Donald James Matthew Blakeslee

Military
media-20700.jpeg UPL 20700 Don Blakeslee at the tail of his final P-51D 44-13779.

Object Number - UPL 20700 - Don Blakeslee at the tail of his final P-51D 44-13779.

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 travelled 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.

Connections

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Units served with

People

  • Military/Civilian/Mascot: Military
  • Nationality: American
  • Unit: 334th Fighter Squadron Headquarters (4th Fighter Group) No 71 'Eagle' Squadron
  • Service Numbers: O-885106
  • Highest Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
  • Role/Job: Pilot; Deputy Commanding Officer
  • Military/Civilian/Mascot: Military
  • Nationality: American
  • Unit: 335th Fighter Squadron
  • Highest Rank: Staff Sergeant
  • Role/Job: Crew Chief
A sketch of the "Boxing Chicken" fighting eagle insignia of the 4th Fighter Group riding a P-47 Thunderbolt by Sergeant Milton S Osterday. Based on the original character design by Disney Artist Hank Porter. Handwritten on slide:Mural at Debden Ed Richie"
  • Military/Civilian/Mascot: Military
  • Nationality: American
  • Unit: Headquarters (4th Fighter Group) 4th Army Air Force Combat Camera Unit
  • Highest Rank: Staff Sergeant (3rd Grade)
  • Role/Job: GP
  • Military/Civilian/Mascot: Military
  • Nationality: American
  • Unit: Headquarters (4th Fighter Group)
  • Highest Rank: Captain
  • Role/Job: Assistant Group Operations Officer

Aircraft

  • Aircraft Type: P-51 Mustang
  • Unit: 4th Fighter Group 335th Fighter Squadron Headquarters (4th Fighter Group)
  • Aircraft Type: P-47 Thunderbolt
  • Unit: 4th Fighter Group 56th Fighter Group 335th Fighter Squadron 63rd Fighter Squadron
  • Aircraft Type: P-47 Thunderbolt
  • Unit: 4th Fighter Group 335th Fighter Squadron
  • Aircraft Type: P-51 Mustang
  • Unit: 4th Fighter Group 335th Fighter Squadron
  • Aircraft Type: P-51 Mustang
  • Unit: 4th Fighter Group 335th Fighter Squadron Headquarters (4th Fighter Group)

Missions

Places

Related media

  • Media Type: Video
  • Object Number: UPL 22574
  • Description: Video featuring Captain Don Gentile after returning from a mission and Don Gentile and Don Blakeslee being awarded their DFCs by General Eisenhower at...

Events

Event Location Date Description

Born

Fairport Harbor, Ohio 11 September 1917 Son of James Harold Blakeslee and Mary [Hervey] Rintanen.

Enlisted

Windsor, Ontario 13 September 1940 Enlisted RCAF

Other

Arrived ETO

United Kingdom 15 May 1941 Arrived in England on 15-May-41

Died

Miami, FL, USA 3 September 2008

Buried

18 September 2008 Arlington National Cemetery Arlington County, Virginia Section: 8-II Row 17, Site: 1

Based

Debden Transferred to 133 (Eagle) Sqn RAF.

Based

Debden 20 October 1944 Assigned to 335FS, 4FG, 8AF USAAF.

Based

Biggin Hill Assigned to 401 Sqn RCAF.

Revisions

Date
Contributorjmoore43
Changes
Sources

Added a connection to the FG mission to Dieppe, France for 19 Aug 1942.

Date
Changes
Sources

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

Date
ContributorWD-C Mustang
Changes
Sources

Fixed minor spelling and grammar mistakes in biography

Date
ContributorAl_Skiff
Changes
Sources

Ted Damick, VIII Fighter Command pilots list

Date
ContributorWD-C Mustang
Changes
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_bl…
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
ContributorWD-C Mustang
Changes
Sources

Personal research

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ContributorWD-C Mustang
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Sources

AAM

Date
ContributorWD-C Mustang
Changes
Sources

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

Date
Contributorapollo11
Changes
Sources

Information correct as far as I am aware

Date
Contributorapollo11
Changes
Sources

All information correct as far as I am aware

Date
ContributorPhillWray
Changes
Sources

Rank updated from AAM caption

Date
ContributorPhillWray
Changes
Sources

Biographical details updated from AAM caption.

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ContributorAAM
Changes
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

Donald James Matthew Blakeslee: Gallery (57 items)