Danish WW2 Pilots

Walter Emil Poulsen

(1908 - 1983)

S/Sgt Walter Emil Poulsen 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 ball turret gunner and served in the Eighth Air Force. He was shot down on 2 November 1944 during a mission to Merseburg-Leuna. He became a PoW for the rest of the war.

Walter Emil Poulsen was born on 16 June 1908 in Aarhus, Denmark. He was the son of cooper Poul Marius Poulsen and Anna Kirstine Dyhr Poulsen (née Dyhr).[1]

The family emigrated to the USA in 1909 arriving in New York on 1 September 1909 on the SS C. F. Tietgen. They were planning to join Poulsen’s uncle in Rugby, North Dakota.[2] He had emigrated in 1908.[3]

Poulsen’s father declared the his intention to be naturalised only days after the arrival.[4] He was naturalised in 14 November 1914. [5] Poulsen married Lillie May Shoenhut in Stanley, North Dakota, USA, on 17 July 1938.[6] He worked as a postal clerk before the war.[7]

Enlistment and Overseas Service

Poulsen enlisted in the US Army on 14 August 1943.[8] The details are not clear, as he does not seem to be listed in the U.S. Army Enlistment Records in the National Archives. I have no further information on his training other than that he was trained as ball turret gunner. 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, 2nd Niels Charles Jensen was part of this crew as well.[9]

Following a short period of training they began flying long-range missions over occupied Europe and Germany. They would normally fly B-17 G Winged Victory (43-37563), but occasionally they flew B-17 G Strictly ‘GI’ (43-37594).[10]

B-17 Flying Fortresses of the 381st Bomb Group fly through flak during a mission over Merseburg. Photographed from a B-17. Even if this is not related to Walter E. Poulsen, his view from the ball turret must have been similar. (© IWM, FRE 4857)
B-17 Flying Fortresses of the 381st Bomb Group fly through flak during a mission over Merseburg. Photographed from a B-17. Even if this is not related to Walter E. Poulsen, his view from the ball turret must have been similar. (© IWM, FRE 4857)

The Last Mission

On 2 November 1944, the Eighth Air Force carried out a massive attack on synthetic oil installations in Germany (Mission 698). A total of 1,174 bombers and 968 fighters were dispatched in five forces. Of these two forces of 460 and 233 B-17s respectively were dispatched for the Leuna synthetic oil refinery at Merseberg. The route and target were covered by cloud, so the target was bombed by Pathfinder Force methods and results on the ground was unobserved.[11] More than 1,400 tons of bombs were dropped om Merseburg-Leuna in the two attacks.[12]

B-17 G Winged Victory (42-97563) took off from Bassingbourn and set course for Merseburg. The group was heavily engaged by heavy fighters (one Me 163, many Fw 190s and Me 109s). The aircraft crossed the English Channel in good condition and everything was going according to plan until the aircraft reached the target zone. The aircraft was hit by flak over the target area and lost its #1 engine.

Later they were attacked by fighters. 1st Lt Snow, the pilot, estimated that the formation was attacked by fifty to seventy-five enemy aircraft between 12.47 and 13.00 hours. He gave the order for the crew to bail out. Poulsen bailed out from the aircraft from his ball turret by opening the door of the turret and dropping free of the aircraft. He was seriously injured in his left leg. He landed near Köthen about 50 km north of Merseburg, where he was captured immediately and hospitalised.

The rest of the crew managed to bail out as well, but the co-pilot, 2nd Lt Alfred C. Zwicky (O-715926), did not survive.[13]

Prisoner of War

The rest of the crew became prisoners of war. They were 1st Lt Oscar J. Snow, pilot (O-757313), , 2nd Lt Frank C. Farr Jr., navigator (O-717641), 1st Lt Robert C. Fitzpatrick, bombardier (O-768947), T/Sgt Floyd E. Johnson Jr., top turret gunner (38396288), T/Sgt Francis J. Dietzler, radio gunner (13175728), S/Sgt Walter E. Poulsen, ball turret gunner (37573556), S/Sgt Guy R. Hemenway, waist gunner (37671940), and S/Sgt Thomas D. Walsh, tail gunner (12093844).[14]

Jensen was set to Dulag Luft 12 in Gross Tychow, Pomerania (now Tychowo, Poland). He remained there for the rest of the war.


[1] DNA: Parish register, Aarhus, Sankt Pauls Sogn.

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

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ancestry: Montana, County Naturalization Records, 1867-1970.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ancestry: U.S., Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Church Records, 1781-1969.

[7] Ancestry: 1940 United States Federal Census.

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

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

[10] ‘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).

[11] Eighth Air Force Operational History, Mission 698, http://www.8thafhs.com/get_one_mission.php?mission_id=1658 (accessed on 28 December 2019).

[12] Craven, W. F. (1958). The Army Air Forces in World War II. Vol. III: Europe: ARGUMENT to V-E Day, January 1944 to May 1945, p. 644.

[13] NARA: Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs), 1942 - 1947, Record Group 92, #10147.

[14] Ibid.