Author Topic: The Most Honourable Act of WW-II.  (Read 1576 times)

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Offline W1RC

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The Most Honourable Act of WW-II.
« on: March 01, 2022, 08:48:27 AM »
On December 20th, 1943, a lone American B-17 was slowly making its way over German-occupied territory. Their goal was reaching the safety of their base, hundreds of miles away. It was alone because it had been severely crippled by flak and German fighters. With one engine out of service and two damaged, it couldn?t keep up with their formation.

Inside that fuselage was the crew, all wounded or dead. In the cockpit were 2nd Lt Charles Brown and his co-pilot, Spencer Luke. This was their first combat mission.

On the ground German Oberleutnant, Franz Stigler was refueling and saw the bomber. He was an ?ace?, a fighter pilot who gained that distinction with his nearly 30 confirmed ?kills?. A veteran of the African and Italian campaigns, he was a decorated and widely respected pilot.

He immediately jumped into his Messerschmidt to confront this lone bomber. When he arrived he could see that the B-17 was a mess. Part of its tail was shot off, the tail gunner was dead, one engine was out and there were holes so large in the fuselage that he could see the wounded crew tending to each other. He wondered how this plane was actually still in the air, considering the extensive damage. He pulled in close to the B-17 to prevent German anti-aircraft batteries from firing on it.

Inside the plane, the crew saw the Messerschmidt approaching. They were defenseless, as their guns were frozen, so they braced for the inevitable. To their surprise it didn?t come.

Instead the enemy fighter flew alongside them, signaling to their pilot. They had no radio contact, so Stigler resorted to hand signals, trying to direct the pilot to land the B-17. At first at German bases, then to nearby neutral bases. He didn?t believe they could make it home in their condition.

The Americans, on the other hand, were baffled. Why has he not fired? Why is he flying alongside and signaling to us? Still mistrusting the German fighter, Brown ordered a gun to be trained on it. It was an empty gesture, because the gun wasn?t working.

Soon the bomber was out of danger and Stigler broke off to return to his base, leaving with a wave and salute to the crew. Had anyone discovered what he had done, he could have been courtmartialed and possibly executed, so he never said a word about it.

Brown, having somehow landed his crippled plane safely, reported this strange event to his commanding officers, who ordered him never to speak of it again. They feared that his story might humanize German fighter pilots in the minds of the American bomber crews.

Still, Brown was haunted by this event after he returned home. He wondered why this enemy pilot spared him and his crew, when he could have easily shot them down. He had the power of life and death and granted them life.

Similarly, Stigler often wondered about what happened to that B-17. Did they ever make it home safely?

Decades later, Brown decided he had to find that German pilot. He wanted to know who he was and why he spared them. He pored through war records and eventually found the pilot, still alive and living in Canada. Stigler responded to his letter confirming that he was that pilot and remembered everything about that day.

They eventually met and became good friends for the remainder of their lives, sharing holidays and fishing trips together. They died in 2008, just months apart. It was an appropriate end to this amazing story of combat chivalry.

An excellent book was written about this incident, A Higher Call by Adam Makos.