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Francis Gabreski file photo [30925]

Francis Gabreski

Given NameFrancis
Born28 Jan 1919
Died31 Jan 2002
CountryUnited States


ww2dbaseFrancis Stanley "Gabby" Gabreski (Franciszek Stanislaw Gabrzyszewski) was one of the most successful fighter pilots in American military history. He was one of the few pilots to achieve the status of "ace" (five enemy aircraft shot down) in both propeller and jet aircraft. At the time of his death in 2002, he was America's top living fighter ace with a total of 37 and half kills to his credit.

ww2dbaseGabreski was born to Polish immigrant parents in Oil City, Pennsylvania, United States. He attended Assumption Parish and school in Oil City, where his father owned and operated a small grocery store. Despite the family's limited means, his parents encouraged both Francis and his older brother, Ted, to pursue higher education. Gabreski attended University of Notre Dame in Indiana, United States from the fall of 1938 to the spring of 1940 when he volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Corps.

ww2dbasePrior to joining the Army, Gabreski had developed an interest in flying and had taken a few hours of private lessons. Nevertheless, his early flight training proved difficult and he nearly washed out of pilot training. After passing his basic flight training Gabreski went on to graduate from flight school as a lieutenant in March 1941 and was assigned to the 45th Fighter Squadron in the Territory of Hawaii. While in Hawaii, he met his future wife, Kay Cochran, the daughter of an army officer.

ww2dbaseFollowing the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Gabreski asked to be transferred to a Polish squadron of the RAF in order to gain experience that could help American flyers. He later wrote:

I felt strongly about what the Nazis had done to Poland. I had read about the Battle of Britain, and especially about the great job done by the Polish flyers of 303 Squadron. By now they were seasoned veterans with a lot of experience that would be useful to the American fighter pilots.

ww2dbaseIn December 1942, Gabreski (now promoted to captain), joined RAF 315 Deblin which flew the Spitfire Mark IX. He completed about 30 combat mission with the Polish squadron, gaining valuable skills and experience.

ww2dbaseIn February 1943, he returned to American service with the 61st Squadron, 56th Fighter Group (FG), flying the powerful P-47D Republic Thunderbolt. By June, he had been promoted to squadron commander. His unit was assigned to escort American daylight bombing raids and later to conduct ground attack operations against Nazi forces. His first aerial victory came on August 24 over Dreux, France, when he shot down a German Focke-Wulf Fw 190 aircraft. From then on, Gabreski racked up kills on a regular basis. On May 22, 1944, he shot down three Fw 190 aircraft over Germany. Along with his personal combat skills, Gabreski was a successful leader, both in the air and on the ground and played an important role in the growth of the 56th FG's reputation as one of the best U.S. fighter commands. By July 1944, Gabreski had become the top-scoring U.S. ace in the European theater with 28 kills, surpassing Eddie Rickenbacker's World War I record. In mid-July Gabreski was retired from combat command and ordered home but insisted on flying one last mission on July 20. During an attack on a German airfield his plane was damaged and downed. Gabreski was captured and spent the rest of the war as a German prisoner.

ww2dbaseAfter the war, he married his fiancée and following a brief stint in the private sector, rejoined the U.S. Air Force at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Columbia University in New York, United States in 1949. In 1951, he returned to combat duty during the Korean War as commander of the 51th Fighter Interceptor Wing, flying the F-86 Sabre fighter. He scored his fighter jet victory on July 8, 1951, shooting down a North Korean MiG-15 fighter. On at least one occasion, Gabreski is believed to have shot down a Chinese MiG in Chinese air space. On April 1, 1952, he shot down his fifth MiG to become a jet ace.

ww2dbaseAfter his service in Korea, Gabreski held a variety of command positions in the U.S. Air Force, including Inspector General of U.S. Air Force in the Pacific. He retired from military service in 1967 with the rank of Colonel and took a job with Grumman Aircraft in New York. In July 1978, he was inducted in the Aviation Hall of Fame. Later that year, he was tapped to head up the troubled Long Island Railroad, a position he held for two years. He retired from Grumman in 1987. During his military career, Gabreski received numerous awards, including: the Silver Star with oak leaf cluster, the Distinguished Flying Cross with 12 oak leaf clusters, the Bronze Star, Poland's Cross of Valor, Britain's Distinguished Flying Cross, France's Croix de Guerre and Légion d'honneur, and Belgium's Croix de Guerre.

ww2dbaseTwo of Gabreski's sons also joined the Air Force, and his daughter-in-law, Terry Gabreski, was the highest-ranking female Air Force officer as of 2007 prior to her retirement. Before his death in 2002 in Long Island, New York, Gabreski summed up his career as follows: "When I think about what has driven me through the years, it comes down to three things: duty, faith, and responsibility." His remains are buried at the Calverton National Cemetery in Riverhead, New York.

Gabreski, Stanley. Gabby: A Fighter Pilot's Life. New York: Dell, 1992.
Sims, Edward H. American Aces in Great Fighter Battles of World War II. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958.
Polish American Encyclopedia.

