Luftwaffe Ace Franz Stigler meets Captain Charlie Brown over France.
A True Story By: Sir Ernie Hamilton Boyette
This is a great painting by artist Robert Harper. Here the artist illustrated Luftwaffe Ace, Franz Stigler and U.S. Captain Charlie Brown. This is my personal print and is not for sale.
This is a true story of an American Bomber pilot and a Luftwaffe Ace. These men met in the air during one of the most bloodiest conflicts of World War II. Everyone finds the stories of the air war intriguing as well as riveting. However one never really understands or absorbs the fact that some of the most savage combat of World War II took place in the air. Not on the ground. Yet this is not the typical war story. This is a story of human emotions, and actions that developed in a most unusual way.
Bravery, courage and even chivalry are only words and mean nothing if you can not conceive in both your heart and your mind what the true meaning of these words are. I hope you have a better understanding after reading my tale.
On the left is B-17 Pilot, Charlie Brown. To the right is Luftwaffe Ace, Franz Stigler.
Our story begins with an American bomber pilot over Germany;
With his B-17 shot up and himself barely able to fly a wounded B-17 pilot, Captain Charles Brown carefully checked his instrument panel along with his copilot. Their altitude was low flying just above tree top level.
Charlie pulled back on the controls with the help of his copilot. They slowly started to climb to get a better idea as to where they were. The controls were stiff and it took the brute force of both men to bring the yoke back towards their chest. They decided to stay low to avoid enemy fighters but they had to get a little higher to see where they were.
Charlie shouted back to the navigator for their location. The navigator was already scanning over the charts to get his bearings so he could plot a course for the English Channel and home to their base. Blood dripped from the navigator’s forehead onto his map. He whipped his wound with his jacket sleeve. His vision was blurred like looking through smoked glass.
The entire crew was injured. The few who were only slightly injured were tending to the others that had more grievous wounds as best they could. The tail gunner was dead and the welfare of the others was on Charlie’s mind. The controls seemed to be working but the aircraft had been badly damaged. How long the B-17 would fly would now would rest on the craftsmanship that went into the building this great aircraft.
“I hope that Rosie the riveter did a good job on this crate,” one of the wounded crewmen said as the aircraft shook under him. The only thing that was between him and the earth was this shot up bird. Every time the bomber hit an air pocket the plane jumped a few inched to a half foot at a time. Empty machine gun cartridges rattled nosily along with everything else that had fallen to the floor of the Fortress during its acrobatic fight and flight. The floor was congested with spent gun shells that rattled like the teeth of a skeleton when the bomber shook. The sent of the burnt gunpowder was still present.
This artwork is by another artist. It shows the inside of the bomber.
Along the bottom of the bomber was a wooden plank that was only about 16 to 18” wide. That is all you have to stand on in the bomber. The walk plank was about three inches from the skin of the plane mounted on the ribcage that made up the fuselage. The metal skin of the bomber is riveted onto the ribs that held the bomber together. The area where the twin waist gunners stood was about the size of a five and a half foot tube which starting behind the wings of the bomber going back to the tail wings where it was only about four and an half feet wide. This was the space that both side gunners had to work with. For the two waist-gunners to be able to use such a small space the designers of the bomber had off set the waist guns by off setting the windows on the fuselage. This gave each gunner an area where they were able to fire their machine gun from any angle on his side of the ship. This sounds simple but it really was not enough space for the men to work unrestricted. Again they were standing crouched in a tube standing on an eighteen inch wide wood floor plank.
At the moment the right waist gunner was tying a knot on a tourniquet of the injured arm of the left waist gunner. The bone had been shot into by a German bullet. The wounded gunner was in a daze as his friend tightened the knot. Shock had enveloped the injured gunner into a death grip. The altitude that the bomber normally flew at was over thirty thousand feet and at that height the temperature was below freezing. The crew wore special suits that were heated by electrical wires. These suits were the only thing that kept the men from freezing. Even though they were now flying at a low altitude where the air was warmer the wind that was blowing through the bomber was still cold. The heated suit that the crewman wore was still working and that would keep the wounded man alive for the time being.
Shock is something you never want to experience. That is when you are hurt so badly that your body shuts down. Why the body starts to turn cold and causes you to shake I can not explain. I am sure that a medical professional could tell you what is happing with your body but I can assure you that if you ever find your self in shock remember to keep a cool head because you have been hurt very badly indeed. When you are in shock a deep chill takes hold of the body. A heated suit will help keep you alive, for a while. The crew all cared for each other as best they could. They needed to get back to their base so they could properly be treated by the doctors and nursing staff.
In this photo you can see the interior of the Fortress. The floor board is narrow and is just inches from the skin of the bomber. The floor would become congested with empty shells from the machine guns.
Along the center bottom of the bomber was a wooden plank that was only about 16 to 18” wide. That is all you have to stand on in the bomber. The walk plank was about three inches from the skin of the plane mounted on the ribcage that made up the fuselage. The metal skin of the bomber is riveted onto the ribs that held the bomber together.
Even though this was Charlie’s first mission as a plane captain it was actually his second mission. The crew however was veterans. The crew had already seen tricky situations and they had learned to work as a team. This mission was the true test of their being a crew that could work together. They were a crew in jeopardy. Usually on the flight back to the airbase was when the crew could relax somewhat. They knew their mussels would ache painfully that night and the next day. At the moment however they were still tense. Relaxed some, but not much. Everyone was running through their minds the things that are most important to them. Some were rethinking the battle and what had just happened yet the though of their families and loved ones bore prominently in their minds.
