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Donald James Matthew Blakeslee

Military

Don Blakeslee was born on 11 September 1917 in Fairport Harbor, Ohio. As a boy, he became captivated with planes while watching the Cleveland National Air Races held only 30 miles away from his home at 529 7th St, Fairport Harbor, Ohio. In 1938, when he turned 21, Don joined the U.S. infantry reserves. He worked at the Diamond Alkali chemical plant in Fairport and managed to save up enough money to buy a Piper J-3 Cub along with his friend, William Morgan. Blakeslee and Morgan joined Horns Flying School, and in return for instruction, they allowed the school to use their Piper Cub. Blakeslee obtained a private pilot’s license and continued to loan his Piper Cub to the flying school but in September of 1940 tragedy struck when one of his close friends died when the Piper crashed. Blakeslee realized that the best way to keep flying was to join the RCAF since he didn’t have a college education and won’t be able to join the USAAF. “I had to have another plane,” he said, “so I joined the RCAF.” Blakeslee requested discharge from the Army Reserves and was given it on 13 September 1940. He traveled to Windsor, Ontario and joined the RCAF.
After training in Canada Blakeslee was sent overseas and arrived in England on 15 May 1941. He was engaged in combat for the first time in November of 1941. On 22 November he shot down his first plane, a BF-109. He proved to be a particularly bad shot and didn’t claim his second kill until April 1942. Blakeslee liked to joke about it and said, “You dead-eye shots take all the fun out of it. When a guy like me is motoring along and has to start hosing them down to see where the bullets are going, that's when it's fun.” But even though he wasn’t the best tactician, Blakeslee soon proved to be an exceptional leader in the air as well as on the ground. In June of 1942, Blakeslee was transferred to the famed 133 Eagle Squadron. During the Dieppe Raid (19 August) Blakeslee flew four sorties and a few days later was awarded the British DFC by King George and had tea with him and the queen afterward. However a little while later Blakeslee fell out of favor with his superiors when three of his friends brought their WAAF girlfriends to his quarters on the way to the officer’s mess and the CO found out. When in September of 1942 the three Eagle Squadrons were transferred to the USAAF and formed the 4th Fighter Group, Blakeslee was given the rank of captain in the 335th Fighter Squadron. During his stay with the RAF Blakeslee managed to fly 240 combat hours during 120 sorties and get three confirmed victories and numerous probables and damaged.
Even though Blakeslee’s new US commanders didn’t care much for some of his activities he was soon given command of the 335th Fighter Squadron in November and was promoted to major in January of the next year. From then on things happened rapidly for the 25-year-old Don Blakeslee. On 15 April 1943 Blakeslee became the first flier in history to shoot down an enemy plane with the P-47 Thunderbolt. He was now only one kill away from being an ace and on 15 May he got his chance and was officially labeled an ace after destroying an FW 190. In May he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and was transferred to the 4th Headquarters Squadron and designated the Group Executive Officer and Group Operations Officer. By July Blakeslee was relieved as the Executive Officer but remained the Operations Officer.
During this time the group had been using the P-47s which Blakeslee had an acute hatred for. In December Blakeslee was given a break from the hated ‘Jug’ and assigned to the 354th Fighter Group to instruct them on tactics with the P-51 Mustang. Blakeslee instantly fell in love with the Mustang and after returning to the 4th and Debden at the end of December he began pushing to get the group re-equipped with P-51s. He doubled his efforts when he assumed command of the 4th Fighter Group on 1 January 1944. General Kepner, the commander of VIII Fighter Command, was stubborn about it and said that the Mustangs should be given to new fighter groups and that Blakeslee’s pilots would have to learn how to fly the new planes which would take time. On 7 January, while the Mustang struggle went on, the group was out on a mission when ‘Colonel Don’ was bounced by three FW-190s. Blakeslee managed to get one of them before his guns jammed but the other two were hot on his tail. Jim Goodson came to the rescue and Blakeslee had to leave the battle escorted by Goodson and another pilot. The Colonel made it back to Debden but not without 71 holes in his ship to show for it. Finally, Kepner gave in and after being promised by Blakeslee that his fliers would have the P-51s flying “in 24 hours” he equipped the 4th with the Mustang. To keep his promise to Kepner, Blakeslee told his pilots that they could learn to fly the Mustang on the way to the target. And that’s just what they did on 28 February when they flew their first mission in the beloved and esteemed P-51 Mustang. Blakeslee himself shot down 8+ enemy aircraft while flying the Mustang that year.
By March Colonel Don (now a full Colonel) had begun a new way of directing aerial battles. He would circle his Mustang above the air fights and direct his pilots what to do. At this he excelled and it amazed everyone how he could keep everything straight that was going on.
On 4 March 1944 Big B had arrived. Don Blakeslee became the first airman to fly over the German capital of Berlin escorting a combat wing B-17s. Early on Blakeslee’s guns had jammed but he continued on anyway showing the type of soldier he was.
Later that spring on 11 April Blakeslee was awarded the DFC by Eisenhower in a ceremony at Debden along with one of his best pilots, Captain Don Gentile.
On 21 June 1944 Colonel Don accomplished the thing that he once said was the greatest achievement of his combat career. He led the first England-to-Russia Shuttle mission across thousands of miles–and without mistake. He used nineteen charts crammed into his cockpit to plot the unknown course. Blakeslee arrived in Moscow a hero and then arrived in Debden on 5 July as just as much of a hero. He was awarded the DSC for his feats that day.
Blakeslee departed for the states in September for a much deserved six-week leave and returned to his beloved 4th Fighter Group the following month. Colonel Don had not been home for over three years and six months. After his return to Debden, Blakeslee managed to fly twice (25 and 26 October) before his last mission on 30 October 1944. When Hubert Zemke, the leader of the 56th and next to Blakeslee the best fighter commander in the Air Force, was lost over Germany on 30 October, VIII Fighter Command received a hard blow. When Blakeslee landed after an uneventful ramrod mission on that day General Kepner was there waiting for him. “You're grounded,” Kepner said. “I can't afford to lose both of you.” Blakeslee was crushed. In a news article published in November, he said, “How can they do this to me?” On 1 November the 4th Fighter Group pilots had a farewell party for their iron Colonel Don. Three days later Blakeslee was relieved as CO of the group and on the 19th left Debden for the states.
Through his whole combat career, Don Blakeslee never painted kill marks on any of his aircraft to show off his score of 16 planes destroyed. He was also known to have ‘given’ kills to rookie pilots on occasion. While in the 4th Fighter Group Blakeslee never named his aircraft and used the coding letter ‘C’ for all those assigned to him, saying it stood for ‘The Chief Cook and Bottle Washer’.
Not all the 4th’s pilots liked Colonel Blakeslee but every pilot held great respect for him. Blakeslee enforced strict rules for the group but that only made it a better and harder hitting outfit. Thanks to Don Blakeslee the 4th turned out to be the best and highest scoring fighter group in all of England.

