Ye Olde Pub

On December ‚Äč20th 1943 Charlie Brown, a USAF B-17 pilot, was sent on a bombing mission over Bremen, Germany. He and his inexperienced crew completed their mission, but sustained such heavy damage from German fighter pilots defending their country that Charlie blacked out from lack of oxygen.

Miraculously he regained consciousness to find his Flying Fortress in level flight at 1,000 feet off the ground. But his problems were far from over.

His tail gunner was dead. Four of his crew were seriously injured. Half the tail of his aircraft was missing, the plexiglass nose was shattered, and the fuselage was perforated with bullet holes. His #2 engine was dead and #3 and #4 were both damaged.

Falling far behind the rest of the 379th Bomber Group, Charlie struggled to keep control of his plane and maintain altitude. He was slow and conspicuous, and he did not go unnoticed as he flew over the German airfield where Ace German pilot Franz Stigler was refueling his Bf-109. 

Franz, a pilot with the Jagdgeschwader 27, saw the crippled plane go overhead, flying only about 2000 feet above the ground. He received orders to go up and finish the job. He lifted his fighter off the runway and easily caught up with the B17. As he approached to perform his mission, the extent of the damage became starkly apparent. The fuselage was smeared with blood, riddled with holes, and Franz knew that it was impossible that the crew inside was not critically injured.

Franz paused.

An early commander of his, Gustav Rödel, understanding the difference enemy troops and fellow humans on a different side, had taught him never to shoot at a parachute. For Franz, this plane was a parachute—the only thing keeping the crew on board from certain death. He simply could not pull the trigger.

Instead he flew up on the right side of the aircraft and peered into the cockpit. Inside, Charlie turned his head and froze in horror.

Surely this was the end.

But it wasn't. Franz brought his fighter around to Charlie's side and tried to encourage Charlie to turn toward Sweden, where the crew of Ye Olde Pub would be interred but could receive medical attention. Instead Charlie kept pointed toward England, so Franz escorted him out over the North Sea, saluted, then banked away hoping the plane could make the trip.

It did. Barely.

The following video is a computer recreation of the events that occurred that day.

The Gallant Foe in Fighter Ace (6:28)

 

Ye Olde Oub as she looks today.

 

Many years later Charlie set out to see if he could find this pilot who had spared him and his crew. He told his story publicly and, against all odds, Franz Stigler who was then residing in Canada was watching. Franz called Charlie and said, "I'm the guy."

After several hours of phone calls, the two met again. And that powerful moment was documented in the following video.

Bf 109 pilot Franz Stigler and B-17 pilot Charlie Brown's first meeting (6:49)

For me, this story reminds us that things can look very different depending on your frame of reference. But that, at the end of the day, we humans have more in common than not.

And in case you think this sort of chivalrous act is a thing of the past, let's close by having a look at this more modern tale.

 

 
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