A stiff wind was coming through the airplane like a blast of cold water. It wasn’t as cold as it was at 25,000 feet. Even so at this low altitude the wind was endless and bitter. The bomber had taken a hit in the nose from anti-aircraft fire, which had blown out the Plexi-glass. With the nose of the bomber open to the elements, it was sending a continuous flow of air straight through the aircraft over everyone.
Charlie and his copilot looked over at each other, no words were spoken. They had talked steady for the last five minutes as they scrambled to regain control of the bomber. Their eyes met and so did their minds. No words were needed. They knew what could be ahead for them and the crew of “Ye Olde Pub”.
Oberleutnant Franz Stigler, Luftwaffe Ace; JG 27
Location; At a Luftwaffe Airfield
It was a beautiful day with blue skies, a mild wind and the smell of fresh air. At a Luftwaffe airfield, Oberleutnant Franz Stigler was climbing onto the wing of his Messerschmitt Bf 109. His aircraft has been rearmed and refueled from his morning combat with American bomber formations. He was pleased that he had downed two B-17 Flying Fortresses earlier that morning.
The morning combat was like flying against a wall of American bombers all filled with bombs heading for a German city. Franz knew that at least two Boeing B-17’s never found their target. Most of the bombs that were dropped by the Americans never hit their targets. The factories and industrial targets they planned to hit were surrounded with residential areas with the homes and shops of the local citizens. These were the areas that were being obliterated. Too many times the intended target would be completely missed while residential areas were laid to waist. The goal of the Luftwaffe pilot was to keep the bombers form their targets but the Luftwaffe needed many more fighters to ever reach that goal. Now Stigler was to take off again and chase the remaining bombers from the morning raid back to the Channel and hopefully shoot down another. In the Luftwaffe you got the Iron Cross if you shot down three bombers in one day. Stigler felt lucky as he stood on the wing and looked across the field.
With the American bombers having to travel so far from their bases in England the Luftwaffe was able to attack them on their way to a target and then again on the return flight. Actually the bomber formations could be hit as many as four or five times by the enemy. The first time was as they crossed the coast line by Luftwaffe fighters stationed in France . The second time they were hit by fighters from another squadron that was closer to the target. These fighters would break off their attacks as the bombers entered the actual target area. The skies over the target would be saturated with anti-aircraft fire. The third time the bombers were assaulted would be by the anti-aircraft fire itself. The Germans were using 37mm to 88mm cannon that were calibrated to detonate at the altitudes that their radar calculated the bombers to be flying at. The fourth time the bombers were attacked was after they left the anti-aircraft protected area over the target. Once the bombers were clear of the anti-aircraft fire the enemy fighters would descend on them again. This battle would last until the bombers would be far enough away from the target and the enemy fighters would be depleted of fuel and ammunition forcing them to turn back and land. Finally the last attack was by Luftwaffe fighters stationed in France as they flew back towards their airfields.
Above is a color enhanced photo I took out of a Messerschmitt book. The aircraft crew kept the fighter ready for the Ace at all times.
Bomber pilots have told me that they thought nothing of the anti-aircraft fire when they were flying through it. The crewmen in the back of the bombers were far more concerned about the enemy anti-aircraft gunfire than the pilots. “It was during this part of the battle that you just hoped that it was not your turn to die.” One waist gunner I met told me.
Many men were killed during these raids by scrap-metal from the enemy guns ripping through the skin of the bombers. Many, many more were injured. Some bombers were lost due to their controls being cut by the hot metal scraps or by the enemy bullets. Damaged fuel lines, electrical or the hydraulic systems hurt the bomber worse. Planes did fall from the sky. Bomber formations would most literally leave a trail of downed airplanes across the European country sides to the target and back. That is an incredible thought. They left a trail of downed bombers on the way to the target and more bombers were left in a line back to the French coast. Men were in those wrecks on the ground, some, the lucky ones were able to parachute to the safely of the European country side where they faced being captured by the enemy.
As they passed over Germany and France, Luftwaffe bases would be alerted as to their altitude and direction. This was the position Stigler was in. Franz and his fellow fighter pilots hit the American’s first in the morning and then would make a last stab at the bombers as they left the continent.
Stigler’s ground crew was finishing their job of preparing his fighter for another sortie. The Messerschmitt was purring like a loin, a loin ready to pounce. Small puffs of exhaust were coughing from the engine as it hummed waiting to be tested to its fullest in combat. The Daimler-Benz engine was running smoothly slowly spinning the prop blowing a steady breeze back over the wings. The wind blew Franz’s hair as he strapped on his leather headset and poised his goggles on the top of his head.
The ground crew took great pride in their jobs. Their job was to prepare this Messerschmitt to fly and fight. To take the pilot into combat like no other commandant before. Flight was a recent achievement of mankind that had been conquered only 38 years earlier. Now mankind with this new ability to fly raced along with technological advancement to show the world the power and might of aerial warfare.
Franz watched the ground crew look over the aircraft one last time. The flaps, trim tabs and rudder were checked. The damage from the morning battle had been temporally patched. The metal workers would patch the holes better after this flight. The crews could work into the night preparing the aircraft for the next day’s battle. This sortie, the second for the day was a quick turn around from one mission to another.
