This story came in an email – with a slight proviso at the beginning here.
Subject: Re: FW: A great story from WW11Well we did this one before….. it’s basically TRUE, although some of the prose has been coloured (never let the facts get in the way of a good story!!).
One bit that’s not true is the B17 was already heading to England before the ME109 came along side so someone has embellished it a bit.Regards,
The whole story is on the video link below the text. I add it here because it’s a great story.
The painting below was by an artist and based on the description of both pilots in this story, many years later.
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. Then realize that there is a German ME-109 fighter flying next to it.
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. The compass was damaged and they were flying deeper over enemy territory, instead of heading home to Kimbolton.
When the B-17 flew over an enemy airfield, a German pilot named Franz Steigler was ordered to take off and shoot down the B-17, but when he got airborne and closed on 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 dead, with his remains spread all over the top of the fuselage. The nose of the plane 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, as he struggling to control his damaged and bloodstained plane.
Aware that Charlie had no idea where he was headed, Franz waved at him to turn 180 degrees. Franz then 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 his base.
When Franz landed, he told the CO that the plane had been shot down over the sea and he never told the truth to anybody. Charlie Brown and the remains of his crew on the other hand, told all at their de-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 and 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 – 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.
This is a true story, from an era when there was honour in being a warrior…
End of email content!
Video Interview Entry: http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/Canada/20080511/franz_stigler_080511/