Francis “Gabby” Gabreski, was a member of “The Inner Seven,” an elite group of pilots who achieved the status of “ace ” in both World War II and Korea. Born in Pennsylvania in 1919, he attended Notre Dame University where he learned to fly before joining the Army Air Corps. After flight school at Maxwell Field, Alabama, he was stationed at Wheeler Field, Hawaii, where he witnessed the Japanese attack on his base. Shortly thereafter, he was sent to England as a liaison officer with a Polish squadron of the Royal Air Force and was able to fly several combat missions in the Spitfire.
When American units began to organize for European operations, Gabreski transitioned to the P-47 Thunderbolt with the 56th Fighter Group–the Wolfpack–which would become the highest scoring American fighter group in Europe. His determination and aggressiveness became well known, and he became famous for withholding fire until he was sure of scoring a hit. Under his command, the 61st Fighter Squadron, known as the “Avengers,” became the first American unit to achieve 100 victories. On what was supposed to be his last mission before returning home, Gabreski had to crash-land behind enemy lines in July 1944.
He was captured after 5 days of evasion and interned in Stalag Luft I until the end of the war. By the time his winning streak came to an end, his personal tally stood at 31–a record unsurpassed by any American pilot in Europe. Following World War II, Gabreski served as a test pilot before being mustered out of the service. He then worked for Douglas Aircraft while waiting for a regular commission. Back in the service and assigned to Korea in the F-86 Sabre, he downed his first MiG-15 in July 1951 and then destroyed 5 1/2 more before ending his tour as commander of the 51st Fighter Wing. Prior to his retirement in 1967, Colonel Gabreski served in various command and staff positions. Later, he was elected to the Aviation Hall of Fame and became President of the Long Island Railroad.
Colonel Gabreski was first selected as an Eagle by Air Command and Staff College’s Gathering of Eagles in 1982 and subsequently honored in, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1991, and 1995 respectively. Colonel Gabreski passed away on January 31, 2002 at the age of 83 and was laid to rest at Calverton national Cemetery in New York.
Years Honored: 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1995
Aircraft/Specialty: North American F-100D Super Sabre, North American F-86 Sabre, North American F-86E Sabre, Republic P-47D Thunderbolt, Supermarine Spitfire
The painting shows Colonel Gabreski in an F-86E Sabre, shooting down one of the 6 1/2 MiG-15s he is credited with in Korea. His tactic of the "close kill," which several times resulted in damage to his own airplane, was emulated by many younger pilots who also went on to become aces.
Francis S. Gabreski, Hubert Zemke, and David Schilling, all aces in the 56th Fighter Group, were nicknamed "The Terrible Three" by the Germans. Flying his P-47D, as shown in the painting, Lieutenant Colonel Gabreski helped earn this nickname by leading his squadron on a bomber escort mission in November 1943. After singling out the lead Me-110 in a formation which was about to attack the bomber force, he closed in and opened fire with short, effective bunts from dead astern. The enemy aircraft started to break up and Gabreski had to quickly dive to avoid collision; the Me-110 skimmed the top of his canopy, crushed his right wing, and tore into his left wing. Nevertheless, he continued his escort duties and, later in the sortie, downed another German fighter. For his deeds during this mission, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
During World War II, "Gabby" Gabreski and two other 56th Fighter Group aces were respectfully dubbed "The Terrible Three" by their Luftwaffe opponents. Typical of the flying that earned him this reputation was a mission on 22 May 1944. Leading a bomber escort mission, Gabreski and his squadron dispersed a formation of German Fighters and then sighted another group of 20 Focke-Wulf 190s preparing to land at a nearby airfield. The Avengers dove to the attack, but they encountered heavy flak over the field. However, after one of the German pilots signaled his airfield with a green flare, the flak ceased and the air battle began. During the ensuing engagement, Major Gabreski claimed three confirmed kills and a probable while his squadron mates shot down another eight enemy aircraft.
In June 1950, the "Land of the Morning Calm" awakened to the sound of battle as North Korean tanks rumbled across the 38th Parallel. Soon, the arrival of Soviet-built MiG-15s flown by seasoned "volunteers" threatened to tip the balance in favor of the Communists. Colonel Gabreski returned to combat with the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing. Later, while flying the sleek F-86 Sabre as Commander of the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, he proved his aerial prowess by becoming history's eighth jet ace in April 1952. Flying in "MiG Alley," he downed a total of 6.5 enemy fighters to bring his overall aerial victories to 37.5.
By early 1944, America and its Allies focused their attention on plans for an invasion (code named OVERLORD) of northern Europe. Heavy resistance encountered during Eighth Air Force missions over Germany in the fall of 1943 made it clear that the key to the success of OVERLORD was the destruction of the Luftwaffe. The 56th Fighter Group was one of the premier units in getting the job done! The 56th had the most aces of any USAAF Fighter Group--47 who claimed 481 aircraft destroyed, and after 8 March 1944 could claim the highest scoring ace, "Bud" Mahurin, in the European Theater. On 5 June, Francis S. Gabreski scored his 28th aerial victory to become the leading Eighth Air Force ace--a position that he held for the rest of the war.
In June 1950, the "Land of the Morning Calm" awakened to the sound of battle as North Korean tanks rumbled across the 38th Parallel. Soon, the arrival of Soviet-built MiG-15s flown by seasoned "volunteers" threatened to tip the war balance in favor of the Communists. Colonel Gabreski returned to combat flying the sleek F-86 with the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing. Later, as the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing Commander, he again proved his aerial prowess by becoming America's eighth jet ace in April 1952. Flying in the now famous "MiG Alley," he shot down a total of 61 enemy fighters to bring his total aerial victories to 37 1/2.
In January 1943, Captain Gabreski had a German fighter lined up perfectly in his gunsights for what would have been his first aerial victory. Suddenly his section leader came under attack and "Gabby" immediately broke off his engagement, successfully driving off the attacker while disregarding an enemy fighter on the tail of his own Spitfire. For this and other unselfish acts of "courage and daring, and spirit of comradeship" Francis S. "Gabby" Gabreski was awarded the Polish Cross of Valor.
In the summer of 1956, Colonel "Gabby" Gabreski was assigned as Commander, 354th Tactical Fighter Wing, Myrtle Beach AFB, South Carolina. On 15 July 1958, his wing was tasked to deploy to Adana, Turkey, in support of the Tactical Air Command's new Composite Air Strike Force. Airborne less than 6 hours after being alerted, the 18 F-100s and supporting aerial tankers flew 12 hours and 6,470 miles. At the time, it was the longest non-stop flight of fighter aircraft in the history of the United States Air Force.