Just 45 minutes to an hour and Franz would be back into the air engaging the enemy. Like a race car driver pulling into the pit to have his racer serviced and gassed and then sent back out to finish the race, this was Franz the aviator, Franz the warrior! His aircraft was always damaged after his aerial battles with the American fighters and bombers. That was good. That proved that he was aggressive. It showed that Franz got in close to make sure that his hits counted.
The mission of the ground crew was to give the pilot a machine that would take him safely into battle and bring him home again. Franz and his ground crew were comrades. Together they were men who had been brought together by this war where they became fast friends. Their job now was to defend the Fatherland. The ground crew loved Franz. He was a good man and an expert aviator and fighter pilot. They wanted him to succeed; they thrilled equally with his aerial victories. Every time Franz returned from a mission they carefully tended to his aircraft as if it too were a living warrior.
Franz was ready for another mission knowing that someone would not return to their base. Franz was a veteran German ace who had flown in North Africa with Hans-Joachim Marseille. He started flying for the Luftwaffe as an instructor where he taught many young cadets to become some of Germany ’s greatest Aces. One of his cadets was Gerhard Barkhorn. He joked that Barkhorn was one of his worst students at first. So in essence he had taught the best and would fly in combat with the best. Franz would end the war flying the first operational jet fighters, the Messerschmitt 262 with the “Fighting General” Adolph Galland in JV44. The Luftwaffe cadets, aviators and Aces he worked with were a “Who’s Who of Germany Luftwaffe history.
Above is a color enhanced photo I took out of a Messerschmitt book showing the fighter starting it’s roll towards takeoff.
His plane captain was preparing the cockpit for Franz as he took one last look around the airfield. As Franz was about to enter the cockpit, he was shocked to see a smoking B-17 flying just above the treetops right past his airfield. Franz leaped into the cockpit with the help of his plane captain. The ground crew began shouting at one another as they clamored with last second checks.
Quickly strapping Franz into his seat his plane captain shut the canopy and gave Franz a thumb up signal assuring the pilot the canopy was secure. The captain leaped off the back of the wing of the sleek Messerschmitt as the prop wash increased practically pushing him off as the Daimler-Benz roared while Franz increased power. Dust flew up as the ground crew grabbed the ropes that held wood blocks under the wheels and freed them. The aircraft rolled forward. Franz increased power and his aircraft sped down the runway after the smoking bomber.
As the fighter’s speed increased the tail wheel rose from the runway. The fighter was now level and Franz glanced down to watch the RPM’s increase. Franz pulled back on the stick and the nose of his Messerschmitt rose. The wheels spun freely as they left the runway. Bits of dirt were thrown from the tire treads of the wheels as they spun. Stigler retracted the landing gear and it pulled up into the bottom of the wings. Just like a bird pulls its talon’s close to his body to gain speed.
With his wheels up and his Daimler-Benz running smoothly the Messerschmitt rose from the earth after the enemy aircraft. The broad sharp propeller blades chopped the air actually pulling his aircraft toward the crippled bomber. Stigler trimmed the Messerschmitt and matched the altitude behind the low flying Fortress in the distance.
Making sure that his gun sight was working, Franz readied himself for combat. It took many minutes to catch up with the bomber. Franz closed in on the enemy aircraft placing the B-17 in his gun site’s crosshairs. Still too far away it took a few more minutes as Franz approached. He was going to be careful not to get to close too quickly. Franz did not want to be shot down by the rear gunner. Franz had already been shot down several times and before the war ended he would be shot down a total of seventeen times. The defensive guns on American bombers alone would shoot Franz down eleven times before his carrier as a Luftwaffe pilot ended.
Being shot down was no disgrace, no; it meant that you were aggressive. You had the guts to get in close. Close enough to see the face of the rear gunner and watch balls of fire coming back toward you from the machine guns he was manning. Maneuvering his Messerschmitt carefully Franz would try to put his tracers into the face of the rear gunner and kill him first. Every once in a while you would see the rear gunner stop firing, for a moment. He ran out of ammo! Now, now is your chance to slip in quickly and silence that gun forever! You have to drop that bomber! That B-17 just bombed a German city. Did that bomber just kill someone you know, a relatives or a friend?
In his past attacks on the bombers Franz would be distracted by pieces of the bomber he was firing on coming off and flying back towards him. Large and small pieces of metal, rubber and hoses glanced off his aircraft. And there was the smoke from a burning airplane. If the bomber was smoking you had to stay out of its slipstream so you could concentrate on your victim.
Franz told me that no matter how brave he tried to be there were those times when the returning gunfire from the bomber was so intense that he simply panicked and would find himself throwing his left arm over his face and eyes for protection. He flew blind while he held his course with his right hand holding the control stick and the trigger. He held his course firing as he flew on continuing his attack. He was lucky not to have had a mid air collision which did happen a lot. These are the thoughts of a Luftwaffe pilot, a veteran. Franz faced death over and over defending his country from the thunderous storms of Allied bombers and the swarms of murderous Mustangs, Lightings and Thunderbolts!
Franz found himself daydreaming for a moment and then he again focused on the low flying bomber when he noticed that the bomber was very badly damaged. He also noticed that no gunfire was coming from the aircraft. That bomber would normally be firing back at him. Even if the German fighter was out of range the rear gunner would try to spoil his attack with burst of gunfire.
Still holding his fire, Franz pulled closer to the bomber with his trigger finger poised to blast the enemy out of the air. As he neared he saw that the guns of the bomber were not manned! In fact upon closer inspection, an exploding 20mm shell from another German fighter must have hit where the rear gunner sat.
