WWII German Luftwaffe ace fighter pilot, Franz Stigler, risked his own life and spared a wounded American bumber and the enemy crews.
The Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler incident occurred on 20 December 1943, when, after a successful bomb run on Bremen, 2nd Lt Charles "Charlie" Brown's B-17 Flying Fortress (named "Ye Olde Pub") was severely damaged by German fighters. Luftwaffe pilot Franz Stigler had the opportunity to shoot down the crippled bomber but did not do so, and instead escorted it over and past German-occupied territory so as to protect it. After an extensive search by Brown, the two pilots met each other 50 years later and developed a friendship that lasted until Stigler's death in March 2008. Brown died only a few months later, in November of the same year.
Brown's B-17 began its ten-minute bomb run at 8,320 m (27,300 ft) with an outside air temperature of −60 °C (−76 °F). Before the bomber released its bomb load, accurate flak shattered the Plexiglas nose, knocked out the #2 engine and further damaged the #4 engine, which was already in questionable condition and had to be throttled back to prevent overspeeding. The damage slowed the bomber, Brown was unable to remain with his formation and fell back as a straggler, a position from which he came under sustained enemy attacks.
Brown's damaged bomber was spotted by Germans on the ground, including Franz Stigler (then an ace with 27 victories), who was refueling and rearming at an airfield. He soon took off in his Messerschmitt Bf 109 G-6 (which had a .50-cal. Browning machine gun bullet embedded in the radiator, which risked the engine overheating) and quickly caught up with Brown's plane. Through the damaged bomber's airframe Stigler was able to see the injured and incapacitated crew. To the American pilot's surprise, Stigler did not open fire on the crippled bomber. He recalled the words of one of his commanding officers from Jagdgeschwader 27, Gustav Rödel, during his time fighting in North Africa, "If I ever see or hear of you shooting at a man in a parachute, I will shoot you myself." Stigler later commented, "To me, it was just like they were in a parachute. I saw them and I couldn't shoot them down."
Twice Stigler tried to get Brown to land his plane at a German airfield and surrender, or divert to nearby neutral Sweden, where he and his crew would receive medical treatment and be interned the remainder of the war. Brown and the crew of the B-17 did not understand what Stigler was trying to mouth and gesture to them and so flew on. Stigler later told Brown he was trying to get them to fly to Sweden. He then flew near Brown's plane in a formation on the bomber's port side wing, so German antiaircraft units would not target it; he then escorted the damaged B-17 over the coast until they reached open water. Brown, unsure of Stigler's intentions at the time, ordered his dorsal turret gunner to point at Stigler but not open fire to warn him off. Understanding the message and certain that the bomber was out of German airspace, Stigler departed with a salute.
Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler's video footage
Stigler's life risks are from several aspects:
I just ordered the book A Higher Call which is based on this true story as a gift to my best friend Richard, who is retiring next week. He is a Canadian British, we share many common hobbies.