Skip to comments.Amazing tale of a desperate WWII pilotís encounter with a German flying ace
Posted on 12/09/2012 5:23:56 AM PST by lowbridge
On Dec. 20, 1943, a young American bomber pilot named Charlie Brown found himself somewhere over Germany, struggling to keep his plane aloft with just one of its four engines still working. They were returning from their first mission as a unit, the successful bombing of a German munitions factory. Of his crew members, one was dead and six wounded, and 2nd Lt. Brown was alone in his cockpit, the three unharmed men tending to the others. Browns B-17 had been attacked by 15 German planes and left for dead, and Brown himself had been knocked out in the assault, regaining consciousness in just enough time to pull the plane out of a near-fatal nose dive.
None of that was as shocking as the German pilot now suddenly to his right.
Brown thought he was hallucinating. He did that thing you see people do in movies: He closed his eyes and shook his head no. He looked, again, out the co-pilots window. Again, the lone German was still there, and now it was worse. Hed flown over to Browns left and was frantic: pointing, mouthing things that Brown couldnt begin to comprehend, making these wild gestures, exaggerating his expressions like a cartoon character.
Brown, already in shock, was freshly shot through with fear. What was this guy up to?
He craned his neck and yelled back for his top gunner, screamed at him to get up in his turret and shoot this guy out of the sky. Before Browns gunner could squeeze off his first round, the German did something even weirder: He looked Brown in the eye and gave him a salute. Then he peeled away.
What just happened?
(Excerpt) Read more at nypost.com ...
Should have said UNchivalrous ...
I want to share that story with everyone I see today. Thanks for posting.
First. Last. Always.
Without honor, there is nothing else.
Something this country seems to be losing.
Both men knew the definition of “is.”
A minor correction - a B-17 couldn't generally fly on one engine, except when very light and in "ground effect" (closer to the ground than the span of the wings).
There is a story of one B-17 that lost three engines, the pilot was ditching the aircraft, and it bounced back into the air. Pilot figured "WTF? At least we're getting closer to England." A bit later, still couldn't keep it in the air, so he went to ditch again. Bounced again. Meanwhile, the aircraft was getting lighter due to the fuel burned by one good engine so they were getting a little farther with each bounce, and eventually made it back to England.
A pleasant account for a Sunday morning ... thanx for the post
Looks like a photo of the amazing event described.....but how could that be? That, or one heck of a photorealistic painting.
My wife used to complain when I watched old war movies. She said “they glorify war.” I told her they are an example of the human spirit overcoming incredible odds.
One of my uncles served in WWII against the Japanese on Okinawa. To this day he has never spoke of what he saw. I’ve read a lot about how the Japs were and I don’t doubt he saw some terrible stuff. But he survived and prospered. He currently lives in Kansas but his health has been failing.
those are both paintings. But there are pics out there of what the plane looked like when it got back to England.
Most of my uncles and father also served during WW2. We were so proud to be related to them. They too never talked much about their experieces, but to a man they said they'd do it again if they were called.
These were men!
One of the 56th's worst setbacks occurred on June 26, 1943, when 48 P-47Cs left a forward operating base at RAF Manston late in the afternoon to provide escort for B-17 Flying Fortress bombers returning from a mission against Villacoublay airfield in the Paris suburbs. As the P-47s approached the rendezvous point near Forges-les-Eaux, they were jumped from above and behind by 16 Focke-Wulf Fw 190s of II Gruppe, JG 26. The first pass scattered the Thunderbolts, and Johnson's aircraft, flying at the rear of the 61st Squadron's formation, was seriously damaged by a 20 mm shell that exploded in his cockpit and ruptured his hydraulic system. Burned and partially blinded by hydraulic fluid, Johnson tried to bail out, but could not open his shattered canopy. After pulling out of an uncontrolled spin and with the fire amazingly going out on its own, Johnson headed for the English Channel, but was intercepted by a single Fw 190. Unable to fight back, he maneuvered while under a series of attacks, and although sustaining further heavy damage from both 7.92mm and 20mm rounds, managed to survive until the German ran out of ammunition, who, after saluting him by rocking his wings, turned back. His opponent has never been identified, but Johnson could have been one of three victories claimed that day by the commander of III/JG 2, Oberst Egon Mayer. [N 1]After landing, Johnson tried to count the bullet holes in his airplane, but when he passed 200, including 21, 20 mm cannon shell impacts, without even moving around the aircraft, he gave up. While Johnson made it back to crash land at Manston, four other pilots of the 56th FG were killed in action. A fifth, able to extend only one of his plane's landing gear struts, had to bail out over the English Channel and was rescued north of Yarmouth. Five other Thunderbolts suffered battle damage. Johnson suffered shrapnel wounds and minor burns to his face, hands, and legs, and was awarded the Purple Heart. He resumed flying missions on July 1.