The left stabilizer wing mounted under the massive tail of the bomber had been shot away. The section the rear gunner sat in had taken a direct hit. The Plexiglas was blown away and what was left of the crewman’s body was in plain view. Blood from the rear gunner was thrown up onto the tail of the bomber like a coat of red paint!
This view of death shook Franz. He knew that he had killed rear gunners and other crewmembers in enemy bombers before but he never got this close to see the carnage that resulted. In aerial combat you shoot at aircraft, not men. And when the aircraft you attack goes down you don’t see the fear-filled face of the pilot, you see a smoking enemy fighter or bomber plunging toward earth. Aerial combat is a form of combat that is sanitized. In all the combat Franz had experienced, he had never seen a dead man-sitting limp at his station like this. Franz told me that the sight “shook him.”
Since the guns on the bomber were not manned Franz pulled up along the right side of the Fortress and was astonished that the aircraft was flying at all. The damage was extensive with one engine out, and another prop slowly spinning. Large holes were in the wings and fuselage. How was this aircraft flying thought Franz? So large were the holes in the side of the bomber that Franz could look in the windows and holes and see that at least half of the crew was wounded and the other half was tending to them.
Stigler flew on Browns right wing for several minutes looking at the proud Boeing aircraft. He could see the crew in the B-17 look out at him. This was indeed a rare opportunity for Stigler to get close and have a good look at one of the enemy bombers.
Franz gently pulled back on his stick rising just above the fortress and with slight foot-peddle movement he floated over the bomber to the left side of the aircraft and looked over at the pilot. The B-17 was equally shot up on this side. Franz thought that if he could get the attention of the American pilot, he would signal for him to land and surrender. Franz thought this was the best for the crew because he could not imagine the ship getting them safely home to their base in England.
Charlie’s First Mission
Newly assigned Captain Charlie Brown had finally arrived in England . He was definitely away from his hometown but he was not afraid or timid. He was a bold and brazen young man. He was strong and looking forward to a good fight. He was well aware of the carnage that resulted from this aerial war he would participate in and he had prepared himself for the conflict. He was smart and wise and had the best training a bomber pilot could receive at the time.
His first mission was like the rest of the pilots who came to the war front for the first time. Charlie flew his first mission as a co-pilot over a target that was considered a “milk run.” A milk run was a bombing mission where there was little or no fighter opposition and little antiaircraft fire. It was an easy in and an easy out bombing mission. Brown was just like any new aviator to combat. He felt undefeatable. His first mission had been confidence building. But then again he was never in any real danger.
On this day Charlie was excited that this, his second mission, he would be the Captain. He would lead his men and his Flying Fortress over “Fortress Europe” and drop bombs all over them. The B-17 that Charlie was assigned to was a war veteran, “Ye Old Pub”. The bomber had flown fourteen missions mostly with the present crew. This would be its fifteenth mission. The bomber was showing wear but they all did after a few flights. The ground crews did take care of every operational part of the bomber but did not care about the paint job getting soiled or chipped.
Charlie had been working with the crew for a week. Most of the men already had more than a couple missions under their belts. Each man had different thoughts drift through their heads but the one thought that every one came back to was the upcoming mission. A bombing mission always started with a predawn wake up call, washing your face, the chow line, black coffee and a cigarette. The mission briefing would be almost a daily routine until their tour was over. This was new and exciting to Charlie but he could look around the room and see in the faces of the other pilots the look of veterans. Wear not just on their body but also on their minds showing through their faces. Men with grim and serious looks sat among the group. Each one of them knew that this could be their last mission.
Before them on a short stage a foot or two off the floor were the commanding officers, intelligence officers and meteorologist. This was no show. This was serious. The maps, the route they were to take into the continent and where they would finally turn onto the target. And the return route home. They were told of the number of expected Luftwaffe fighters in the area and the locations and the suspected number of anti-aircraft guns that were defending the target. They would describe the target itself. What it was, oil production, machine shops, aircraft factories, rail road and other logistic targets. Then the weather man was telling them the best he could with what knowledge he had which was not much at times. With England being an Island Nation the weather did change. The pilots all took notes.
With their bellies full, a trip to the latrine and one cigarette after another with coffee as a mouth wash they all drove out to the airfield. The airfield was filled with what looked like a mile of B-17’s. The early morning air was brisk on the faces of the young men who were hanging onto their Willis Jeep as it followed one of many heading towards the flight line. How magnificent the sight was. The smell of aviation gas, oil and cigs would fill their noses now for a while.
As they passed the neat row of bombers each aviator looked at every Fortress to view the artwork. The names of girl friends, wives, fully clothed and half naked women adorned these war machines. Hundreds of props slowly spinning like an endless row of windmills. “Like Time Square” one of the guys said. The traffic was as busy as any morning in any major city gearing up for a busy day. Only instead of meats, clothing, jewelry, and other merchandise, the truck traffic was hauling fuel, bombs and miles of machine gun belts full of fifty caliber missiles.
The bombs had already been loaded; the ground crew was just finishing their last checks for “Yea Ole Pub.” Charlie and his copilot started their walk around the bomber checking and rechecking. They would be doing a walk around every time for their pre-flight. The rest of his men, the bombardier, navigator and gunners were disappearing one at a time into different open hatches of this beast. Standing at the tail looking up at the graceful lines of this war machine was awe-inspiring. Charlie tapped on the side of the tail where the rear gunner was seated. The rear gunner was checking his twin fifty’s. The gunner looked up and smiled big at Charlie giving him a thumb’s up.
