"Douglas N. Franke, 2nd Lt. AC, born February 1, 1923 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, died April 29, 1944 near Dinklage, Germany." This brief obituary cries out for more information about the life and death of many thousands of young men the Eighth Air Force, who lost their lives in the air assault on Adolf Hitler's "Festung Europa" during World War Two. Douglas N. Franke was my older brother, and this is my attempt to fill in some of those gaps.
Everybody called him Doug. He was the second of a family of four boys who grew up on the banks of the Mississippi River, at what is now Coon Rapids, Minnesota. An Eagle Scout, he was also an all around athlete, lettering in high school football, basketball, baseball and track; serving as captain of the football and basketball teams. Moreover, he played trumpet in the high school band, and graduated in 1941 as co-valedictorian.
In the fall of that year, Doug enrolled at the University of Minnesota, but dropped out not long after Pearl Harbor, to enlist in the Air Corps Reserve. While waiting to be called to active duty, he worked as a draftsman for Minneapolis-Honeywell.
I am not really sure when he was called to active duty, but it appears to have been in June 1942; and in January, he passed a flight physical examination at San Antonio, Texas. On September 16, 1943, he received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant; and his wings as a Navigator at the Army Air Force Navigation School at San Marcos, Texas.
At that time, I was a member of the Army Enlisted Reserve Corps, participating in the Army Specialized Training Reserve Program (ASTRP) at the University of Kansas (KU), Lawrence, Kansas. Enroute home for a well earned leave, after being commissioned, Doug paid me a surprise visit in the tiny room I shared with five other ASTRP students in an unfinished building on the KU campus. I was enormously thrilled and proud, especially as his visit was on my 18th birthday. At that time, of course, I had no inkling that this happy occasion would mark the last time I would ever see him.
I remember receiving letters indicating that he received further training at Blythe Army Air Base, California; at Davis Monthan Field, Tucson Arizona; and at an unknown location in Northern Ireland; I am not sure if I knew the combat unit to which he was assigned.
In November 1943, I was called to active duty myself at Fort Snelling, Minnesota; and perhaps because of my relatively unusual status as ASTRP volunteer, I was shuffled around from there to Camp Callan, California ( anti-aircraft artillery); Fort Benning Georgia (infantry); Camp McCain, Mississippi (infantry); and finally to Camp Maxey, Texas ( field artillery). I was at Camp Maxey when I first heard that Doug was Missing in Action. I was still there, just getting ready to go overseas myself in September 1944, when I heard that his status had been changed to Killed in Action.
My father had been in World War 1 and he was better able than my mother to hold up under the strain created by the uncertainties, the lack of information, and even the wrong information provided then and later by the War Department. Unfortunately, because of my already being on overseas orders, I was unable to leave to go home for the memorial service. Sadly, when Doug's body was finally returned to the United States for burial in Minneapolis, my military situation was such that I was unable to be present for that tragic occasion either.
In recent years, I have endeavored to learn as much as possible about my brother's only combat assignment; the 579th Bomb Squadron of the 392nd Bomb Group. He was a member of the group for less than three weeks, reporting in with his crew from a training base in Northern Ireland on the 11th of April 1944, and completing his first mission on April 20, which happened to be Adolph Hitler’s 55th birthday.
With the availability that spring of improved radar, bombing missions were being regularly carried out in weather conditions which would have precluded such operations months before. Thus his fatal mission was his seventh in just nine days. From correspondence I have had with his former squadron Commander ( Myron H. Keilman) and other flight personnel, such a heavy schedule was not particularly unusual in that period... just six weeks before the Normandy Invasion.
Trying to reconstruct the details of Doug's final mission after 48 years, has not been easy. Cooperation from former members of his Group has been outstanding; I am pleased to say (although I have yet to locate anyone who remembers him from when he was actually assigned to the Group.) Information from the National Archives and from personal correspondence makes it possible to reconstruct some of the events of April 29 and to speculate with some degree of accuracy on others.