What I remember from reading his book, is that he had run out of options, he couldn't fight back, he couldn't bail out, and his only option was to get his seat as low as possible behind the armor plating and hope it didn't get hit by a 20 mm shell,
Isn't Snoopy supposed to be the one who has encounters with the Red Baron?
This story made my morning. Thanks for posting it.
I would have shot him down. How many Germans did the pilot kill on subsequent missions?
Wow...what a story....
Thanks for posting it...
JG 27 ACE FRANZ STIGLER: Franz Stigler started flying gliders at age 12 and soloed in a bi-plane in 1933. He joined Lufthansa, becoming an Airline Captain, before joining the Luftwaffe in 1940. There, he became an instructor pilot, with one of his students being Gerhard Barkhorn, who would later become the second highest scoring Ace in history with over 300 victories. Franz transferred to Bf 109 fighter aircraft upon learning of the loss of his brother August, who died piloting a bomber shot down over the English Channel. Franz flew combat in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and Western Europe. He served as a Squadron Commander of three squadrons (Numbers 6, 8, and 12, of JG 27) and twice a Wing Commander, all flying Bf 109 fighters. Franz formed EJG-1, possibly the first ever pre-jet training squadron before being hand picked as the Technical Officer of Gen. Adolph Gallands elite JV 44, Squadron of Experts, flying the Me-262 jet. Franz was credited with 28 confirmed victories and over thirty probables. He flew 487 combat missions, was wounded four times, and was shot down seventeen times, four by enemy fighters, four by ground fire, and nine times by gunners on American bombers. He bailed out six times and rode his damaged aircraft down eleven times. He emigrated to Canada in 1953 and became a successful businessman. In addition to his many Luftwaffe decorations, Franz was presented with the Order of the Star of Peace by the Federation of Combattant Allies En Europe for his act of compassion on December 20, 1943. He is believed to be the only Luftwaffe pilot to be so recognized. Franz was also made an honorary member of the 379th Bomb Group Association. Our friend, Franz, died in 2008 at the age of 93.
bump for later
There is (or was around 1998) a big oil painting depicting this story in the Air Force officer’s club at the Charleston SC AFB. I was there for a friend’s retirement ceremony. So was a crusty old P-51 Mustang pilot that I knew from the Navy base marina. I pointed out the picture, he studied it, and said it had to be BS. (Yes, I know, it really happened, this was just the Mustang pilot’s take on it.)
He said, the German had to be out of ammo or his guns were jammed. You didn’t let air crews escape to come back at you another day. Trained air crews (even just the pilot) were more valuable than the airplanes they flew.
This set the old fighter pilot off onto a story. He said when he arrived in Europe in late 1944, he was assigned to be the wingman to an ace. My old friend said that he was not an ace himself, but that he was a “parachute ace.”
What the hell is that, I asked?
When his lead plane shot down a German, and the German bailed out over German territory, he executed a standard maneuver to circle back and machine gun the German pilot under his parachte. Hence, “parachute ace,” not a ticket to glory in the history books, but harsh reality.
The old pilot said that it was paradoxically MORE dangerous to parachute over your own territory. Your enemies knew that if you made it to the ground safe and sound, you would be in a new fighter plane tomorrow. If you were a German parachuting over England, or a Brit or Yank parachuting over Germany, you would wind up in a POW camp, out of the war. No point to shoot that guy. But a German pilot parachuting down to German territory?
Kill him. It was war. A trained German fighter pilot would kill more Americans or Brits tomorrow if you let him live.
“Parachute ace.” That was a new one to me.
Also, I met a German on a sailboat in Hilo Hawaii. He was in a refugee column at the end of WW2, mostly schoos-age children being evacuated west along a road near the Baltic. He said that American P-51 flew up and down the road strafing them until they were out of ammo, back and forth. He remembered it vividly, and said the planes were low enough to see the pilot’s faces as they rolled and looped around.
He told me this story only to make the point that not only Germans did war crimes in WW2. He said the refugee column was nothing but civilians, moslty kids and teachers, no military, and the Mustangs strafed and strafed them again and again, up and down the road. This made an extremely vivid memory for the 13 year old German refugee boy. I heard him tell the story in detail, and I have zero doubt about his truthfulness.
I heard this strafing story a few years after the Mustang pilot told me how he had become a “parachute ace” killing German pilots under silk.
War is hell. There are damned few salutes made by enemies, and many more atrocities of varying types and degrees.