These are the controls for the pilot and the co-pilot.
“The mission is a go!” was called out by a guy driving swiftly by in a Jeep. Charlie and his copilot walked along the left side of the sixty-foot long fuselage bending to duck under the huge broad wing. Charlie slapped the copilot’s back and told him to “go first.” The co-pilot reached up and drew himself into the bottom of the Fortress. Charlie was the last to enter. He looked around the field and marveled at all the human effort before him. The combined noise of hundreds of engines caused a vibration that traveled through the concrete pavement to you feet and up into your body. Even though the engines were simply idling together they made a monstrous roar. Hundreds and hundreds of engines all slowing spinning their yellow tipped props. Charlie reached up with both hands and drew his young firm body into his aircraft.
After strapping in they reviewed the dials and gauges. Charlie started calling out a list that would become routine. Checking the intercom system each man had his job. Each was trained, gun bolts checked, machine gun belts checked. Suits checked, helmets, flak jackets close by and available. Maps studied, radios checked, first aid kits readied, and the incredible low throbbing hum of the Wright Cyclone engines. The airplane fills with exhaust fumes and the smell of gas is penetrating.
Here they would sit for a half hour before Charlie could release his brakes and start the long roll down along the side of the runway. Bombers would be stacked up one behind another nose to tail, nose to tail. At first it is exciting to watch each bomber roll past, watch the tail lift and then watch the heavy monster rise into the air ever so slowly. Charlie watched and waited. It would be many minutes before it would be their turn.
Finally Captain Charles Brown pulls his Fortress onto the matt of the runway. Throttles are pushed forward and acceleration began. The new concrete run ways were fairly smooth and the trip down was swift. It was amazing how quickly these heavy aircraft could gain speed from a complete stop. Every man on the plane feels the tail lift. The engines are roaring. No bone in your body goes unshaken. Finally, the feeling of the aircraft leaving the earth is a thrill, slight as it may be; you know that you are free of the earth.
Next is the arduous process of forming up over the English territory. As all aircraft are gathered together into groups they gain altitude. After a few minutes the English Channel draws slowly closer. On and on they will fly together all the while climbing. Climbing to a point that death would take you in the sub-zero temperatures if you were exposed.
This is the bombardiers location. Note that he sits right in the front of the bombers nose.
Thinking. Every man is again thinking their own thoughts. Mom, their girlfriends, friends in their hometown and cities. Their future? Collage? Mechanics school? A thousand American airman with a thousand different thoughts all going in the same direction. To an “X” on a map that had to be destroyed.
The Germans were thinking also as they watched the approaching Americans on their radar screens. At the Luftwaffe aircraft control center phone calls were made. Anti-aircraft gunners stacked ammunitions. German fighter pilots were suiting up as the ground crew scrambled to their duties. The Americans are coming!
This shows the narrow walkway and the top of the bottom turret.
This is the front of a B-17G model. Note the hatch on the bottom where the pilots entered and exited.
Stigler’s Morning Mission
That morning, Franz along with fellow Luftwaffe pilots had reached their assigned altitude and was moving toward the yet unseen American bomber formation. Two air forces from different countries sped towards each other. Arranged like charging cavalry mounted and armed.
Dots, just dots in the distance. That’s all you see at first. Then the dots grow larger. Soon it looks like a huge cloud or a swarm of bees. Angry bees. Stigler checked his guns as he fired off a few rounds. He saved his 20mm cannon because those rounds were precious. He needed every one of those shells for the heavy bombers. Stigler had already claimed several four-engine bombers in the past and he was looking forward to adding a few more victory marks on the tail of his Messerschmitt. His ground crew was always as thrilled as he was when he came back with new victories.
Yet on a few occasions, Stigler’s plane did not return. Long faces were drawn on his crew as they would look into the sky waiting for him. Hoping the best for him or hoping that if the worst happened, it was quick. When Franz didn’t return they would turn and head back to the hanger. They would await a new fighter pilot fresh from training school needing a talented ground crew. Then later that day, that night or the next day Franz would show back up at the base with a new story and new victories. New combat victories would be painted on his newly assigned Messerschmitt. Beer would be consumed by all. This was a brotherhood.
The oncoming bombers were stacked at different altitudes in their box formations. Stigler and his men met the first wave of Fortresses at the altitude they were already at. He lining up on the nose of the most convenient Fortress and waited for the proper range. The 7.9mm machine guns of Stigler’s Messerschmitt opened up first since their range was greater than the cannon. In another moment the “BAM, BAM, BAM” from his cannon kicked in. Franz could see tracers from the top turret reach toward him. He witnessed puffs appear on the nose and fuselage of the Fortress. Those innocent looking puffs were Stigler’s rounds striking the Fortress. Barreling towards each other they both fired. In the flash of an eye he dove under the B-17. Franz knows to go under the bomber because the top turret was already drawing a bead on him. “You need not serve yourself on a silver platter. If you dive under the bomber the bottom turret would not be ready for you and you would be past the aircraft in a flash.”
Franz kicked rudder to come back around for the bomber he had just hit. The only problem was that the American bomber formation was so large that he found himself in the middle of the group. Orange and yellow fireballs chris-crossed all around him. He could see that the bomber he had fired on had developed problems. He approach the bomber from behind and a little below coming in on the tail of the Fortress. He could see it was slipping to the left leaving its position and nosing down a little. Franz came closer waiting to get in range. The tail gunner of the Fortress was already firing along with the bottom turret.
