Frederick Bloetscher IV was born Oct. 22, 1922 in Detroit, MI. At 21 years old he was enrolled in the Engineering College at the University of Michigan, but left school during World War II to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Force, serving as a B-17 bomber ball-turret / tail gunner for the 452nd Bombardment Group of the 8th Air Force in the European Theater. He rose to the rank of Staff (a.k.a.: “Buck”) Sergeant, flew 25 missions, and was awarded the Purple Heart (given, in the name of the President, only to those wounded or killed in enemy action while serving), Air Medal (given for single acts of heroism or meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight), and other commendations.
Flew on daylight missions out an air base in England. The 452nd Bombardment Group (Heavy) flew B-17 Flying Fortresses on daylight missions from RAF Deopham Green, Norfolk, from January 1944 until VE-day (May 8, 1945). The air crews hit strategic sites in Germany but also supported the movement of ground forces across Europe after D-Day. On June 6, 1944 itself, the Group bombed German coastal defenses before the landings. The 452nd Group was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation for bombing a jet fighter base at Kaltenkirchen, northern Germany, on April 7, 1945 (an 8 hour, 1,000 mile round trip), while under intense pressure from approx. 45 enemy fighters (13 were destroyed, with 2 F.W. 190s ramming into B-17s) and anti-aircraft flak. They also played a role in the legendary raids of the ball-bearing industry at Schweinfurt, Germany where the B-17s flew well beyond the range of escorting fighters and suffered massive losses (on one raid, 206 B-17s crossed the coast of England and 118 didn’t make it back). The 452nd Bombardment Group flew a total of 250 missions (amazingly, Frederick was on 10% of those missions) from Deopham Green during the war, losing 110 of its bombers in the course of these operations. Indeed, the group suffered particularly heavy losses during the spring of 1944, at that time sustaining one of the highest rates of loss of any B-17 Flying Fortress equipped unit in the 8th Air Force. (See facebook page: “452nd Bomb Group at Deopham Green”.)
A tail-gunner had a life expectancy of only four missions and remarkably Frederick survived 25. In 1942, during the first three months of America’s combat flights over Europe, it came to be expected that the average bomber crew would complete 8-12 missions before being shot down or disabled. Considering the multiplicity of risks, a B-17 crewman flying over Nazi Germany had a 1 in 4 chance they would perish. It was considered statistically impossible for a B-17 crewman to survive 25 missions. Specifically, because fighters attacked the slow-moving bombers by approaching at the rear, a tail gunner (the initial target, a veritable “sitting-duck”) had a life expectancy of four missions -- that’s only two weeks! (considered by many military historians to be the toughest duty assignment in the U.S. Military Forces during WWII -- even worse odds of survival than an Army infantryman coming ashore at Normandy on D-day, a Marine fighting on Iwo Jima, or a Navy submariner). With this in mind, the Generals decided that 25 missions while serving in a heavy bomber of the 8th Army Air Force would constitute a “completed tour of duty” because of the “physical and mental strain on the crew.” It stands to reason that any tail gunner who flew 25 missions had to be an “Ace” (five or more confirmed aerial victories), but few tail gunners ever laid claim to that honor because mere survival was first and foremost on their mind. Frederick had superb skills with a gun, developing amazing marksmanship while spending long summers in the forests of Northern Michigan where his family had a rustic cabin (hand water pump, wood stove, outhouse, ice box, etc.).
Frederick enjoyed a long, prosperous life. He and his younger brother Douglas made it home from WWII but unfortunately his life-long best friend Lt. Arnold M. Bridges, a P-38 fighter pilot, did not. Frederick returned to the University of Michigan, graduated with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering, and was employed by NACA (predecessor to NASA). He was married for 52 years to Virginia (Chase) Bloetscher and they had 3 children: Frederick V, Barbara, and Thomas.
Frederick IV passed away peacefully at his home in Tamarac, FL on June 6, 2011 (D-day) at the age of 88. The family scattered his ashes on his wooded property in Northern Michigan. R.I.P.