Doug's plane on his last mission was Number 42-7510. This was one of the original 35 planes to be flown to Wendling in August 1943. Col. Vickers has informed me that the mission of April 29 was it's 38th. Number 42-7510 was one of the last of a series of 253 Model B - 24H - 1 Liberators built at the Ford Willow Run plant at Detroit, Michigan. Christened " El-Lobo " by an unknown crew, further identified as " C Bar " and bearing the big Circle D that identified the 392nd, the aircraft was piloted by 2nd Lt. B.W. Wyatt.
April 29, 1944 marked the first time that the 392nd Bomb Group participated in a raid on Berlin. Fourteen planes comprised the 392nd formation, and four more were assigned to the 44th Bomb Group (whose formation assignment was to the left and below that of the 392nd). Of the four, only D.P. Prell's ship, # 433, was noted as being " in formation" at assembly. The positions of the other three ( B. Fryman #427; F.C. Shere #759; B.W. Wyatt #510) were recorded as unknown. Prell's ship was also the only one of four to return and land safely at Wendling. Fryman's aircraft returned safely, but exploded while circling to land, killing all crewmembers.
According to the Command Pilot's Narrative (by Captain Robert D. Copp), Shere and Wyatt were both in formation over the target "...but are missing in action with no information available; probably lost to enemy aircraft in later attacks." Col. Robert E. Vickers states bleakly, "...nothing was known further surrounding the loss of...Wyatt's crew."
However, in correspondence with Patrick J. Ryan (Navigator on Shere's plane) I have learned that while still in the Berlin area and after dropping their bombs, Shere's plane was hit by Flak. Shortly thereafter it sustained serious damage by fighters. The crew was unable to maintain position or altitude and was eventually shot down as a straggler by a lone Me-109 at a point about 44 miles southwest of Oldenburg ( believed to have been near Bippen). Seven crewmembers survived by parachuting. The crash was believed to have occurred at about the same time and only about 17 miles west -southwest of the place where the crash of Doug's plane was reported by German officials to have occurred. Although Ryan did not recall seeing any other US planes in the area, it seems reasonable to assume that my brother's plane also sustained damage in the target area and was eventually shot down as a straggler.
Records of both the U.S. and German agencies which are now part of my brother's Individual Deceased Personnel File indicate that the crash occurred on 29 April 1944 at 1:45 PM (1345 hours) near Dinklage, 52-40N - 8-15E , also in the district of Oldenburg. The names and addresses of the two man burial detail were also included.
In May 1946, the remains were disinterred for reburial at a U.S. Military Cemetery in Belgium and it was discovered at that time that his sidearm, a Colt semi-automatic .45 caliber pistol, had been buried with him.
In November 1948, the remains were again disinterred and began their slow return to the United States, where they were finally and permanently laid to rest in Minneapolis on May 26,1949... more than five years after he was killed.
Translation of a portion of page 176 of Im Anflug auf die Reichschauptstadt: Die Dokumentation der Bombenangriffe auf Berlin (Approaching the German Capital: Documentation of the Bombing Attacks on Berlin), by Werner Girbig, published by Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart. 6th edition, 1977
On Saturday, April 29, despite bad weather, a major daylight raid involving 618 planes took place. A cloud cover lay over the city itself, but there were sufficient breaks in the clouds to make possible a relatively good view below. All three divisions participated in the continuous attack, which lasted about 40 minutes. This time the alarm was sounded at 11:12 am.
B-17's of the 452nd Bombardment Group appeared over the Tempelhof Airfield and began to drop their bombs. Clouds resulted from explosions at Halle Gate and in Stresemann Street, but the elevated railroad, which was the target, remained intact. Liberators of the 392nd BG followed in the second wave, but they too were unable to hit the target exactly, as in the meantime, the cloud cover had thickened again.
Hundreds of tons of bombs fell on the widely diversified industrial facilities in the northern part of the city before the last unit of the 379th Bombardment Group finally departed from the metropolitan area at about 11:50 am and turned off to the northwest.
A table on page 224 summarized data concerning US Army Air Forces attacks on Berlin provided the following information concerning the raid on 29 April 1944:
1.) Duration 38 minutes
2.) 618 planes involved
3.) Bomb tonnage dropped: 1271
4.) Total number of bombers lost: 63
5.) No U.S. fighters lost