This photo is from gun camera footage shot by Horst Petzschler when he shot down this B-17 in a head on pass.
Franz pulled up slightly to avoid the bottom gun. The rear gunner was enough for him to deal with. Just as a few rounds from the bomber hit the right wing of his Messerschmitt, Franz fired on the bomber. His rounds first struck the tail area in an effort to silence the gunner. There was no way that Franz could hold his target as he was moving to avoid being hit by the guns of the bomber. Plus the wounded Fortress was sliding to the left and nosing down as he was coming up from behind. As Franz fired he could see his rounds hit and run up the side of the fuselage. Franz triggered his cannon and its rounds went into the right wing root area.
Franz banked and looked back over his shoulder. He figured that he had hit the pilot or damaged his instruments enough for the Fortress to loose control during his first head on pass. On his second pass it looked like Franz caused the rear gunner much grief. The bullets along the side of the bomber sprayed the right waist gunner, but it was the 20mm cannon ripping holes into the main body of the plane at the wing root that ensured its demise. Franz banked to the right and then left pulling in front of the B-17. He saw the first parachute followed by another figure bailing out as he came back into the bomber formation selecting his next target. One B-17 down.
Heading back into the bomber formation he selected one that was about a mile away and 1000 feet lower coming at him. Franz bore down on the bomber. He aimed just ahead of the bomber coming in an attack angle that would take his bullets from the nose to the middle wing root area. Franz waited for the bomber to intersect with his line of fire in his gun sites.
The top turret was the only gun that could bring its guns to bear on him. Franz felt and heard crashing sounds as a few of the American’s rounds hit his fighter. NOW! Franz said to himself as he fired all guns. Just as planned he crossed the aircraft with a complete folly of combined fire. Like opening a tin can he could see that he all but cut the Fortress in half. His bullets ripped into the Fortress right behind the turret gunner.
Franz flashed past the bomber in his dive. He kicked rudder to the right. His Messerschmitt was going full throttle and the turn took him into a controlled slide as he tried to right himself and go back to his target. Again he found himself back in the middle of a hundred guns all firing at him. He just had to ignore them. He began his climb towards the rear of the B-17 he had hit. This time he would have to put up with the right waist gunner and the bottom gun. His angle was where the rear gunner could not reach him. The American gunners were not going to let Franz get in close. Franz could see the tracers of both the right side gunner and the bottom turret draw together towards him.
“God Damn!” Franz thought as a few of the enemy’s rounds hit is machine. Finally Franz fired all guns into the wing in-between the two engines where the fuel tanks rested along with landing gear and many other controls. Franz flew straight on pouring cannon and machine gun fire into this concentrated area. The incoming fire from the bomber was so intense that even Franz could not control his fear. He threw his left arm over his eyes as he held his course and fired for a few more seconds. Franz pulled his fighter level and looked back at his nemesis. His rounds had struck true. Fire had enveloped the right wing of the Fortress. That bomber would never see its target. Franz knew that he had saved many German citizens.
Franz was almost out of ammunition and he needed to save what he had left in case an American fighter jumped him. There were many American fighters flying in and out of the bomber formations as they chased the FW-190’s and Bf-109’s. Yet one never confronted Franz. He set course for his airbase and checked for damage. Two down. That made for a good day. Of course Franz knew that anytime he lived through combat made it a good day. Franz told me that one time he was shot down by the rear gunner of a Fortress before he was able to fire his own guns! But he lived.
Charlie’s Morning Mission Continued
On the way to their target, Ye Olde Pub had been jumped by Luftwaffe fighters. As the German fighters attacked the intercom almost burst with shouting crewmen yelling, “Here he comes”, “look out to the right”. The overall engagement was dumbfounding. The waist gunners were both engaged. Just minutes before they were both laughing and thinking that the Germans weren’t going to come up and bother them. Then fighters were spotted. The air inside the bomber was filled with the scent of spent gunpowder. The gunners could still smell the acid sent with their oxygen masks on.
The Fortress was raked with the thunderous sound of incoming bullets. The left waist gunner fell back. The other bent down to help him. His arms had been hit. Blood was flowing freely. The unhurt gunner tried to calm his injured friend, he called on the intercom that his buddy had been hit and he was helping him. “Back to your guns! Here they come again.” The bomber was being fired on from the rear. The rear gunner was saying “Here he comes, I got him now!” Smashing and grinding noises then came from the rear of the bomber.
Everyone was busy. Both Charlie and the co-pilot bravely held course in order for the combined firepower of the formation to be effective. What hell it was to fly straight and level during such a burst of violence. The copilot told Charlie that one of the port engines was hit but not burning or smoking. The Fortress was rocked by turbulence as an enemy fighter flew past very close.
The right waist gunner witnessed a fighter come in from behind and below. He could not bring his gun to bear on him nor could the rear gunner. The bottom gunner was firing at the German but the waist gunner did not see any hits. For some reason the enemy fighter pulled up close and to avoid hitting the bomber he tilted his wing and banked away exposing the underside of the Messerschmitt to the side gunner. The German pilot must have miscalculated his vulnerability as his Messerschmitt banked away from the bomber.
