Thursday, October 1, 2020

The Tale of Two Pilots - An Axis Pilot Who Rescued A B-17 Over the Skies of Germany, Part 2

by Cindy K. Stewart

Last month I shared Part 1 of the story of two WWII pilots, one German, one American, who were destined to meet as enemies over the skies of Germany. If you missed that post, you can find it here. Today we will pick up with the American pilot, Charlie Brown flying from England to bomb Bremen, Germany. 

The Crew of "Ye Olde Pub." Kneeling, L to R: Charlie, Pinky, Doc, and Andy. Standing, L to R: Frenchy, Russian,
Pechout, Jennings, Ecky, and Blackie. Courtesy of the American Air Museum in Britain.

On the morning of December 20, 1943, twenty-year-old Lieutenant Charlie Brown piloted his B-17 crew into combat for the first time. "Ye Olde Pub" flew in a twenty-one-plane battle formation and led most of the 8th Air Force's bomb groups to Germany (475 B-17s and B24s). They were told to expect five hundred or more bandits (German fighters) to intercept them.

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses of the 91st Bomb Group, 8th AF, enroute to Bremen, Germany, fly high above heavy cloud banks at 27,000 feet altitude. 20 Dec. 1943. Courtesy of American Air Museum in Britain.

The bomber group flew twenty-seven thousand feet above the icy sea. Three and a half hours into their flight, the bandits attacked and flak from the ground soon followed. After four separate explosions just ahead of The Pub, Andy, the navigator, and Doc, the bombardier, reported a big hole in the Plexiglas nose of their plane. One of the engines on the left began to smoke and pinky, the co-pilot, shut it down. A shell passed through one of the wings, leaving a large hole. The Pub  reached the target area and released twelve five-hundred-pound bombs on the Focke-Wulf aircraft plant five miles below and turned north to escape Germany as quickly as possible.

The bomber group didn't know it yet, but their fighter cover had already departed for England because they feared running out of fuel. One of The Pub's right engines began to run wild, and Pinky cut power and restarted the engine. The bomber fell back as the rest of the 8th Air Force passed overhead and left The Pub behind. Five German 109s leaped from below, and eight German 190s trailed ahead, blocking the path to the North Sea. Two enemy fighters dove straight for the cockpit of The Pub, so Charlie, the pilot, climbed directly up and into their path. Frenchy opened up and hammered one of the 190s before it could break away, putting it out of the fight. The other fighter scored hits on The Pub, but Doc fired at its belly and scored another win.

Messerschmitt Bf 109G-10 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The controls for T
he Pub's third engine was shot out, and the engine froze at half power. Five 109s headed for the tail of The Pub, but Ecky's guns in the tail jammed. Then Blackie's guns in the ball turret froze. "Charlie threw the bomber into a bank," and bullets from the 109s "ricocheted off the bomber's frozen belly and clanged against Blackie's turret, cracking its glass but not penetrating." More guns froze, welded shut by ice. Only three of the bomber's eleven guns were now operational. Charlie twisted and weaved while the 109s continued to attack, but the pilot's maneuvers threw them off. 

2nd Lieutenant Charles
"Charlie" Brown
American Air Museum

A 20mm cannon shell tore into The Pub and "blasted the bomber's skin outward," almost severing the right waist gunner's leg. Other shells struck the tail, destroying the tail gun position and killing Ecky. Pechout, the radio operator, frantically calld for help, but several 20mm shells blew the radio into pieces but spared the operator. Meanwhile, Charlie banked the bomber into a near vertical turn of eighty degrees and aimed at any fighters he saw coming in. He flew in circles. Bullets tore through the cockpit's ceiling, and one embedded itself against Charlie's left shoulder blade. Bullets punctured the oxygen tanks behind the pilots' seats, slowing the flow of oxygen into their masks.

