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Frank Arthur Willms

Military

Frank Willms attended Coffeyville Junior College. He enlisted in June 1942 in the Air Corps and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant at Brooks Field, Texas in October 1943. Sent overseas, he was first assigned to the 322nd Bomb Group/450th Bomb Squadron at Andrews Field (Great Saling), Essex, England. He was later assigned to the 344th Bomb Group/494th Bomb Squadron (9th Air Force) at Stansted Mountfitchet, Essex.

When he was promoted 1st Lieutenant in July 1944, he had already more than 40 missions to his credit over France, Holland and Belgium, as a B-26 Marauder Co-Pilot, then a Pilot, strafing Nazi railroad bridges, airfields and V-weapon installations.

Famous US War correspondent Ernie Pyle mentions him in his article from “A B-26 Base in England, May 25, 1944” which appeared in newspapers all over the United States. After writing about 323rd Bomb Group/456th Bomb Squadron B-26 radio operator/gunner Sgt Walter J. Hassinger Jr, from Hutchinson, Kansas, Pyle goes on with: “Still another Kansan. This one is Lieut. Frank Willms of Coffeyville. That’s the home town of Walter Johnson, the famous pitcher. Lieutenant Willms says he has never met Walter but knows the rest of the Johnson family. Lieutenant Willms isn’t in the group I’ve been visiting, although he is a B-26 pilot. The reason I’m mentioning him is his hair. I met him one night at a party in London. His hair stands so startlingly straight up that you are struck suddenly rigid when you see it and you can’t help but remark on it. And Lieutenant Willms’ reply to my obvious puzzlement was this: “On my first mission I was so scared it stood up like that, and I’ve never been able to get it to lie back down.””

All of Frank Willms’ military records were destroyed in the 1973 fire at the National Archives. Also, his footlocker and personal items that were sent stateside when he left Europe were lost, so he and his family never got those personal memorabilia from that part of his service. His wartime service has been partially reconstructed on the basis of some official documents he had saved, a few newspaper articles, mentions in the memoir written by Lt Carl H. Moore, who flew a few missions as a Navigator with him.

It is thus known that Frank Willms flew many missions on “Chicago Cyclone” (Serial 42-107611 - K9-F). During March 1944, he flew as Co-Pilot on Major Thomas F. Johnson’s crew, with Carl Moore as Navigator. Thomson’s B-26 was 42-107573 “Tom’s Tantalizer” (K9-H). At least 3 missions that he flew as Co-Pilot with Thomson are recorded : 20 March 1944 to the marshalling yards at Creil, North of Paris; 25 March to the Hirson marshalling yards in Northern France and 26 March to E-boat pens in France.

As a Pilot, he was commended as well as other members of his 494th Squadron by 344th BG Commander, Colonel Reginald F. C. Vance, for their actions on several missions. Franks Willms’ commendations were issued by Col. Vance for 4 missions Frank flew on as Pilot:

* 24 May 1944 to Achiet/Grévillers airfield, Pas-de-Calais, France
* 14 June 1944 to strike the German gun positions on the Cherbourg Peninsula, France, annihilating their firing capacities which were holding US troops in their conquest of the French port city
* 7 July 1944 to bomb a railroad bridge at Tours, France
* 19 July 1944, to bomb the railroad bridge at Les Ponts-de-Cé, south of Angers, Maine-et-Loire Department, France

On 23 July 1944, Frank Willms was flying on B-26C Serial 41-35755 and had to crash land it at the RAF base in Dyce, Aberdeen, Scotland. The aircraft was salvaged by engineers from the 42nd Air Service Group, declared condemned and was written off on 25 July.

After completing his tour, with 66 missions to his credit, Frank Willms returned to the United States in late 1944 and served as an instructor in Dodge City, Kansas and in Oklahoma, being assigned all the candidates that were going to washout. Piloting B-26C Serial 42-107472 on a training flight on 7 February 1945, he had to crash land his aircraft at Dodge Field, Kansas due to mechanical failure.

Service

People

  • Thomas Johnson

    Military | Lieutenant Colonel | Pilot | 344th Bomb Group
    Growing up at the Spring Farm in Tilly Foster, Putnam County, New York, Thomas Johnson attended Brewster High School and received a B. S. degree in 1941 at Cornell University, where he was a member of the Round Up Club and of the varsity R. O. T. C....

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Units served with

Aircraft

  • 42-107573 Tom's Tantalizer

    B-26 Marauder
    42-107573 was the regular Marauder assigned and flown by Thomas F. Johnson of 344th Bomb Group / 494th Bomb Squadron (of which he became Commanding Officer)

Associated Place

  • Stansted Mountfitchet

    Military site : airfield
    Today, Stansted is one of the busiest airports in Britain. During the Second World War, instead of airliners delivering passengers, Stansted Moutfitchet’s aircrews in their B-26 Marauders attacked Nazi targets, paving the way for D-Day and the...

Events

Event Location Date
Born Kansas, United States 24 May 1921

the son of carpenter Karl A. Willms and Laura W. Willms

Lived in Coffeyville, Montgomery County, Kansas, United States 1942
Enlisted Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States 26 February 1942

as a Private in the Air Corps

Died Fremont, Alameda County, California, United States 4 February 1983
Buried Maple Grove Cemetery, Dodge City, Kansas, United States

Revisions

Date Contributor Update
29 September 2015 15:07:39 ED-BB Created entry with surname, middlename, firstname, nickname, nationality, service number, highest rank, role, biography, events, unit associations, place associations, aircraft associations and media associations
Sources

WW II Enlistment records
Details sent by Frank Willms’ family
Carl H. Moore’s book “Flying the B-26 Marauder over Europe: Memoir of a World War II Navigator” (McFarland)

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