The enemy aircraft was only about one hundred feet away right out side the window from the waist gunner. At that moment the speed of both aircraft was equal as the light blue belly of the fighter was right where the waist gunner was able to fire straight into the center section between the wings. Time stood still for a moment as a plume of fire burst from the now doomed German. The fighter that was trying to bank away simply fell back and tumbled away as the bomber flew on. “I got one!” Was called out on the intercom.
Then the skies were clear of fighters. Charlie called for everyone to report. One by one he was able to account for his crew but the rear gunner never answered. Charlie asked the uninjured waist gunner to check the tail gunner. He never had to climb all the way back because he could see that their friend was limp in his seat. “Looks like our back door defense got hit.” Was called up to Charlie. “How bad?” Charlie asked. A very dry voice called back, “He’s dead sir.” was the answer.
Charlie was busy conversing with the navigator and the bombardier. The target was less than an hour away and another bomber group called in that they were being hit by a group of fighters protecting the upcoming target city. Many of the American escort fighters were turning back because they were running out of gas, ammo or were damaged.
Charlie and his co-pilot discussed their upcoming mission. They were on course and flying well enough to figure that they got out of this fairly well so far. Scattered clouds did not hide the countryside below. The target was coming into view. “Fighters!” With the tail gunner dead and one waist gunner out of commission they were attacked again. Fortunately “Ye Olde Pub” did not suffer this time. There are so many B-17’s in the air that many would not suffer being attacked by enemy fighters at all.
Close up of Harper artwork. This close up shows where the bombers front nose glass had been shot out opening up the bomber for an onrush of cold air. At high altitudes, the air temperature is amazingly cold. Also behind the top turret you see the rear pointing 50 caliber machine gun sticking out of where the radio operator was stationed. This area has been ripped open like a tin can by enemy gun fire.
Then the dirty white and gray cotton puffs appeared ahead of them. Anti-aircraft fire. All Charlie could do is to take his Fortress straight into the thick of it. Charlie was told not to worry about the “flak.” Just stay on course, Charlie was thinking as he headed towards the target that was already being pulverized by hundreds of explosions from the bombers in the led.
Charlie was flying in formation approaching the target when his Fortress received direct hits from the German 88mm antiaircraft guns. His bomber lost one engine. More of his crew was wounded. Then the left rear stabilizer was ripped off at the tail. The sounds of a hundred pieces of metal hitting the skin of the Fortress sounded like a hundred BB’s hitting a tin roof all at once really hard. One enemy cannon shell blew up right in front to the bomber blowing out the glass front.
Charlie nursed his bomber to the target and allowed the bombardier to take control of the Fortress. Lined up as best he could the bombs were dropped. Charlie was losing his position in the formation as his plane lost some power. This was bad. Very bad. The group banked away from the target and turned towards their long flight back to their air bases.
As soon as the bombers where free of the anti-aircraft fire the German fighters returned. It only takes a few bullets here or there to bring down a bomber. The Germans would try to weed out the damaged bombers and drop them onto the earth below.
It was now time for the flight home. The group always flew in formation and would fly and turn at expected times to throw off the Germans as they watched the bomber group on their radar screens. These moves would also throw off the interception of German fighters at times. It worked today but not for some. Some of the bombers were slipping out of formation. A lone bomber was a sitting duck for German fighters. And there were fighters off in the distance waiting for the chance to down another bomber. Charlie called on the intercom to see how the crew was doing. One by one they checked in minus the tail gunner.
Ye Olde Pub slowly slipped further back in the bomber formation. As soon as Charlie’s bomber was alone, over twenty enemy fighters attacked. Since Charlie was alone so he did not have to fly straight and level anymore. Twisting and rolling Charlie maneuvered the fortress. In all the tumbling and turning his crew fought back desperately. Incoming German bullets and exploding cannon shells hit more of his crewmen. The bombers defenders downed one of the attackers and damaged a few others.
Then one of the Germans bullets found its mark. This was not a killing blow, but a miraculous one. A bullet had found the oxygen supply for the crew. Charlie and his crew without knowing were about to lose consciousness from lack of oxygen at twenty five thousand feet.
As the German fighters came in for the final blow, they witnessed the proud but battered B-17 tumbled out of the sky toward the earth. The German fighters quickly pulled away to go after the next straggler. Who claimed that kill no one knows but some German pilot would be painting a victory marking on the tail of his aircraft when he landed. The B-17 was a stable aircraft with broad strong wings. As the aircraft fell with the crew unconscious the aircraft righted itself and flew along with its crew motionless in their places until they woke one at a time not knowing that they all had been knocked out.
This is where the radio operator was stationed.
As Charlie came to, he found his aircraft flying level just above the treetops. The other crewmembers woke not knowing at the time what had just happened. Charlie quickly gained control of his bomber and asked for the navigator to chart a westerly course back to the Channel.
This is when Ye Olde Pub passed Stigler’s airbase. It wasn’t long before Charlie knew that a German fighter was closing on his tail. His crew updated Charlie as it approached. The only gun that was manned was the belly turret. And his guns were jammed! The bottom turret gunner watched, almost in shock as the Messerschmitt drew closer and closer. The gunner was helpless as he saw certain death torment him.
Charlie knew that at this altitude if his wounded bomber was hit again it would break apart and they would be pulled to the earth. He tugged at the controls trying to keep the plane stable. His men were shouting to him what the German was doing which was flying around the cripple bomber like a cat playing with a fear stricken mouse before he finished them off.
