The 306th Bomb Group, 369th Bomb Squadron of the Eighth Air Force was based at Station 111, Thurleigh, England. Thurleigh was located five miles north of Bedford and originally built for the Royal Air Force Bomber Command. During 1942-43, the runways were extended and extra hardstands added to accommodate the heavy American bomber groups. The 306th Bomb Group commenced operation in October 1942 and continued until April 1945, flying over 342 missions. This was the longest tenure by any American combat unit at a RAF base and one of the most famous. Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth) visited Thurleigh to commemorate the naming of the B-17 Rose of York. The base had four hangers and sixteen living and communal sites around the airfield. The emblem at right was insignia for the 369th Bomb Squadron.
On 14 February 1945, a mission was scheduled for heavy bombing of the railroad yards at Dresden, Germany. See the above map that shows the planned route. Of the many aircraft sent off that day, two crews of the 369th Bomb Squadron and their ships did not return to base. One of those aircraft was a B-17J Flying Fortress 42-102975 nicknamed “Verna E.” The pilot was 2nd Lt. Jack S. Hanley. Hanley and his crew were hit by flak which caused them to leave the formation. Two engines were shot out and the aircraft was losing speed. A message was relayed to First Air Division that Hanley would try to land at Field B-53 on the continent because he was running low on fuel. However, as the crew slowly made its way unescorted across Germany trying to reach the front lines, the aircraft was hit again by flak which shot out a third engine. This occurred over Coblenz in the Ruhr Valley. The plane crashed at Weisel, about 25 kilometers south of Koblenz, Germany.
Staff Sgt. Piepenbrink, who was new to this crew, landed some fifty miles inside the German front lines. He was captured immediately by a flak battery crew. Shortly, he was joined by nose gunner Sgt. Herbert R. Whitaker. Within four or five days the entire crew had been captured and gathered together. The crew was sent to the interrogation center at Dulag Luft – Oberursel near Frankfurt am Main. Missing Air Crew Report 12325 was filed when the crew failed to return to base.