30 August 2020

HODGES, Lewis (#34)

Air Chief Marshal Sir Lewis Hodges was one of the RAF’s most highly decorated pilots; after an audacious escape from occupied France and an outstanding record flying clandestine operations in Europe and the Far East he went on to have a distinguished peacetime career.
30 August 2020

GRAYSTON, Raymond E (#133)

Flying Officer Ray Grayston was one of the last survivors of the Dambusters' raid and was flight engineer of the Lancaster that breached the Eder Dam.
30 August 2020

BLAKESLEE, Donald J M (#294)

Colonel Donald J M BLAKESLEE DSC (2) Silver Star (2) Legion of Merit, DFC (8) AM (8) DFC (UK) RCAF 401 Sqn BIGGIN HILL late 1941, OC 133 (EAGLE) Sqn SPITFIRES, in & led 4th FTR GP DEBDEN, P-47 & P-51s led 1st to BERLIN + 7hr POLTAVA; Korean War. 294 Col Donald J M BLAKESLEE from Ohio was born in 1917 (died nearly 91 on 3Sep08) and bought and flew a Piper with a friend who then wrote this off in 1940. To stay flying he joined the RCAF.and, after his training in Canada, he joined 401 Squadron at BIGGIN HILL.in autumn 1941, frequently flying sweeps over occupied France, having initial combat successes before joining and commanding 133 (EAGLE) SQUADRON’s SPITFIRES, one of the three AMERICAN VOLUNTEER SQUADRONS. On 12th September,1942, the three Eagle squadrons, 71, 122 and 133, became the 4th FIGHTER GROUP flying from DEBDEN, firstly with SPITFIRES and then with P-47 THUNDERBOLTS. During the DIEPPE RAID on August 18, 1942, Blakeslee shot down a further FW-190, and another probably destroyed on the 19th. After 335 Sqn, he often led the 4th Fighter Group and pushed for the Group to be re-equipped with the P-51 MUSTANG, becoming its CO on 1st January,1944. On March 6, 1944 Blakeslee flew as leader of the first Mustang sortie over BERLIN while defending Boeing B-17s and Consolidated B-24s. Escorting the massed daylight raids of the 8th AIR FORCE over Occupied Europe while under Blakeslee's command, the 4th FG became one of the highest scoring groups of VIII Fighter Command. The 4th's aggressive style was very effective, and the 4th Fighter Group passed the 500 kill mark at the end of April 1944. On assuming command, Lt Col Blakeslee determinedly said that the FOURTH FIGHTER GROUP was going to be the top Fighter Group in the Eighth Air Force. “We are here to fight. To those who don't believe me, I would suggest transferring to another group. I'm going to fly the ass off each one of you. Those who keep up with me, good; those who don't, I don't want them anyway." At the end of the war, it was estimated they had destroyed 1,020 German planes (550 in flight, and 470 on the ground). .The next landmark for Blakeslee was leading the first "shuttle" mission to POLTAVA in Soviet UKRAINE from Debden on 21st June,1944, flying 1,470 miles in a mission lasting over 7 hours. Roy Heidicker, the 4th Fighter Group historian, recalled that Col. Blakeslee's message to his pilots was simple and straightforward: "We are here to destroy the Luftwaffe and shoot the Germans out of the sky, and that's what we're going to do." Don Blakeslee was finally grounded in September 1944, after the loss of several high scoring USAAF aces. On returning to USA, he commanded Page Field near Fort Myers Fla. According to Barrett Tilman, in WW2 he flew more combat sorties and hours than any other American fighter pilot and was the most decorated USAAF fighter pilot with the DSC, seven DFCs, a couple of Silver Stars and six Air Medals plus his British DFC. He led the first shuttle escort mission to Russia. His value lay in his leadership abilities. "He was everywhere in the battle, twisting and climbing, bellowing and blaspheming, warning and exhorting," historian Grover C. Hall Jr. wrote in his book "1000 Destroyed: The Life and Times of the 4th Fighter Group" (1978). "His ability to keep things taped in a fight with 40 or 50 planes skinning and turning at 400 miles an hour was a source of wonder." As an outstanding fighter leader and commander, he destroyed well over a score of aircraft in the air and on the ground, some saying it could have even reached 30, often encouraging others in his team to gain experience. Don remained in the Air Force after the war and led the 27th Fighter Wing in Korea with F-84F Thunderjets and also served in Vietnam before retiring to Florida in 1965. Modest about his wartime achievements, he avoided publicity and shunned would be biographers.
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