During the war Frank DeSales Murphy was a member of the US Army Air Forces and graduated from the navigation school at Turner Field on July 4, 1942. He completed a short training course at the Army Air Forces Combat Crew School in Sebring, Florida, before being assigned as a B-17 navigator on Crew #31 of the newly formed 100th Bomb Group, which was part of the 2nd Air Force Training Command. Frank and his crew were sent to England in June 1943 to become part of the United States Army Eighth Air Force, where they flew twenty-one daylight combat missions from their base at Thorpe Abbotts, Norfolk.
Challenges in the air
The Eighth Air Force was facing significant challenges in its air offensive against Germany in 1943. Despite its initial success in launching a strong air campaign, the German air defenses had proven to be formidable opponents, making it increasingly difficult for American bombers to reach their targets and return safely.
By October 1943, the losses suffered by American bombers that were unescorted by friendly fighter aircraft had become a cause for concern. The Eighth Air Force was losing planes and experienced crew members at an alarming rate, jeopardizing its ability to continue its air offensive against Germany.
The situation was particularly dire because the Eighth Air Force was the largest overseas command of the United States Army Air Forces. Its defeat or significant setback in the European air offensive would have been a major blow to the Allied war effort.
Mission 21, Münster, Germany
The Battle over Munster was a pivotal moment in the war, and it played a significant role in the eventual Allied victory. By targeting the railroad marshalling yards, the Allies were able to disrupt the flow of supplies and reinforcements to the German front lines, weakening their position and ultimately helping to turn the tide of the war.
During this hazzardous mission near Münster, on October 10th 1943, Frank (on his twenty first mission) was aboard the B-17 Flying Fortress "AW-R-Go" (#42-30725) when the plane was shot down.
Crew members B-17 Flying Fortress "AW-R-Go"
- Captain Charles B.Cruikshank, Pilot, POW
- 1st Leutenant, Glenn E.Graham, Copilot, POW
- Captain Frank D.Murphy, Navigator, POW
- 1st Leutenant, August H.Gaspar, Bombardier, POW
- T/Sergeant Orlando E. Vincenti, Radio operator, KIA
- T/Sergeant Leonard R.Weeks, Top Turret, POW
- S/Sergeant Robert L.Bixler, Ball Turret, POW
- S/Sergeant James M.Johnson, Waist gunner, POW
- S/Sergeant Donald B.Garrison, Waist gunner, POW
- Sergeant Charles A.Clark, Tail gunner, KIA
Captain Frank D. Murphy (22) was taken prisoner of war for the remainder of the war, which lasted for another nineteen months. He was first sent to Stalag Luft III in Sagan, a prisoner of war camp for captured airmen. In January 1945, as the Russian Army advanced on the camp, the prisoners were moved to Stalag VIIA in Moosburg, which was a work camp for Allied prisoners of war.
After enduring a grueling march in sub-zero temperatures, with little rest or food, many soldiers did not survive the journey. Frank even traded his shoes with a fellow soldier to survive. They were then crammed into boxcars for two days and three nights with no access to sunlight or fresh air.
Upon arrival in Moosburg, where he was assigned to Work Camp 3324-46 Krumbachstrasse and later to Work Camp 3368 in Munich, the conditions were horrific. Frank referred to it as a "living hellhole of all hellholes." However, on April 29th, 1945, General George S. Patton's American Third Army liberated over 100.000 POWs, including Frank. He had lost over 50 pounds, weighing only 122 pounds at the time of liberation.
During his time in service, Frank earned among others, the Air Medal, The Purple Heart, The US Prisoner of War Medal and the European Campaign Ribbon.
On May 7, Nazi Germany would unconditionally surrender to the Allies and the following day, Victory in Europe or VE Day was celebrated worldwide. The reign of Hitler’s Third Reich was over. My grandfather made his way to Camp Lucky Strike in LeHavre, France a rehabilitation center for American POWs, where he learned, unsurprisingly, that he had pneumonia. He said he was treated with a new miracle drug, penicillin.
My grandfather traveled to Camp Lucky Strike in LeHavre, France, a rehabilitation hospital for American POWs, where he discovered he had pneumonia. He claimed to have been treated with penicillin, a new miraculous medication.
A few days later, he boarded the "Argentina," a big troop ship bound for America. It would take him 12 days to get to Boston, and then another several days to get back to his family in Atlanta.
He would finally finish his studies at Emory University, marry my beloved and opinionated grandma, have four children, and attend night law school. Later in life, as a vice president for Lockheed Martin Corp., he returned to his love of airplanes.
Frank’s story will also be featured in the upcoming Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks Apple TV+ series, Masters of the Air. The book comes with a foreword written by granddaughter Chloe Melas (CNN) and daughter Elizabeth Murphy who holds a Masters of English Literature from Northern Arizona University and is the author of numerous children's books.