Look carefully at the B-17 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 Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter flying next to it. Now read the story below. I think you’ll be surprised…..
Charlie Brown B-17
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’ and was in a terrible state, having been hit by flak and fighters while on a bombing mission over Germany. The compass was damaged and they were flying deeper over enemy territory instead of heading home to Kimbolton.
After flying the B-17 over an enemy airfield, a German pilot named Franz Steigler was ordered to take off in his Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter and shoot down the B-17. 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 Charlie Brown, the pilot. Brown was scared and struggling to control his damaged and blood-stained plane.
Aware that they had no idea where they were going, Franz waved at Charlie to turn 180 degrees. Franz escorted and guided the stricken plane to, and slightly over, the North Sea towards England. He then saluted Charlie Brown and turned away, back to Europe.
When Franz Steigler landed his ME-109 back at his base 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 gave a full account of the event at their post mission 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.
They met in the USA at a 379th Bomber Group reunion, together with 25 people who were alive at the time, all because Franz never fired his guns that day.
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”.
Both men died in 2008.
B-17 Flying Fortress
The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber that was used by the United States Army Air Corps during World War II. The B-17 was designed by Boeing engineer Les Tower in 1934, and it first flew in 1935.
The B-17 was one of the most important American aircraft of World War II, and it was used in raids against targets in Germany, Japan, and other countries. The B-17 was equipped with 13 .50-caliber machine guns, and it could carry up to 8,000 pounds of bombs.
The B-17 was tough and reliable, hence its name, the “Flying Fortress.” In total, more than 12,700 B-17s were built during World War II, and they served in every theater of the war. The B-17 was an important part of the American war effort, and it helped the Allies to win the war.
Messerschmitt Bf 109
The Messerschmitt Bf 109 was a German World War II fighter aircraft designed by Willy Messerschmitt in the 1930s. It was one of the first true modern fighters and developed into a series of highly successful variants, some of which remained in production until 1945.
The Bf 109 was flown by many of the top aces of the Luftwaffe, including Erich Hartmann, the highest scoring ace in history with 352 victories. It was also flown by several other leading air forces, including the Finnish Air Force, which used it to great effect against the Soviet Air Force in the Continuation War.
In addition to its use as a fighter, the Bf 109 was also used as a ground attack aircraft.