12 September 2008

RIP: Col Donald Blakeslee, USAF

Donald James Matthew Blakeslee
11 Sep 1918 - 3 Sep 2008

The Ft Lauderdale (FL) Sun-Sentinel has a brief note saying that Colonel Blakeslee died on 3 September. ZUI this AcePilots.com article:
Don Blakeslee was born in 1918 in Fairport Harbor, Ohio, to a family who were among the original pioneers of the Ohio River Territory in the late 18th Century. As a teenager, he went wild over airplanes at the National Air Races held every year in Cleveland. In 1939 he and a friend bought a Piper Cub, which the friend then crashed. Blakeslee went to Canada in 1940 and joined the RCAF. He relieved his mother's anxiety by telling her he would always be an instructor, and maintained the illusion even after he had shot down his first German plane.

Blakeslee arrived in England 15 May 1941, where he was assigned to a squadron at Biggin Hill. By the summer of 1942, he was a flight leader who had completed his first tour of 200 hours with 3 victories. When told he would become the instructor he had promised his mother, he finally volunteered to be sent to 133 Eagle Squadron, which was the only way he could stay on combat status.


Blakeslee would eventually be recognized as one of the two finest combat fighter commanders in the history of the United States Air Force, the other being Col. Hubert "Hub" Zemke, Commanding Officer of the 56th Fighter Group, "The Wolfpack." The two were as different as night and day. Blakeslee was the great exponent of the P-51 Mustang, while Zemke was the man who tamed the P-47 Thunderbolt. Pilots saw one or the other as greater according to which one he had flown with, which makes it a case of honor for all.


The normal tour for a fighter pilot in the ETO was 250 combat hours. No one really knows how many hours Blakeslee finally totaled, because he would log the time when he led another group on their initial combat operations as "training," and would "forget" to enter missions in his logbook where nothing happened. The best estimate is that between his first operation on 15 May 1941 and his last combat flight on 11 October 1944, Don Blakeslee flew approximately 1,200 combat hours, the American record.


Don Blakeslee remained on active duty and spent thirty years in the U.S. Air Force. He never rose above the rank of Colonel, not being the kind of officer who could play "politics." He led the 27th Fighter Wing and took the F-84 Thunderjet to Korea and served in Vietnam before he retired to Florida in 1972, where he has lived since in self-ordained obscurity.

Wikipedia has an article here. The Warbirds Resource Group has further information here.

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