Last Major Revision: Mar 2021

Francis Gabreski Interactive Map


Gen. Władysław Sikorski decorating Polish-American pilot Francis Gabreski, Britain, 1940sGeneral Władysław Sikorski (center) with Francis Gabreski (next to Sikorski) and other decorated pilots, Britain, 1940s
See all 11 photographs of Francis Gabreski

Francis Gabreski Timeline

28 Jan 1919 Francis Gabreski was born in Oil City, Pennsylvania, United States.
3 Feb 1943 Francis Gabreski, in a Supermarine Spitfire Mark IX fighter, was attacked by German Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters over the English Channel.
27 Feb 1943 Francis Gabreski was assigned to 61st Fighter Squadron of USAAF 56th Fighter Group, flying the P-47 Thunderbolt aircraft.
9 Jun 1943 Francis Gabreski took command of the 61st Fighter Squadron of USAAF 56th Fighter Group. This stirred ill feelings toward him as there were two other pilots who were more senior than him.
24 Aug 1943 Francis Gabreski scored his first aerial victory over Dreux, France, shooting down a German Fw 190 aircraft.
26 Nov 1943 Francis Gabreski scored his fourth and fifth victories while covering the withdrawal of B-17 bombers that had bombed Bremen, Germany.
11 Dec 1943 Francis Gabreski's aircraft engine was pierced by a 20-millimeter cannon shell from a German Bf 109 fighter. The shell failed to exploded, but destroyed the turbocharger nevertheless. The Bf 109 fighter pressed on, scoring another hit and temporarily stopped the engine. Gabreski was able to restart the engine by diving to low altitude, and then successfully making his escape.
19 Jan 1944 Colonel Hubert Zemke took command of 61st Fighter Squadron of USAAF 56th Fighter Group, relieving Francis Gabreski.
22 May 1944 Lieutenant Colonel Francis Gabreski of US 56th Fighter Group shot down three German Focke-Wulf Fw 190 aircraft in one day over northwestern Germany.
5 Jul 1944 Lieutenant Colonel Francis Gabreski of US 56th Fighter Group became the top scoring USAAF ace in Europe with 28 victories, matching the score of Richard Bong flying in the Pacific Theater of Operations.
20 Jul 1944 Francis Gabreski completed a bomber escort mission to Russelheim, Germany. On the return trip, he observed He 111 aircraft on an airfield at Niedermendig, Germany and decided to strafe them. His first pass failed to achieve the results he wanted, and dove for a second pass. During the second pass, he flew far too low, causing his propellers to hit the ground, thus forcing him to crash land. He ran into nearby woods and eluded immediate capture.
25 Jul 1944 Francis Gabreski was captured by Obergefreiter Hanns Scharff near Niedermendig, Germany.
11 Jun 1945 Francis Gabreski married Kay Cochran in the United States.
11 Mar 1950 Francis Gabreski was promoted to the rank of colonel.
8 Jul 1951 Francis Gabreski, flying an F-86 fighter, scored his first aerial victory in a jet fighter in Korea, shooting down a North Korean MiG-15 fighter.
2 Sep 1951 Francis Gabreski scored his second aerial victory in a jet fighter in Korea, shooting down a MiG fighter.
2 Oct 1951 Francis Gabreski scored his second aerial victory in a jet fighter in Korea, shooting down a MiG fighter.
20 Feb 1952 Francis Gabreski damaged a MiG-15 fighter over Korea. As the MiG fighter flew across the Yalu River into China, Gabreski broke off the engagement as his own fighter had been damaged as well. After returning to base, Gabreski claimed a probably kill on this particular MiG. His comrade William Whisner witnessed Gabreski breaking off, and decided to chase after the MiG to complete the kill. After returning to base, Whisner reported the kill as Gabreski's. Gabreski would eventually change Whisner's report so that Whisner would become the 51st Fighter Wing's first pilot to reach ace status rather than himself.
1 Apr 1952 Francis Gabreski scored his fifth aerial victory in a jet fighter in Korea, shooting down a Chinese MiG fighter.
1 Nov 1967 Francis Gabreski retired from the United States Air Force.
6 Aug 1993 Francis Gabreski's wife, Kay, passed away as the result of an automobile accident in Wisconsin, United States.
31 Jan 2002 Francis Gabreski passed away from a heart attack at the Huntington Hospital in Huntington, New York, United States.
6 Feb 2002 Francis Gabreski's funeral was held with full military honors.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Commenter identity confirmed Alan Chanter says:
3 Mar 2021 01:43:01 AM

As mentioned in this fine article, on 22 May 1944, Colonel Zemke’s 56th Fighter Group escorted bombers to Kiel. The Group split up for the return journey with instructions to engage any targets of opportunity that might be encountered. When around 20 miles east of the city Gabreski’s 63 FS spotted a couple of locomotives. Gabreski ordered Evan McMinn’s Yellow flight down to shoot them up, while the remaining twelve Thunderbolts circled at 15,000 feet to provide cover. They had barely begun circling when Gabreski spotted a not very well concealed airbase with some Focke-Wulf Fw190 fighters taking off. Gabreski led his squadron down to engage the enemy, and in the ensuing dogfight they accounted for thirteen confirmed kills, one probable and two damaged for the loss of two of their own. Gabreski, alone being credited with three kills and the probable.
2. Commenter identity confirmed Alan Chanter says:
17 Dec 2021 12:39:47 AM

From twenty-two year-old Lieutenant in 1941 to Lieutenant-Colonel with his own squadron, barely a little more than two years later, must surely hold the record for rapid promotion.

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Francis Gabreski Photo Gallery
Gen. Władysław Sikorski decorating Polish-American pilot Francis Gabreski, Britain, 1940sGeneral Władysław Sikorski (center) with Francis Gabreski (next to Sikorski) and other decorated pilots, Britain, 1940s
See all 11 photographs of Francis Gabreski

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