4th Fighter Group Commanding Officer, from 1 January 1944 to 1 November 1944.

Service

People

  • James Clark

    Military | Lieutenant Colonel | Pilot; Deputy Commanding Officer
    Initially assigned to the 71st Eagle Squadron in June 1942. With the founding of the 4th Fighter Group that September, he was assigned to the 334th Squadron, where he eventually became its Commanding Officer. ...

  • Harry East

    Military | Staff Sergeant | Crew Chief
    Harry was the one-time crew chief for Colonel Don Blakeslee. He was with the 4th Fighter Group from January 1943 - June 1945.

  • Albin Soblicas

    Military | Staff Sergeant (3rd Grade) | GP

  • Julius Toy

    Military | Captain | Assistant Group Operations Officer

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Units served with

  • 4th Fighter Group

    4th Fighter Group

    Group
    Some of the pilots of the 4th Fighter Group had seen many hours of combat by the time they joined the 4th Fighter Group as they had volunteered with the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Air Force. The three 'Eagle Squadrons' of RAF Fighter...

  • 335th Fighter Squadron

    335th Fighter Squadron

    Squadron
    The 335th Fighter Squadron was the offspring of No. 121 (Eagle) Squadron RAF. Formed on 21 May 1941, No. 121 was the second of the three Eagle Squadrons composed of American volunteers flying out of England. They were known as the "Chiefs" and were...

  • 336th Fighter Squadron

    336th Fighter Squadron

    Squadron
    The 336th Fighter Squadron was constituted by the War Department on 22 august 1942, and was activated at Bushey Hall, England, on 12 September. It had been designated as No. 133 (Eagle) Squadron, and was made up of American volunteers to the Royal Air...

  • No. 133 'Eagle' Squadron

    No. 133 'Eagle' Squadron

    Squadron
    'On 1 August 1941, No. 133 reformed at Coltishall as the third 'Eagle' Squadron manned by American personnel. Equipped with Hurricanes it became operational at the end of September. The next month the Squadron moved to Northern Ireland, returning to...

  • Headquarters (4th Fighter Group)

    Headquarters (4th Fighter Group)

    Headquarters
    The Headquarters Squadron was made up of true leaders. Most had flown Hurricanes, Spitfires, Thunderbolts and Mustangs. ...

Aircraft

  • 43-6437

    P-51 Mustang
    Assigned to 335FS, 4FG, 8AF USAAF. Lt Col Don Blakeslee led the 4th Fighter Group in this aircraft on their first escort mission to Berlin on 3 March 1944. Although a notoriously unreliable aircraft, Blakeslee kept 43-6437 because of its rare Malcolm...