But there are no fancy oil paintings in officer’s clubs showing a “parachute ace” in action.
See my above, please.
What an AMAZING story.
Thanks for posting
That's the whole moral of this story.
Can’t comment on the refugee-column story, but the parachute-ace story sort of makes a certain grisly sense.
Recall the Hell In The Sky that was the air war over Europe - on an especially bad day (Second Schweinfurt, for example) we could lose a quarter of the attacking force on a single mission to fighters and anti-aircraft fire. Every mission was an absolute battle-to-the-death, with no foxholes.
Given those circumstances, an American fighter pilot had to be well aware that the German fighter pilot he allows to descend unmolested in his parachute today may very well kill him, or an entire bomber crew, tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that... The Reich was an enemy that had to be not just defeated, but absolutely destroyed.
Curiously, my first flight instructor had been an ME-110 pilot during The War. Shot down four Lancasters and three other aircraft whose type escapes me.
Wow,Just read it.Thanks Northern Yankee
Interesting story, but I am not sure why you posted it. Are you saying it was weakness to show mercy? Or to point out to people that the killing of defenseless people occurred on both sides in order to draw some kind of moral equivalence?
This story posted by lowbridge is not about US destroyers machine-gunning japanese sailors whose ships were sunk off of Guadalcanal, nor about soldiers whose prisoners he was tasked with guarding never made it to a drop-off point
The story was posted to show that even in the most brutal conflict in the history of man, the mask of necessary brutality occasionally came off to show the human face behind.
If someone can find it in themselves, under those conditions, to do that, then I admire them for it. I don’t know if I could do it in their position. I would like to think I could. Furthermore, most people who pay attention to this subject realize that, unless they have served in combat, it is best to leave judgements about what happens in combat to those who have, and even then.
This post isn’t meant as an attack on you, but I didn’t see why you posted what you did,
When I first went into Uncle Surgars Wind Force my first Wing Commander , then a Colonel at Kincheloe AFB , told of his days as an enlisted man in WWII as a Waist Gunner in a B17. said he and other gunners put more holes in other B17’s than German Pilots did..... flying in tight formations , trying to lead and shoot down enemy fighters etc ... said it was tough and did happen more often than not.
I took a short ride in a B17 about 12 years ago ...it has since crashed and allegedly it’s up and running again.
During that short ride around the Texas Panhandle I tried to imagine the cold those crews experienced just to and from. Add to the basic lack of comfort for long hours of flight the fight for survival against fast and deadly enemy fighters.....
Deepest respects for those crews that pounded the hell out of the enemy 24/7 for all those years.
Stay safe Travis !
Ain’t that the truth?
That was the way his squadron fought the war, that month, in that place. He was just a replacement FNG, just abiding squadron SOPs, doing what was expected, being a parachute ace.
And while the subject of chivalry (or not) and WW2 fighters was was on my mind, the story of the German refugee column popped into my head, no doubt because I also heard that other P-51 story first hand from an actual, living, WW2 refugee/survivor.
So the story is seen from multiple POVs: ground strafing survivior, American parachute ace, German fighter pilot saluting, and a crippled bomber getting home. All of these actual events happened in a couple of months, in a few hundred miles, among a group of men in roughly similar aircraft, a group of men separated by birth and language, but in person, almost indistinguishable from one another.
And look at the many faces of war seen in these related stories. Amazing, no?
If I had only read about the parachute ace, or the strafed refugee column, I never would have remembered them. But I spent over an hour with both of these two old men, so it left a deep mark. And I felt both of their perspectives related directly to the subject at hand: chivalry in the air war over Europe in late WW2. I didn't switch the Pacific looking for some similar or opposing morality tale, etc. It had nothing to do with that.
But, see, I met this old P-51 Mustang pilot, and this German who had been a 13 year old kid who had been strafed by P-51s (very recognizable bellies), and the Mustang pilot, for all I knew, might have been the parachute ace, who was also one of the strafers a few months later. Or another American like him. Very hard-hearted men by the spring of 1945. They had seen a lot of friends die, and bomber crews they were trying to defend, turn into fireballs. So they had little use for Germans. Very expansive rules of engagement for killing Germans, I should say.
War is hell. I'm glad we won it. What's the moral of the story? Not every German was a pitiless Nazi killer, every minute. And not every American fighter pilot was exactly a saint.
War is hell.
I’m pretty sure that more airmen died in the 8th AF alone, than Marines died in all of WW2.
During the war, keeping up the morale was part of the news/propaganda effort, so some subjects were just not touted.
Imagine what stressed out wrecks they must have been climbing into bombers for the 20th of 25 missions, after seeing half of your squadron mates go down in flames during that time?
