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Brightwood Boys, The History of the Men from the North End of
Springfield, Massachusetts, During World War II
by Christopher P. Montagna



The United State provided a wealth of raw material needed by the Allied forces in Europe.  These supplies had to be shipped across the Atlantic, which became an active battleground in which many merchant ships fell prey to German U-Boats patrolling in the shipping lanes off the east coast.  The German submarines hunted in what were called wolf-packs. The slow and unarmored supply ships crossed in convoys that were vulnerable to the marauding U-boats. 


In order to provide some protection to the ships and the Merchant Marines serving aboard, the Navy established Armed Guard units. The Armed Guards manned 20mm machine guns, and 3, 4, and 5 inch deck guns.  Serving as a member of the armed guard was Gunner’s Mate Third Class William F. Whalen.  Prior to enlisting in the Navy, William Whalen and his wife Mary Katherine lived at 5 Osgood Street.


The Esso HarrisburgOn July 7, 1944 the tanker Esso Harrisburg was sailing about 200 miles northwest of Aruba.  Just after 2:00 am, the Harrisburg was hit by a torpedo from a German U-Boat.  The explosion destroyed the 4-inch gun on the stern and damaged the rudder and screw, crippling the ship.   The command was given to abandon ship.  As the crew was leaving the ship, the Esso Harrisburg was hit by two more and the ship sank into the rough seas.  The master, three men and four armed guards died.  Among the armed guards killed in the attack was Gunner’s Mate Third Class William F. Whalen.