69 years ago: the 4th FG’s Frank Speer begins his odyssey

On 29 May, Don Blakeslee led the 4th Fighter Group on a withdrawal support mission to Poznan, Poland. The Luftwaffe was up in force. “We dove on five Jerries attacking the lead box of the 2nd Combat Wing,” reported Lt. Robert Church. “I saw a Bf 109 open fire at the bombers and then climb up on the other side. I went after him. He saw me coming and started to wrack it in. About halfway through his turn, he suddenly reversed his turn and dove straight down. I followed him but did not fire. He jettisoned his canopy, but I did not see him bail out or see a chute. At about 4000 feet, we were both still going straight down at about 450 mph, so I started to pull out gradually. I saw his aircraft go straight into the sea about a half-mile southwest of Nysted.”

Other fighters fell to Blakeslee, Capt. Bernard McGrattan, Lt. Conrad Netting and Lt. Don Emerson. Lt. Orrin “Ossie” Snell was chasing a Bf 109 at high speed when its tail section came off in flight. After leaving the target area, 336 Squadron found a seaplane base on a lake and strafed it. In total, the squadron damaged 12 seaplanes and destroyed two.

Frank Speer

Frank Speer

Unfortunately, in the process Lt. Frank Speer’s plane was hit by flak. He set his plane down in a small field next to a village in Poland, then ran into the woods ahead of a mob of angry villagers. After eluding the villagers, he hid in some bushes and waited for nightfall, then used his knowledge of European geography to start an epic journey by foot. Speer traveled 400 miles, planning to walk to Denmark and stow away on a boat to Sweden. He  nearly made it, but his plans were foiled when he was awakened from a nap by a German soldier. He ended up in Stalag Luft III, then survived the winter “death march” to Nurnberg. When the prisoners were moved again, Speer and a fellow POW escaped and received shelter from some French laborers. As the war ground to an end, the pair received the surrender of 24 German soldiers.

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