Last Known Activity
Douglas N. Franke was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on February 1, 1923. He grew up in the area known as Coon Rapids, Minnesota. He was an Eagle Scout, and lettered in 4 sports in high school. He played football, basketball, baseball, and ran track. He also played trumpet in the school band. Franke graduated in 1941 as co-valedictorian.
He enrolled in the University of Minnesota, but dropped out after Pearl Harbor and joined the U.S. Army Air Corps Reserve.
Called to active duty in June, 1942, he was assigned to the Navigator Training School at San Marcos, Texas. On September 16, 1943, he was commisioned a 2nd Lieutenant and awarded Navigator wings. He underwent further training at Blythville AAFB, Arkansas; Davis-Monathon AAFB, Arizona; and in Northern Ireland.
Franke was assigned to the 579th Bomb Squadron of the 392nd Bomb Group at Wendling Air Station, England. He became a part of the crew of 2Lt Bert Wyatt. He arrived from Ireland on April 11, 1944, and flew his first mission on April 20. He then flew 7 additional missions in the next 9 days. This hectic pace was caused by preparations for D-Day.
On April 29, 1944, the 8th Air Force put up 751 bombers in a raid on Berlin, to knock out the intricate system of railway lines and yards within the city. The Germans engaged in an intensive defensive effort. The Luftwaffe managed to get some 350 fighters in the air, with many making double sorties. With the confusion caused by loss of Pathfinder aircraft, heavy flak, and the non-appearance of friendly fighters, the 392nd Group suffered terribly. Of the 18 aircraft launched, 9 were lost over the target, and 2 more were lost on the return trip.
Wyatt's crew supposedly bombed the primary, but the aircraft was lost to sight just before the bomb run, and no one saw what happened. It is supposed they bombed and made the turn off target. It is known that with high winds, excess fuel consumption, and the subsequent loss of speed, the friendly fighters never made the hook-up, and the bomber stream was subjected to constant attack from target to the Dutch coast.
At approximately 1300 hours, the towns people of Dinklage, Germany heard the sound of anti-aircraft guns and the slow, popping sounds of a German fighter's 20-mm cannon. A B-24, with both starboard engines not working, and heavy smoke pouring from the fuselage front, appeared from the clouds and crashed near the town. One airman, supposedly the tail gunner, was observed to leap from the aircraft without a parachute before impact . One airman was found dead, hanging in his partially-opened chute from a tree. This man was identified as Lt. Franke.
All 10 airmen were retrieved from the wreckage and taken to the village of Vechta. There, they were placed in individual coffins and buried in individual graves in the Waldfreidhof or Forest Cemetery. After the war, Graves Registration exhumed the bodies and re-buried them in the American Military Cemetery at Nuepre, Belgium. Later, 5 of the bodies, including Lt. Franke, were removed and returned to families for reburial in the U.S. The 5 others remained at Nuepre.
The Germans of Dinklage built a memorial to the 10 men who died in the crash, and each year, hold a remembrance ceremony.
The aircraft in which Lt. Franke met his death was B-24H #42-7510, nicknamed "El Lobo." The entire crew, all of which perished that day, were;
2Lt Bert W. Wyatt c
2Lt Aubert M. Tufts c-p
2Lt Walker W. Gichen bomb
2Lt Douglas N. Franke nav
SSgt David E. Harbaugh btg
SSgt Jack Gootz eng
SSgt Robert W. Monroe ro
Sgt Robert E. Thompson lwg
Sgt John F. Sorrells rwg
Sgt Alfred E. Archambeau tg
Missing Air Crew Report 4461 applies.
According to German reports, soldiers returned to the wreckage a few days later, and detonated the bombs that remained in the aircraft. A document of Luftgankommando XI shows the aircraft crashed at 1345 hours, credited to both a flak battery and a German fighter. The aircraft is described as "99% destroyed."
2Lt Douglas N. Franke had been assigned to the unit for 18 days, and was on his 10th mission, when he was killed.