|Kimbolton at Sunset - Airfield Where Charlie Brown & His B-17 Crew Were Stationed in England|
Courtesy of American Air Museum in Britain.
Our story ended last month when German fighter pilot Franz Stigler encountered American pilot Charlie Brown's wounded B-17 over the skies of Germany. Brown and hundreds of other Allied pilots had completed a bombing run over Bremen, Germany, but "Ye Olde Pub" was so damaged, she couldn't keep up with the other B-17's and was left to be picked off by an eager German pilot. Stigler would have enough points to earn the coveted Knight's Cross if he shot down one more B-17.
Pinky returned to the cockpit, announcing that none of the men wanted to jump. They planned to stay together and help fly The Pub home. Pinky turned to see what Charlie was staring at and claimed they were living in a nightmare. Charlie and Pinky expected Franz to destroy them. Franz noted the shock and fear on the pilots' faces and pointed to the ground. Charlie and Pinky shook their heads. This angered Franz, but he felt that leaving the B-17 to face the coming flak alone would be the same as shooting it down. He moved his 109 a few feet away so the guys at the coastal defenses would recognize his silhouette and hold their fire.
|John D. Shaw's painting of Ye Olde Pub Being Escorted Out to Sea by Franz Stigler's ME-109. Valor Studios. Used by Permission.|
Charlie still thought the German pilot was a threat and that he'd escorted them out to sea to finish them off. Franz, however, waved at the pilots and pointed to the east, mouthing, "Sweden," which was only thirty minutes away. Neither American pilot could figure out what Franz was trying to tell them. Given the damage to the B-17, Franz was certain they would not make it home alive. Charlie sent the turret gunner to swing his gun toward the 109, hoping to chase the German away. When Franz spotted the movement in the turret, he wasn't surprised. He saluted Charlie, who responded with surprise, and then Franz flew over the B-17 and dove away.
|Insignia for Kimbolton Airfield|
American Air Museum
Three-fourths of the way home, The Pub dropped below five hundred feet. Charlie prayed and touched the Bible in his pocket. Shortly after, two fighters zoomed past his window, and the crewmen were afraid the enemy had come to finish them off. The fighters turned and passed in front of the bomber, revealing the emblem of the U.S. Army Air Corp. Then they returned to the B-17, and one parked beside the pilot's window, just as Franz Stigler had done. The fighter pilot pointed to his headset, but Charlie shook his head. Then the fellow pointed down, and Charlie spotted a bit of land between the clouds. Soon the clouds parted, revealing an ever widening band of land. The Pub had reached England.
Charlie searched for a suitable field to land his bird, but they were dotted with stone fences. The Pub dropped below two hundred feet, and Charlie told his men to prepare for a crash landing. Up ahead, the two fighters were circling at one thousand feet, so Charlie turned the bomber in their direction. A military airfield appeared below. He made the approach to land and attempted to lower the landing gear. Unfortunately, the hydraulics weren't functioning. Frenchy, the flight engineer, went down and lowered the wheels by hand, but the flaps were frozen. Alerted by the fighter pilots above, emergency vehicles pulled up along the runway. Soldiers crowded around the tower and watched the wounded bomber come in.
|Seething Airfield During WWII. Courtesy of Wikipedia.|
Frenchy fired red flares from a ceiling window of the bomber, notifying the base that wounded airmen were aboard. Charlie kept The Pub's nose up and brought her front wheels down. Once the tail wheels settled on the runway, Charlie and Pinky jammed on the brakes, and the undefeated bomber slowed and came to a stop. The pilots shut the plane down. "The crew and The Pub had completed their first mission together."
Charlie and most of his original crew completed their twenty-eighth and final mission on April 11, 1944. Charlie returned stateside and became an instructor. He wondered for over forty years if the German pilot who'd spared them had survived the war. At the same time, Franz Stigler wondered for over forty years if the men of the B-17 he'd risked a court-martial for had ever made it home.
Return on December 1st and learn the fascinating story of how Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler found each other many years later.
|Charlie Brown & His Crew's Last Mission Over Germany. Courtesy of the American Air Museum in Britain.|