Good day all. This is not my usual ranting and raving against everything. This is a simple story about a fighter pilot who chose not to shoot down a crippled bomber during World War Two. The incident occurred December 20th, 1943.
The Boeing B-17F1 nicknamed Ye Old Pub, on it’s first mission, had been badly shot up during a bombing raid on Bremen, Germany. When I say badly shot up, the plane was barely flying. The B-17 received heavy damage to the port wing and tail and three of the bomber’s four engines were inoperative. The pilot, 2nd Lt. Charlie Brown, lost consciousness but came to as the bomber was flying low over a German airfield.
On that field was Franz Stigler, an ace with Jagdgeschwader 272. He was in the process of refueling his Messerschmitt BF1093 when the Ye Olde Pub overflew the airfield. Stigler took off and caught up with the bomber. I’ll let you hear what happened in the pilots own words.
Stigler tried to signal Brown to land and surrender, but Brown and his crew decided they didn’t want to be POW’s and also wanted to get the wounded medical treatment. Stigler would have been within the rules of war to shoot down Ye Olde Pub. He couldn’t.
War for pilots is a bit different then for infantry. While pilots know intellectually that the airplanes are manned, they don’t see the crews and feel they are only destroying machines. Stigler was once told by one of his commanding officers, “You are fighter pilots first, last, always. If I ever hear of any of you shooting at someone in a parachute, I’ll shoot you myself.” Stigler latter commented, “To me, it was just like they were in a parachute. I saw them and I couldn’t shoot them down.”
Below is a rendition of what happened during that flight. It’s in French, and appears to have been created using a gaming engine. The damage to the B17 shown is not what the actual damage looked like. Still, it will give you an idea of what it was like.
There are several recorded instances of enemy aircraft surrendering in flight. Generally heavily damaged bombers with wounded on board. They way it worked was simple. They lowered their landing gear and tossed their weapons overboard. I also know of one incident where a bomber surrendered and then for some reason pulled up it’s gear, opened fire on the escorting fighter and tried to run. At that point it was fair game and the bomber was shot down with the loss of all aboard.
A book has been written about this act of chivalry, titled “A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II.” It will be released December 19th and I recommend ordering it. I will be as soon as it’s available.
~The Angry Webmaster~