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Frank E Speer

Military

Frank was born in January 1922 in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. When Frank was six his family moved to a farm in eastern Pennsylvania due to his father's poor health being a coal miner.
Frank grew up working on the farm, and was fortunate to have access to a private library stocked with hundreds of volumes, so when he was not working he was reading classics, and other books normally read by educated adults.
Frank got the flying bug by watching matinee movies of WW I dogfights, and especially when he spent a hard-earned three dollars on a ten minute ride in a Ford Tri-motor at a local dirt field.
When he graduated, Frank became a lineman for the Bell Telephone Company; married (one month before Pearl Harbor); and toyed with the idea of joining the RCAF as the European conflict became a full fledged war. He rejected that idea when he learned that he might lose his U.S. citizenship as a result. He had no college degree and so was ineligible as a candidate for the U.S. Army Aviation Cadets. But pilots were needed, and a change in requirements enabled him to master a two-year college equivalent test, and he subsequently applied for and was accepted as an Aviation Cadet.
Frank ended up as Cadet Commander of his graduating class, and he also ranked number four in Aerial Gunnery School. Although he had been told that he could never become a fighter pilot because of his large athletic build, the need at the time of his graduation was such that he was assigned to P51 training in Florida.
After an arduous trip in an English banana boat across the winter-North Atlantic he found himself in England.
He was assigned to the 4th Fighter Group, and easily assimilated the aggressiveness and discipline of this outstanding Group, and within a fairly short time became an "Ace".
All went well until the return from a long escort mission to Poznan, Poland. It was Frank's 17th mission, and he was flying wingman to "Kidd" Hofer. Hofer's attitude had always been that rules were made to be broken, so as usual he left the Group and set off to find some action. Soon the two of them were strafing a Luftwaffe aerodrome and, on the second pass, leaving three He-111s on fire, Frank's plane suffered a fatal hit by flak and he bellied in.He evaded capture and set off on foot for Denmark, hoping to stow away on a boat to Sweden. After eight days and nearly 400 miles across northern Germany, walking day and night with no food or sleep, his body finally gave up and he passed out. He was discovered by two German soldiers who immediately took him prisoner.
At Dulag Luft (interrogation centre for downed enemy airmen) interrogation threats, and solitary confinement proved unsuccessful for the Germans, so Frank was finally sent to Stalag Luft III for incarceration. On a virtual starvation diet, Frank lost 67 ponds during his eleven months there.
With the Russian army advancing, the Germans decided to retain their prisoners as bargaining chips. So, in the middle of winter they were marched toward Nuremberg on what was to become a "death march". The starving "Kriegies" who survived the brutal weather and lack of food and rest arrived at a small town, where they were allowed a brief respite. Then, after a seemingly endless train ride, they arrived at a camp outside of Nuremberg.
Soon they were on the march again, this time south toward Mooseburg. during this march, Frank and a fellow "Kriegie" escaped twice, only to be recaptured. On their third try they were successful, but the U.S. forces in the area were not convinced that they were not German spies, so they were once again imprisoned! Eventually they managed to bribe their way onto a flight out of Nuremberg and ended up at camp Lucky Strike in France. There they were deloused, their clothing burned, and they were admitted to the hospital. In due time they were loaded onto a hospital ship and embarked for the states. They left on the very day the Germans surrendered.
Frank was credited with six enemy aircraft destroyed, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, the Distinguished Unit badge, the POW Medal, and the European Theatre Medal with one Star.
Frank later became a writer - publishing books about the 4th Fighter Group and its people.

Service

People

  • William Brong

    Military | Staff Sergeant | Crew Chief | 4th Fighter Group
    One time Crew Chief for (then) Lt. Frank E. Speer.

  • Donald Malmsten

    Military | Captain | Fighter Pilot | 4th Fighter Group
    Donald Malmsten enlisted in the Army Air Corps from Burrell, Nebraska. ...

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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...

  • 334th Fighter Squadron

    334th Fighter Squadron

    Squadron
    The 334th Fighter Squadron was the successor to No. 71 Eagle squadron of the Royal Air Force when the 4th Fighter Group was activated on 12 September 1942. They were based at Debden Field, Essex. The "Fighting Eagles" as they were called, flew...

Aircraft

  • 43-6560

    P-51 Mustang
    One-time personal aircraft of Lt Col James A Clark. Lost on escort mission to Poznan, Poland. On return, whilst strafing a Luftwaffe airbase, hit by Flak and bellied in. Pilot Lt Frank Speer initially evaded, but then was captured POW. 29-May-44. MACR...

  • 43-6957 'Turnip Termite'

    P-51 Mustang
    Assigned to 334FS, 4FG, 8AF USAAF. Escorting back to base his section leader [Sobanski], set upon by superior number of enemy aircraft. pilot Lt Edward J Steppe KIA. 6-Jun-44. MACR 5604.

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...

Events

Event Location Date
Born Pittsburgh, PA, USA January 1922
Prisoner of War (POW) Germany 29 May 1944

Revisions

Date Contributor Update
07 March 2015 16:38:23 apollo11 Changes to highest rank, biography, awards, events and place associations
Sources

Personal research & 'Eighty-One Aces of the 4th Fighter Group' by Frank Speer.

Date Contributor Update
27 September 2014 18:10:00 AAM AAM ingest
Sources

Drawn from the records of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, Savannah, Georgia / IWSA Roster, MACR 5396 / MACR 5396 / Paul Andrews, Project Bits and Pieces, 8th Air Force Roll of Honor database / Ted Damick, VIII Fighter Command pilots list

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