P-47 Thunderbolt Ace: 'Gabby' Gabreski
"Gabby" Gabreski was the top USAAF fighter ace over Europe during World War II and would go on to become an Ace of the Korean War (one of only 7 US pilots to become an Ace in two different wars) and a Colonel during his 26 years of military service. He was the son of Polish immigrants to Pennsylvania. Abandoning his second year at Notre-Dame University, Gabreski enlisted in the USAAF, though was not a particularly successful trainee.
Trained on the P-36 and P-40, Gabreski began flying sorties in the wake of Pearl Harbour to intercept further Japanese attacks, though they had withdrawn. Concerned that the US lacked experienced pilots, Gabreski volunteered and was accepted (as a Captain) on RAF duty with Polish pilots of No. 315 squadron. It was here he learnt the art of staying calm in combat.
On February 27, 1943, Gabreski became part of the 56th Fighter Group, flying the Republic P-47C Thunderbolt, assigned to the 61st Fighter Squadron, and despite resentment from his fellow pilots he was soon elevated to Major and took command of the Squadron on June 9th. In the cockpit of a Thunderbolt in the European theatre, Gabreski achieved 28 aerial victories, a total never surpassed in the theatre by U.S pilots engaged with the Luftwaffe. On June 20, 1944, Gabreski had achieved the 300 hours required flight time, but rather than go home (for his wedding) he took one more mission. Following damage to his propellers after a strafing run on a Luftwaffe airfield, he was forced to crash land. He managed to evade capture for 5 days before being sent to Stalag Luft III.