View Full Version : Gentlemanly conduct in WWII

Churchills Ghost
20th Jul 2013, 10:35
If you have a spare 10 minutes then I encourage you to read this.

It will brighten-up you day - I promise.

Can I recommend "A Higher Call" by Adam Makos with Larry Alexander which will be published by Atlantic Books on 1st August as I believe it will be a good read.

The book tells the story of a stricken US airman Lt Charles "Charlie" Brown who while flying his B-17 Allied bomber over Germany became a sitting duck having been holed by flak and down to a single working engine.

Then this happened:

In the distance, agonisingly close, Brown could see the German coastline, and ahead of that the North Sea and open skies back to England. Spirits rose — until a glance behind revealed a fast-moving speck, a lone Me109, getting bigger and bigger by the second, closing in.

In the cockpit of the German fighter, his guns primed, was Lt Franz Stigler, a Luftwaffe ace who needed one more kill to reach the 30 that would qualify him for a Knight’s Cross, the second highest of Germany’s Iron Cross awards for bravery.

Within minutes, he was fast-taxiing to the runway and up in the air to give chase, the precious Knight’s Cross now just a leather-gloved trigger-finger away.

What happened next was extraordinary in the annals of World War II — and told in a new book that offers a gleam of humanitarian light in the dark tragedy of that conflict.

As Stigler came up behind the bomber he could not believe its condition. How was it still flying? Nor, strangely, was there any gunfire from the stricken plane to try to ward him off. That was explained as, inching closer, he saw the slumped body of the rear gunner.

Veering alongside, he could see the other guns were out of action too, the radio room had been blown apart and the nose had gone. Even more startlingly, through the lattice work of bullet holes, he glimpsed members of the crew, huddled together, helping their wounded.

He could make out their ashen faces, their fear and their courage. His finger eased from the trigger. He just couldn’t do it, he realised.

He was an experienced fighter pilot. He’d fought the Allies in the skies over North Africa, Italy and now Germany. This bomber he was cruising alongside was just one plane out of the countless air armadas that had been pulverising his homeland night and day for three years, wiping out factories and cities, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians.

And yet . . .

Stigler saw himself as an honourable man, a knight of the skies — not an assassin. The first time he flew in combat was with a much admired officer of the old school, who told him, ‘You shoot at a machine, not a man. You score “victories”, not “kills”.

‘A man may be tempted to fight dirty to survive, but honour is everything. You follow the rules of war for you, not for your enemy. You fight by rules to keep your humanity. So you never shoot your enemy if he is floating down on a parachute. If I ever see you doing that, I will shoot you down myself.’

The message hardly chimed with the ruthless Nazi mentality that had gripped Germany and its armed forces under Hitler. Nor with a war being fought with such savagery on many fronts.
But it chimed with Stigler, who had never bought into Nazi philosophy or joined the party. He prided himself in fighting by this code. It never mattered more than here and now, flying side by side with a helpless enemy over northern Germany.
His Knight’s Cross could go hang. ‘I will not have this on my conscience for the rest of my life,’ he muttered to himself.

Aboard the American bomber, anxious and bewildered eyes swivelled towards the Messerschmitt, now positioned just above its right wing tip and matching its speed as if flying in formation.

They could clearly see the pilot’s face, the whites of his eyes. What was the bastard up to? He must be toying with them. Why didn’t he just get it over and done with?

To their amazement, they saw the German waving frantically, mouthing words, making gestures. What was he trying to say? In his cockpit, Stigler was struggling with a dilemma. He was not content just to ease back and let the bomber escape. He was now determined to save it and the men on board.
But he knew that before it crossed out of Germany it would come within range of anti-aircraft batteries lined up along the coast, which would blast it out of the sky.

Stigler now took an even more momentous decision. He gambled that if the flak gunners down on the ground spotted his Messerschmitt side by side with the enemy bomber, they would hold fire. He held his course, prepared to risk being shot down himself.

The ploy worked. Not a shot was fired from the ground. But Stigler knew he now faced a different danger. There were witnesses to his actions. If word got back that he had helped an enemy bomber to escape, he faced a court martial and a firing squad for treason.

Back in the helpless B-17, the crew were confused as the Messerschmitt continued alongside. The ‘crazy’ German pilot was gesturing at them again.

By now, the uncomprehending Brown had had enough of the German’s presence at his side. He thought the ‘son of a bitch’ was trying to shepherd him back to Germany. He ordered the one remaining gun turret to be swung towards the enemy fighter.

As the barrels turned in his direction, Stigler got the message. He had done all he could. He gave one last look, mouthed ‘Good luck’, saluted the Americans and peeled away.

Brown and his men made it back, on a wing and a prayer.

But what also stuck in his mind was the mysterious Messerschmitt pilot and that final salute. For the first time he began to grasp what had happened — he and his plane had been helped to get away.

The real hero of the mission was that unknown Luftwaffe pilot. And that was what he told the intelligence officer who de-briefed him on the mission. He and his men owed their lives to a good German.

It was not a message that his superiors wanted to hear, as they now made plain. What if other Allied airmen were inspired to believe there were merciful Germans pilots out there, held back on the trigger themselves and lost their lives as a consequence?

Brown and his crew were ordered not to tell a soul. They must wipe from their minds any memory of that incredible ten minutes in the sky over Germany.

For more than 40 years, Brown kept the secret but he never forgot. Then, in 1985, and retired to Florida, he blurted the story out at a veterans’ reunion.

A Higher Call (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2370933/A-Higher-Call-A-stricken-Allied-bomber-German-ace-sent-shoot-truly-awe-inspiring-story-wartime-chivalry.html)


Lt Franz Stigler


Lt Charlie Brown


John D Shaw's painting "A Higher Call" which shows Franz Stigler and Charlie Brown in flight

The film rights to this book have being negotiated by playwright Sir Tom Stoppard so there is also the possibility of a movie in the future.

Yellow & Blue Baron
20th Jul 2013, 12:20
Lovely story CG, :ok:

Here is a short video of the story with the first meeting between the two gentlemen: