Tuesday, May 19, 2009

BF-109 pilot Franz Stigler, B-17 pilot Charlie Brown

Aware that they had no idea where they were going, Franz waved at Charlie to turn 180 degrees. Franz 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 Europe. When Franz landed he told the CO that the plane had been shot down over the sea, and never told the truth to anybody. Charlie Brown and the remains of his crew told all at their 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. 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 are alive now - 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.

. . . If anybody has any more detailed information about these aircraft, the date of their mission, target, etcetera, please add comments below.


  1. Aw, Sean, I can't believe you didn't fix the error about the '180'...I have them both on tape. Someone, it seems, misunderstood the part where Stigler tries to get Charlie to land in Germany, or at least turn north (roughly 90 degrees) and land in neutral Sweden.

    One other wee note: Stigler HAD fired his guns that day, and shot down two B-17s, before landing to refuel and re-arm.

    The mission was on the morning of the 20th of December, 1943. Charlie says the target was an aircraft factory.

    Such a great story, though, and thanks for posting it.

  2. The archives of the 446th Group indicate that this story was kept secret to preserve the German pilot, figuring he would be court-martialed and perhaps executed for failing to shoot down an enemy aircraft.