German Ace Let Badly Damaged B-17 Fly Home
Pilots Meet Years Later
Look carefully at the B-17 in the photo below and note how shot up it is - one engine dead, tail, horizontal stabilizer and nose shot up.. It was ready to fall out of the sky. (This is a painting done by an artist from the description of both pilots many years later.) Then realize that there is a German ME-109 fighter flying next to it. Now read the story below. I think you'll be surprised.....
2nd Lt. Charlie Brown was a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot with the 379th Bomber Group at Kimbolton , England. His B-17 was called 'Ye Old Pub.' Dec. 20, 1943, was a typically cold, overcast winter day in Britain as 2d Lt. Charles L. Brown's B-17F lined up for takeoff.
It was 21-year-old Charlie Brown's first combat mission as an aircraft commander with the 379th Bomb Group, the target an FW-190 factory at Bremen, Germany. He and his crew of 'Ye Olde Pub' were to become participants in an event probably unique at that time in the air war over Europe--a mission that would remain shrouded in mystery for many years.
The bombers began their 10-minute bomb run at 27,300 feet, the temperature: negative 60 degrees. Flak was heavy and accurate. Before "bombs away," Brown's B-17 took hits that shattered the Plexiglas nose, knocked out the number two engine, damaged number four--which frequently had to be throttled back to prevent overspeeding--and caused undetermined damage to the controls.
Coming off target, Lieutenant Brown was unable to stay with the formation and became a straggler. Almost immediately, the lone and limping B-17 came under a series of attacks from 12 to 15 Bf-109s and FW-190s that lasted for more than 10 minutes. The number three engine was hit and would produce only half power. Oxygen, hydraulic, and electrical systems were damaged, and the controls were only partially responsive. The bomber's 11 defensive guns were reduced by the extreme cold to only the two top turret guns and one forward-firing nose gun. The tail gunner was killed and all but one of the crew in the rear incapacitated by wounds or exposure to the frigid air.
Lieutenant Brown took a bullet fragment in his right shoulder. 2nd Lt. Brown figured the only chance of surviving this pitifully unequal battle was to go on the offensive. Each time a wave of attackers approached, he turned into them, trying to disrupt their aim with his remaining firepower. The last thing oxygen-starved Brown remembers was reversing a steep turn, becoming inverted, and looking "up" at the ground. When he regained full consciousness, the B-17 was miraculously level at less than 1,000 feet.
Still partially dazed, Lieutenant Brown began a slow climb with only one engine at full power. With three seriously injured aboard, he rejected bailing out or a crash landing.
Struggling to stay aloft having having been shot up by enemy fighters and hit numerous times by flak then after by chance flying over an enemy airfield, a Luftwaffe pilot named Franz Stigler was ordered to take off and shoot down the crippled B-17F. When he got near the B-17, he could not believe his eyes. In his words, he “had never seen a plane in such a bad state”.
The tail and rear section was severely damaged, and the tail gunner wounded. The top gunner was all over the top of the fuselage. The nose was smashed and there were holes everywhere.
Despite having ammunition, Franz flew to the side of the B-17 and looked at 2nd Lt. Charlie Brown, Lt. Brown was scared and struggling to control his damaged and bloodstained plane.
B-17 pilot 2nd Lt. Charlie Brown
While nursing the battered bomber toward England, Brown looked out the right window and saw a Bf-109 flying on his wing. The pilot waved, then flew across the B-17's nose and motioned Brown to land in Germany, which the aircraft commander refused to do. The alternative was a thin chance of reaching the UK. Franz escorted and guided the stricken plane to, and slightly over, the North Sea towards England .
After escorting them for several miles out over the North Sea, the Luftwaffe pilot saluted and then rolled over, and disappeared. Why had he not shot them down? The answer did not emerge for many years.
The B-17 did make it across 250 miles of storm-tossed North Sea and landed at Seething near the English coast, home of the 448th Bomb Group, which had not yet flown its first mission. Brown's B-17 was perhaps the most heavily damaged bomber to return from combat.
It survived because of an enemy's act of chivalry. The crew was debriefed on their mission, including the strange encounter with the Bf-109. For unknown reasons, the debriefing was classified "secret" and remained so for many years.
Lieutenant Brown went on to complete a combat tour, finish college, accept a regular commission, and serve in the Office of Special Investigations, with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and in other Air Force and State Department assignments until his retirement. He lived in Miami, Fla., where he was the founder and president of an energy and environmental research center.
On that December day in 1943, there had been two persuasive reasons why Stigler should have shot down the B-17. First, earlier in the day, he had downed two four-engine bombers and needed only one more that day to earn a Knight's Cross. Second, his decision to not finish off the aircraft was a court-martial offense in Nazi Germany and if revealed could have led to his execution.
He considered these alternatives while flying formation with the B-17, "the most heavily damaged aircraft I ever saw that was still flying." He could see the wounded aboard and thought, "I cannot kill these half-dead people. It would be like shooting at a parachute."
