Catherine D. and Frederic W. Irwin Collection
Frederic Woolridge Irwin began his military career on April 10, 1941 as an aviation cadet serving as an artillery plotter in the Army Air Force. After successfully completing training at Hicks Field in Fort Worth, Texas, and achieving the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, he assumed his duties as a navigator in August 1943. Serving on a B-17 bomber in the 333rd Bomb Squadron, 94th Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force, Lt. Irwin flew on four missions deep into Germany. The Eighth Air Force conducted the majority of daylight raids into German territory. As a result, nearly one in ten Americans killed during WW II were members of the Eighth Air Force. His third mission, on December 30, 1943, ended in a crash landing at St. Mary’s in the Marsh after the plane sustained serious damage to its engines. One crewmember, recounting the arduous flight to reach friendly territory with limited engines and under German attack, wrote “[w]e thank our navigator for choosing and plotting a course that got us under fire so few times.”
Less than two weeks after the St. Mary’s crash, on January 11, 1944, Lt. Irwin and the crew flew as part of a “flying fortress” on one of the deepest bombing runs yet into Germany. Some seven hundred heavy bombers from the Eighth Air Force flew three hundred miles to target three aircraft factories in Brunswick, Germany. The attack met with heavy resistance from the German Luftwafe and ground defenses. Although the mission was ultimately successful, 60 U.S. bombers, including Lt. Irwin’s, were lost. Irwin sustained serious shrapnel wounds during the battle and subsequent crash. After several months in a German hospital with limited supplies and medical attention he was moved to Stalag Luft I, a German prisoner of war camp for British and American aviators located in Barth. Lt. Irwin remained a prisoner until the Russian army liberated the camp on May 13, 1945.
Military citations received by Irwin include the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Unit Badge, and Battle Honors for the 94th Bombardment Group. Lt. Irwin remained in active military service following his release and recovery. He served as a navigator during the Berlin Airlift, worked as a Liaison Officer with the military governments in Italy and Germany, and was recalled to active duty during the Korean War. In April 1952, he retired from military service at the rank of Captain.
Frederic Irwin was born on August 8, 1918 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Paul and Manola Ness Irwin. He was educated in Pittsburgh and New York and was graduated from Trinity Preparatory School. He completed additional coursework at the Stock Exchange Institute and the American Institute for Banking. Following his long military service, Mr. Irwin settled in Niantic, Connecticut and began a successful business career. He was a founder of the Vocaline Company of America, Treasurer for US Industries in New York, and established his own financial advisory firm. He and his wife, Catherine, owned and operated a women’s clothing store in Niantic for 20 years until their retirement in 1995. Frederic Irwin passed away on December 16, 1996.