The enemy shot off The Pub's horizontal stabilizer and shortened the sixteen-foot rear wing to three feet. Charlie, needing a new evasion tactic, tilted the bomber until its left wing pointed to the sky, but without the stabilizer, the plane "flipped and entered a slow, upside-down, flat spin." Oxygen stopped flowing to the pilots, and the last thing Charlie remembered was viewing the German farm fields five miles below as he and the co-pilot hung upside down in the cockpit. Then he passed out.

A B-17 During WWII

When The Pub reached 10,000 feet, "its spiral broke into a nose dive." The oxygen-rich air at this low altitude brought Charlie back to consciousness. He gripped the controls and hauled back. He toggled the bomber's flaps, but The Pub continued her dive. At 3000 feet, "her wings began to flutter," something a B-17 in this kind of condition shouldn't have been able to do. "Charlie dug his heels into the rudder pedals and pulled back on the yoke with his whole body." "The wings began flying again," but the bomber was now below two thousand feet and still dropping. Just in time, "her nose lifted to the horizon and she leveled out" over the suburbs of Oldenburg. Pinky, the co-pilot, regained consciousness, spotted the treetops below them, and asked if they were in England.

Charlie had Doc, the navigator, "figure out where they were and establish a course for home." He sent others to assess the damage to the bomber and check on the status of the crew. Doc mapped out a plan to head thirty-five miles north to the sea, but his map showed flak batteries all along the coastline, known as "the Atlantic Wall."

The German Pilot:

Franz Stigler - Luftwaffe Fighter Pilot

Meanwhile, German fighter pilot, Franz Stigler, had landed at an airfield to refuel and continue the fight. If he could nail a bomber, he would have enough points to receive the Knight's Cross, a badge of honor, indicating "that he had done something good for his people." While waiting at the airfield, the low drone of an approaching bomber caught his attention. A B-17 skirted the airfield, flying low and slow before disappearing behind the trees. Franz took off without waiting for clearance from the tower. He had a bomber to catch and a Knight's Cross to earn.

Stigler approached the wounded B-17 but noted the missing stabilizer and the dead tail gunner leaning over his machine gun. Through the torn fuselage, he saw the airmen tending their wounded crew members. He thought of his commander's words that if Stigler ever shot an airman floating down in his parachute, the commander would shoot Stigler himself. He remembered his dead brother and the grief these enemies' families would face. Realizing the bomber held no threat to him, Stigler pulled up close to Charlie's window and stared at him. 

Come back on November 1st to learn what Franz Stigler did next.



A Higher Call by Adam Makos with Larry Alexander - Berkley Caliber, New York, 2012.


Cindy Stewart, a high school social studies teacher, church pianist, and inspirational historical romance author, is a 2020 finalist for the Georgia Romance Writers Maggie Award of Excellence, placed second in the 2019 North Texas Romance Writers Great Expectations contest, semi-finaled in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Genesis contest, and won ACFW’s First Impressions contest in the historical category. Cindy is passionate about revealing God’s handiwork in history. She resides in North Georgia with her college sweetheart and husband of thirty-nine years. Their married daughter, son-in-law, and four adorable grandchildren live only an hour away. Cindy’s currently writing a fiction series set in WWII Europe.


  1. Replies
    1. Hi, Connie! This story brought me close to tears. Stay tuned for the next exciting episode.

    2. Facinating. When the good comes out in people when least expected. Looking forward to next installment. I'm hooked.

    3. Thank you for stopping by, Linda, and thank you for your kind words! Wait until you see what happens next. :)

  2. Replies
    1. Yes, this book is definitely a keeper! Thank you for dropping by today and commenting, Terri.

  3. So interesting. I can't wait to find out what Stigler did.

    1. Thank you, Gail! I can't wait to share the rest of the story. Thank you for reading the post and commenting.

  4. Wow! I know the size of a B17, those banks and dives are nearly impossible except in the hands of a gifted pilot. Can't wait to read the rest.

    Cindy, you really captured the thrill and daring!

    1. Thank you for your encouraging words, Terri! I'm so glad you enjoyed the post.