  • 42-7853

    P-47 Thunderbolt
    Assigned to 63FS, 56FG, 8AF USAAF. Transferred to 335FS, 4FG, 8AF USAAF. One-time personal aircraft of Lt Col. Donald J M Blakeslee.

  • 42-106726

    P-51 Mustang
    Assigned to 335FS, 4FG, 8AF USAAF. One-time personal aircraft of Col. Donald Blakeslee, CO of the 4th Fighter Group.

  • 44-13779

    P-51 Mustang
    This was the last Mustang assigned to Col. Donald Blakeslee, Commanding Officer of the the 4th Fighter Group. As Blakeslee rotated home in November 1944, the aircraft was reassigned to Lt. Kiser having been repaired.

  • EN951

    Spitfire
    Supermarine Spifire EN951 Mk Vb, Built at Castle Bromwich Aircaft Factory. ...

  • 42-7863

    P-47 Thunderbolt
    P-47D Thunderbolt 42-7863 assigned 335th FS, 4th FG, 8th AF. Don Blakeslee's assigned A/C. ...

  • BL545

    Spitfire
    Supermarine Spitfire BL545 Mk Vb, Built at Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory. 37MU 22-12-41 308S 26-1-42 336th FS 27-10-42 USAAF 9-10-43 HAL 10-4-44 26S 17-6-44 41OTU 8-2-45 287S 8-2-45 SOC 28-8-45

  • BL776 'Buck-eye Don'

    Spitfire
    Supermarine Spitfire BL776 Mk Vb, Built at Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory. 39MU 14-2-42 145S 13-6-42 133S 30-9-42 336S 1-10-42 DeH 18-8-43 Cunliffe-Owen 28-2-44 Cv RNAS 880S Henstridge 9-4-44 as trainer 759S Yeovilton 9-44 761S Henstridge 1-45

Associated Place

  • Debden

    Military site : airfield
    RAF Debden, construction of which began in 1935, is perhaps most famous as a Battle of Britain fighter airfield, partly responsible for the defence of London in 1940. In 1942 it was also home to three RAF 'Eagle Squadrons’ of volunteer American pilots...

  • Eagle Squadrons Memorial

    Other location

Events

Event Location Date
Born Fairport Harbor, Ohio 11 September 1917
Died Miami, FL, USA 3 September 2008

Revisions

Date Contributor Update
30 November 2018 14:29:09 general ira snapsorter Changes to role and biography
Sources

AIR FORCE COMBAT UNITS OF WORLD WAR II - https://media.defense.gov/2010/Sep/21/2001330256/-1/-1/0/AFD-100921-044.pdf
"The Mighty Eighth", Roger Freeman.

Date Contributor Update
28 October 2017 17:56:56 WD-C Mustang Changes to biography
Sources

Fixed minor spelling and grammar mistakes in biography

Date Contributor Update
18 November 2016 11:27:40 Al_Skiff Changes to role, awards and unit associations
Sources

Ted Damick, VIII Fighter Command pilots list

Date Contributor Update
25 June 2016 23:29:01 WD-C Mustang Changes to biography and events
Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Blakeslee
http://acesofww2.com/USA/aces/blakeslee/
http://www.4thfightergroupassociation.org/uploads/8/2/0/3/8203817/hq_bla...
http://www.starduststudios.com/don-blakeslee.html
“Great American Fighter Pilots of WWII” by Robert D. Loomis
Correspondence with Tim McCann (4th Fighter Group Association)
John Shaw’s (http://www.libertystudios.us/) Facebook page

Date Contributor Update
18 May 2016 22:58:20 WD-C Mustang Changes to nickname, events and place associations
Sources

Personal research

Date Contributor Update
23 April 2016 23:26:49 WD-C Mustang Changes to media associations
Sources

AAM

Date Contributor Update
10 April 2016 23:29:56 WD-C Mustang Changes to middlename, biography and awards
Sources

The Official Site of the 4th Fighter Group - World War II

Date Contributor Update
01 March 2015 11:57:46 apollo11 Changes to biography
Sources

Information correct as far as I am aware

Date Contributor Update
01 March 2015 11:55:14 apollo11 Changes to events
Sources

All information correct as far as I am aware

Date Contributor Update
30 September 2014 10:46:26 PhillWray Changes to highest rank
Sources

Rank updated from AAM caption

Date Contributor Update
30 September 2014 10:45:13 PhillWray Changes to biography and awards
Sources

Biographical details updated from AAM caption.

Date Contributor Update
27 September 2014 18:07:36 AAM AAM ingest
Sources

Drawn from the records of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, Savannah, Georgia / Fighter Aces of the U. S. A. and Mustang Aces of the Eighth Air Force; Who's Who in the Eighth Air Force and/or Biographical Directory Command & Staff Officers Eighth Air Force 1942-45 / Ted Damick, VIII Fighter Command pilots list

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