominican Republic.[3] His mother arrived in New York in 1913.[4] They were in New York in 1919.[5]

Enlistment and Service Overseas

Jensen enlisted in the US Army before the start of the war, on 2 May 1938. According to the records he was released on 1 May 1941, but enlisted again on 4 June 1941.[6] I have no further information on his training other than that he was trained as pilot. He was posted overseas in 1944 in 91th Group, 323rd Bomber Squadron at RAF Bassingbourn.

He became part of 2nd Lt Oscar J. Snow’s crew, which reported for a tour of operations duty on 29 June 1944. Another Danish-American, Cpl Walter E. Poulsen was part of this crew as well.[7]

The Last Operation

On 9 September 1944, the US Eighth Air Force targeted Ludwigshaven in Germany. Jensen was flying B-17 G “Strictly ‘GI’” (43-37594); one of twelve aircraft from 323th BS participating in this mission.[8] For most crew members this was their first operation, they had arrived to RAF Bassingbourn a few weeks earlier. It was common practice at the 91th Group to assign an experienced pilot and another experienced crew member to the newly arrived crews on their first mission. Jensen was the experienced pilot and Staff Sergeant Stanley E. Morris, the waist gunner, the other experienced crew member. They had flown sixteen missions since arriving at the squadron in June.[9]

B-17 Flying Fortresses over Merseburg-Leuna during a bombing mission.
B-17 Flying Fortresses over Merseburg-Leuna during a bombing mission.

Everything went according to plan from taking off to the target area. Bombs were dropped on the target at approximately 11.00 hours. Suddenly the aircraft was hit by flak. 1st Lt Dale W. Burkhead later—on 15 March 1946—recalled that

While passing over the target the ship received several hits. The ball turret reported a fire in #4 engine, a check was made of the crew by the bombardier and the radio man reported no injuries. The upper turret man [Sgt Herman J. Valentine] became sick and vomited onto his oxygen mask and I told him to go to the radio room for an extra mask. We received more hits knocking out all instruments as well as rations and interphone. Flak hit the leading edge of the right wing between cockpit and #3 engine starting a fire under the main gas tank.[10]

Strictly ‘GI’’s trouble was observed by eyewitnesses in the other aircraft in the formation. S/Sgt Clifford G. White was one of them:

We were our the target, just after bombs away, when I observed aircraft B-17-G, 43-37594, receive a flak hit on the left side of the pilot’s compartment. This hit starred the glass just opposite the pilot’s face. The aircraft stayed in formation until we were over the Sigfried Line when it again received flak hits. This time in the No. 3 and 4 engines. Both engines were smoking. The ship then pulled out of formation and headed down in a rather steep dive for approximately 8,000 feet and entered the clouds. Just prior to the time that we lost sight of this aircraft one (1) parachute was seen to come from it.[11]

1st Lt John A. Connor was able to elaborate

I first observed aircraft B-17-G, 43-37594, after we recrossed the Rhine River heading West between Mannheim and Karlsruhe, where the ship left the formation circling to the right and losing altitude at about 2000 feet per minute. The ship was throwing off light intermittent smoke which seemed to com from the fuselage rather than the wings. Several thousand feet below us, at about 16,0000 feet he leveled off and headed North from the formation. About three (3) miles North of out route one (1) parachute came out of the plane. The aircraft then started letting down in a gradual glide still heading North. After about three more minutes (at about 12,000 feet altitude) about 2,000 feet above cloud level the ship went into a steep dive, almost vertical and blew up just before entering the clouds. Either a piece of the plane or another parachute was seen. As the plane was so near the clouds and seemed under control for about five (5) minutes before going into it’s final dive it is possible that other parachutes came out but were not seen as they were opened below the clouds. The ship gave off very little smoke before blowing up and the pilot seemed to have control. It was about 10 miles North of us when it blew up.[12]

The co-pilot, Burkhead, further recalled that he

[…] gave the order to bail out over the dead interphone and motioned the pilot [Jensen] to ring the alarm bell which he did. We then proceeded to set up the auto-pilot and in doing so discovered that #3 engine was also not operating and on fire. The interphone between bombardier and co-pilot became operative and I ask the bombardier to notify the crew. (Afterwards the bombardier informed me that this was impossible) The interphone between pilot and co-pilot was working again intermittently, the cockpit was filled with a grayish-white smoke and the fire in the right wing had spread to the bomb bay. After operating the auto-pilot the pilot signaled for me to leave. While putting on my chute I noticed that I could not leave by way of the bomb bay nor tail hatch. So turned to the nose hatch noting that both the navigator and the bombardier had both left the ship. Later I encountered the pilot on the ground. (Also the bombardier and navigator) As to the rest of the crew I do not know of their whereabout or their fate.[13]

The aircraft crashed near Lachen-Speyerdorf. The crew was reported missing in action, but Jensen, pilot (O-760703), 2nd Lt Dale William Burkhead, co-pilot (O-768434), 2nd Lt Robert Keith Hankey, navigator (O-723611), and 2nd Lt Richard Frederick Klein, bombardier (O-718107) had managed to bail out. They were captured by the Germans and send to Dulag Luft.[14] Jensen was released on 31 May 1945.

The rest of the crew—Sgt Herman J. Valentine, top turret gunner (15376964), Sgt Joseph A. Kasperko, radio operator (13107468), Sgt Donald H. Laird, ball turret gunner (19073475), S/Sgt Stanley Eugene Morris, waist gunner (39466253), and Sgt Rollin Earnest Wright Jr, tail gunner (37357961) were killed.[15]

Jensen’s original crew including Walter Emil Poulsen shot down during the raid on the I.G. Farbenindustrie A.G. synthetic oil plant at Leuna, southeast of Merseburg on 2 November 1944. All but the co-pilot managed to bail out and were captured by the Germans.


[1] Ancestry: U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007.

[2] DNA: Muster rolls for the Gendarmerie Corps, 1907 - 1917.

[3] Ancestry: New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ancestry: New York, County Marriage Records, 1847-1849, 1907-1936.

[6] Ancestry: U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010.

[7] http://www.91stbombgroup.com/Dailies/323rd1944.html (accessed on 16 Dec. 2019).

[8] Ibid.

[9] ‘From Spokane to Germany and back, the last flight of the B-17 Strictly GI’, The Spokane-Review, 4 August 2019 (accessed on 27 December 2019).

[10] NARA: Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs), 1942 - 1947, Record Group 92, #8806.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] NARA: Records of World War II Prisoners of War, created 1942 - 1947, documenting the period 12/7/1941 - 11/19/1946 - Record Group 389.