Franz Stigler's act of chivalry has been justly, though belatedly, honored by several military organizations here and abroad. On the other hand, Lt. Charles Brown was not decorated for his heroism that day over Germany until 2007, less than a year before his death, which never was reported by the 448th Bomb Group at Seething (to his commanders) where he manage to land his crippled bomber. Such are the fortunes of war and its aftermath.
BF-109 pilot Oberleutnant Franz Stigler
When Franz landed he told the CO that the plane had been shot down over the sea, and never told the truth to anybody. Charlie Brown and the remains of his crew told all at their briefing, but were ordered never to talk about it.
More than 40 years later, Charlie Brown wanted to find the Luftwaffe pilot who saved the crew. After years of research, Franz was found. He had never talked about the incident, not even at post-war reunions.
(L-R) German Ace Franz Stigler, artist Ernie Boyett, and B-17 pilot Charlie Brown.
When asked why he didn't shoot them down, Stigler later said, "I didn't have the heart to finish those brave men. I flew beside them for a long time. They were trying desperately to get home and I was going to let them do that. I could not have shot at them. It would have been the same as shooting at a man in a parachute."
The Allies never revealed the German pilot's act, figuring he would be court-martialed and perhaps executed for failing to shoot down an enemy aircraft.
For decades, Brown wondered about the German pilot -- through his post-war marriage to Delores, the birth of his two daughters in the 1950s, and well past his stint with the State Department during the Vietnam War.
Brown finished the war flying the B-17 "Carol Dawn" (named after Brown's daughter) , "Ye Old Pub" was never able to fly again following that December mission after landing safely in England, completing 29 combat missions, 24 over Germany, and his crew was credited with 7 enemy shoot downs. Charlie Brown retired from the military as a lieutenant colonel in the early 1970s. Then he moved to Miami, where he spent the next three decades toying around with combustible engines and inventing things like the ''Brown Air Charging System'' -- a device Brodie swears Brown attached to his car to get better gas mileage. Franz Stigler ended the war flying missions in the famous German Me-262 Jet and was credited with 28 confirmed kills, and 5 four engine bombers during the war.
With free time at hand, Brown began a search for the German pilot who spared his life. The image of his strange encounter with the Bf-109 remained firmly embedded in Charlie Brown's memory. In 1986, he began his search for the anonymous pilot.
After a story of the incident ran in a German aviation magazine, Charlie Brown had a chance meeting with German Luftwaffe ace Adolf Galland whom from Brown's description of the plane believed it could be Steigler. Brown found Franz Stigler, a German World War II ace living in Surrey, British Columbia, and still flying a Messerschmidt at air shows. After inital discussion they confirmed that Steigler was the 109's pilot that day the two agreed to meet.
The two met in the USA at a 379th Bomber Group reunion, together with 25 people who are alive now - all because Franz never fired his guns that day. Stigler later said he didn't shoot down the plane because it was so badly damaged it would have been like shooting at a man in a parachute.
Stigler, who died in March, was a legend of the sky. Along with his 487 flights and 28 kills, was shot down 17 times, and flew the first jet of WWII, the Me-262, in combat. From 1990 until Stigler's death at the age of 92 in 2008, he and Brown and their wives were exceptional friends, visiting each other at least twice a year.
''Charlie called him his big brother, and that about sums it up,'' said Stigler's 77-year-old widow, Helga Stigler. She said her husband had often wondered what happened to the American plane he escorted to sea -- a secret he kept from everyone but her.
Brodie, the Veteran Affairs liaison, met Brown in 1995 after persuading him to tell his story to a South Miami-Dade Rotary Club. Brown took Stigler with him. ''There wasn't a dry eye in the house,'' Brodie said.
In 2007, Brown and his crew received what had been long overdue: Recognition.
His story was told on the floor of Florida's House of Representatives. Soon after, the Air Force opened its archives on the incident. In February, the Air Force awarded Brown and the surviving crew members on that December 1943 flight Silver Stars for valor in combat. Brown also received the Air Force's second-highest honor, the Air Force Cross.
In March of 2008, Brown's wife of 58 years, Delores, died. Brown succumbed to heart disease not long after, two days before Thanksgiving. ''He wasn't really the type to give up. But he was lost without her,'' said daughter Kimberly. Stigler and Brown both passed away in 2008, just a few months apart. Each man was listed as a brother in their respective obituaries. Brown was buried with full military honors.
THIS WAS BACK IN THE DAYS WHEN THERE WAS HONOR IN BEING A WARRIOR
THEY PROUDLY WORE UNIFORMS, AND THEY DIDN'T HIDE IN AMBUSH
INSIDE A MOSQUE, OR BEHIND WOMEN AND CHILDREN
NOR DID THEY USE WOMEN AND CHILDREN AS SUICIDE BOMBERS
TARGETING AND KILLING INNOCENT CIVILIANS...
HOW TIMES HAVE CHANGED......