And then climbing back into a bomber again and again?
How did they do that? Amazing. They were made of sterner stuff than we have today.
Plus, today the MSM (if it was a GOP president) would be screaming about the casualties....
KIA: 19,733 WIA: 67,207
KIA (Europe only): 23,805 WIA: 9,299
KIA (Europe, North Africa, Mediteranean): 44,785 WIA: 18,364
Died in captivity: 2,783
Died in aircraft accidents (Pearl Harbor through 1946): 25,844
One more thing - I ran across an assertion a while back (not sure if I believe it) that 70% of the men assigned to an aircrew in the 8th Air Force were either killed or shot-down and captured before the end of their 25 missions.
That’s why the “Memphis Belle” was such a big deal - they were the first crew to survive 25 missions.
You’re right - stern they were.
Damn, I had no idea that many died in non-combat accidents! Pretty risky trade, no two ways about it.
I understand the context.
WWII was total war.
After seeing what the Nazis did to Rotterdam at the beginning of the war (not to mention the Japanese in Nanking) it was pretty clear to the rest of the world what was going to happen to anyone who resisted the Axis.
I suppose it was like seeing two people fighting, one is fighting by Queensbury Rules, and the other, with no provocation, kicks him in the privates, and smashes his face in while he lies helpless on the ground. If you are the next person in line to fight, your reaction is likely to be “Okay, that is how it is. If I have anything to do with it, I am not going to be the one on the ground holding my crotch as my face is kicked in. He is going to get the boot first...”
Anyone who thinks that atrocities don’t happen on all sides in a war simply hasn’t experienced it, or taken the time to look closely at it. I remember a quote from someone that said something like “One of the most brutal things in the world is your average nineteen-year-old American soldier with a gun” and I think that is likely true. The Marines in the Pacific weren’t fighting under the glare of the watchful eyes of civilization out there in the Pacific, and many of the “rules” went out the window. But as Eugene Sledge said in an interview I saw, there wasn’t a moral equivalence. He said that while he saw our soldiers commit brutal sadistic acts, but it wasn’t the norm. However, the quantity and the brutality of the Japanese WAS the norm for them, in his experience. On their side, it was universal and widespread.
But I do understand the point you make. When war comes, nobody is spared on any side.
Thanks for the clarification.
Wow, great read.
The Japanese were really near the top when it came to SOP brutal sadism. Then the young emporer told them all to stand down, and they did. Fascinating society.
I think the sides tend to get more hard nosed the longer they are in combat.
I read a story by an American Infantry Officer, that occurred during the early days of the Italian Campaign (1943). His unit and a German unit ran into each other, had a vicious fire fight, and both sides retreated, leaving their wounded behind. The German CO sent out a messenger under a white flag, and offered a brief truce, so that the wounded could be recovered. The American CO agreed, and for an hour or two the German and American medics worked together in no man's land, between the opposing units, to find and stabilize the wounded from both sides, and see to it that they were evacuated to their own lines. The American Officer said that guys whose first experience of the was the vicious fighting in the Winter of 44-45, or later, refused to believe that such a thing had happened.
Yeah, and both viewpoints would have been right about their location and time. Very different wars from year to year and theater to theater.
I was already watching one of my favorite war movies, “RedTails”. Watched battle of Britain this morning.
I need to find a Bluray copy of Memphis Belle.
War is hell.
In Yeager's book, he tells about missions where they went down and shot every car, horse, bike, cow, hog, person, boat or bus that they could find in their assigned area. He said they didn't like doing those missions and if that's how they are going to do things, they damn sure better win the war.
I lived over there for a few years as a dependent. You are right, fascinating people. They seem to have this bizarre combination of an appreciation for beauty and capacity for brutality. (I admit, I liked them as a kid)
I had to laugh when I was reading about the USS Astoria bringing the ashes of their ambassador back to Japan in 1939, and after the visit one of the officers on the ship said something to the effect of never having seen a country where the women were so beautiful and sweet and the men were such sons of bitches.
The Japanese had the last laugh on her, though, at Savo Island.
They were probably just peasant fishermen, but...the argument could be (and was) made at the time they were providing fish to dry and stick in rice balls for the front line troops. When total war comes, everyone gets it.
My favorite war movie is “The Best Years Of Their Lives”.
Recall the attempted coup on the eve of the scheduled broadcast of the Emperor's surrender announcement.
Recall the attempted coup on the eve of the scheduled broadcast of the Emperor's surrender announcement.
The Last Missino is a tremendous documentary. But the palace coup attempt was before the emperor’s message was actually broadcast. Once his voice went out, that was it.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.