Piper L-4H Grasshopper
Piper L-4H Grasshopper 54 – J 43-329905 “MISS ME!?”
71st Armored Field Artillery Battalion
Lieutenant Duane Francies & Lieutenant William Martin
April 11th 1945.
The Piper L-4H Grasshopper was derived from the popular PiperJ-3 Cub which had been the basic trainer for the Civilian Pilot Training Program, with 75% of new pilots in the CPTP training on the type; by the end of the war 80% of all US military pilots had received their primary training on Cubs. In 1940 over 3,000 Cubs were built; by the end of the conflict the production rate enabled one to be built every twenty minutes.. For the basic U S Army L-4, Bill Piper Jr is reported as saying “All we had to do was to paint the Cub olive drab”. Variously designated, according to year and service, as the O-59, L4 and NE 5,413 were built including 250 of the NE version for the US Navy. These, like several other types of similar size and configuration, were referred to collectively as “Grasshoppers”, used like the L-4 for reconnaissance, artillery spotting duties, medical evacuation – in the Cub one patient could be carried on a litter secured lengthways behind the pilot – and transporting supplies. There were even L-4s which, equipped with bazookas, took part in impromptu anti-tank attacks in Northern France.
The valuable role played by the U.S. Army spotter aircraft is often overlooked, but one significant sortie will forever be remembered in history.
On April 11th 1945 Lieutenant Duane Francies and his observer, Lieutenant William Martin, took part in Francies’ 142nd mission and one of the most unusual aerial actions of the war. The 71st Battalion was now the closest American force to Berlin, only 48 miles away. The two Lieutenants were flying a Piper L-4H which Francies had named “MISS ME!?”. “I named my plane “MISS ME!?” because I wanted the Germans to do that, the reason for the exclamation point,” Francies explained. “But I also wanted someone back home to ‘miss me,’ so there was the question mark.”. Their observation mission took them 100 miles west of Berlin. Francies noticed a German motorcycle with sidecar, speeding along a road near some of the U.S. Army 5th Armored Division tanks. When he and Martin closed in on the motorcycle, they also noticed a German Fieseler Fi-156 Storch artillery spotting plane about 700 feet above the trees.
Francies later wrote: “The German Storch, with an inverted 8 Argus engine, also a fabric job and faster and larger than the ‘Miss Me!?’, spotted us and we radioed, ‘We are about to give combat.’ But we had the advantage of altitude and dove, blasting away with our Colt .45s, trying to force the German plane into the fire of waiting tanks of the 5th. Instead, the German began circling.” Firing out the side door with their Colts, the two Lieutenants emptied their guns into the enemy’s windshield, fuel tanks and right wing. Francies had to hold the stick between his knees while reloading. He later recalled, “The two planes were so close I could see the Germans’ eyeballs, as big as eggs, as we peppered them.”
After the Storch pilot made a low turn, the plane’s right wing hit the ground, and the plane cartwheeled and came to rest in a pasture. Setting down nearby, the Americans ran to the downed plane. The German pilot dived behind a huge pile of sugar beets to hide from them, but the observer, who had been hit in the foot, fell to the ground. When Francies removed the observer’s boot, a .45 slug fell out. Then Martin fired warning shots that brought the pilot to his feet, hands raised. Francies confiscated the pilot’s wings and Luftwaffe shoulder insignia, as well as a Nazi battle flag. “I never found out their names,” Francies later recalled. “They could have been important, for all I know. We turned them over to our tankers about 15 minutes later after the injured man thanked me many times for bandaging his foot. I think they thought we would shoot them.”
This sortie is not only remarkable for the fact the two Lieutenants shot down a Fieseler Storch with their pistols but that the Storch was the last German aircraft to be shot down by an Allied aircraft in the European theatre in World War II.
The Piper L-4H Grasshopper is also available in individual markings in our ‘Light Aircraft’ section.
Scale 1:48 Wingspan 8.82″ (224 mm)
Base size 9.33″ (237 mm) square (No. 6)
Weight not including base 12.25 ozs (347 grams) Limited edition of 25 only
Price £149.00 plus delivery Figures optional at £15 each.