Charlie was young, wounded, and fighting the controls of his bomber. Charlie was scarred, but he was the Captain. He could not show anything but strength for his men. The Messerschmitt was now less than 100 yards away right outside his window flying beside him. Charlie would quickly glance to his left out the window trying to watch the German while trying to keep his plane flying straight and level.
When their eyes finally met, Franz, using hand signals motioned for Charlie to land and surrender. Charlie quickly jerked his head forward. The bomber was shaking and the controls vibrated and pulled in his hands. Land? Charlie thought? He wants me to land? Charlie knew that he did not want to spend the rest of the war as a POW. His only thought was to get his wounded men and broken aircraft back to England.
Franz flew along side the American bomber studying the damage. Stigler kept thinking how was this aircraft flying? The men in Charlie’s bomber were watching the German fighter from the windows and hung on as their bomber shook. The wounded were bandaged and made as comfortable as possible.
Close up of Harper artwork. Harper did a good job on this painting.
The B-17 was venerable from frontal attacks by the Luftwaffe fighters. The German fighters would fly straight at the bombers firing into the nose of the aircraft. A direct stream of fire from the Germans guns would go straight through the bomber from the nose to the tail hitting every one and everything. But the goal was to hit the pilots. That would drop the bomber. Many of the German Aces I talked with said that they aimed at the engines and wings of the bombers in order not to kill the crew. Yet as the American bomber formations grew they had to change tactics and then favored the frontal attack.
All crewmembers of the Flying Fortress were Sergeants and Officers who were trained to perform most jobs on the aircraft except the actual flying and navigation. At any time one of the crew could be wounded or killed, so depending on the situation another could quickly take over and man his station if needed.
Charlie and the copilot fought the controls keeping the aircraft stable. When the bomber shook it rattled like a metal box full of coins. They had gained altitude for their return flight. The crew kept Charlie informed as to Franz’s location. Charlie was frozen staring straight out the windshield of the bomber occasionally looking down with his eyes at the gauges on the dashboard. The dials were acting like they too were frantic as they jerked like shaking fingers not keeping a steady reading on their numbers. The yoke was pulling and tugging like they were trying to break free from him. His hands were gripped tight on the yoke as if they were glued. His face was transfixed straightforward, yet his mind was unable to ignore the enemy.
Franz had hoped that the bomber would land. Doesn’t that American pilot know that his aircraft could come apart at any moment? The only smart thing to do is to get it down and save as many lives as possible now before it is too late. The emotions Franz was now feeling were ones of fear for the American aviators. Why were they not taking his advice and save themselves? They could survive the war as POW’s and return to their families once all this hell was over. Come on you idiot, land!
Franz continued to fly along and watch. He found himself concerned for the Americans. This was new to him. But Franz wanted them down now. Franz tried to get them to land by getting a little closer while wiggling the wings of his fighter, signaling with his thumb pointing down when Charlie looked over at him again.
Charlie glanced back to his shaking dials checking his airspeed, altitude, and engine pressures. Another hour and some minutes and we will be home Charlie thought. He had instructed his crewmembers to lighten the load of their aircraft by throwing out everything they could. Franz watched the American crewmen throw out all types of stuff including the fifty caliber machine guns.
Thousands of thoughts raced through Charlie’s mind. Had the German ran out of ammunition and called for other fighters? At any moment would the enemy pull away and attack with dozens of his fellow Germans? Surely this lone German didn’t need help because the Fortress was all but wasted. Even Charlie didn’t know how his aircraft was flying.
As the coast neared, Charlie’s throat was dry and his stomach was in knots waiting for the attack from the German fighter. What was this German doing? He would glance over and the German kept signaling for him to land. I’m not landing Charlie thought, no way, not as long as my aircraft is flying. Franz was truly puzzled why is this fool would risk his life and the life of his men? Can he not see that I am trying to help them?
As they finally cleared the coastline, Stigler pulled a little forward of Charlie’s widow. Charlie looked out with the co-pilot and saw Stigler raise his right hand and salute Charlie and his brave crew. The right wing of the German fighter raised and exposed the sky blue bottom of the Messerschmitt as Stigler banked away and reversed his course back toward his airfield. Stigler thought about the American airmen as he flew back to the safety of his base. A warm meal, a drink, and a good night of sleep were waiting for him.
Charlie said, “Look at that, he saluted us.” Several others on the bomber saw the Germans farewell. “You never know”, someone said over the intercom. “Let’s get this crate back”, Charlie said as he looked over at his co-pilot. “I’m with you Charlie”, the co-pilot replied and they continued their chatting as they took inventory of everyone and the condition of the aircraft.
They all watched the dark blue water below with its white caps and spray. God they didn’t want to go into that water. They had heard all the stories of how cold the channel was. Even in life rafts they would be wet and miserable until rescued. If they were rescued. There were stories of airmen found in their life rafts frozen dead from exposure only after a day.
They all hung on and prayed for the sight of land. They sat in their places listening to the drone of the engines. Some shut their eyes and thought of their loved ones. After what seemed forever a thin line appeared before them that slowly grew into a definite shoreline. They all cheered as they flew over the waves and the sandy shore that quickly turned into the beautiful lush green colors of the English countryside. Charlie began dropping altitude, which was easy as the heavy bomber nosed down toward the area they knew the airfield would be in. Just a few more minutes, just a few more long minutes.
“There it is”, the navigator hollered as he was scanning the area looking for the airfield. Charlie told the copilot to drop the landing gear. The copilot reached over and pulled on the levers that would perform the task, but the lights on the dashboard was either not working or the wheels were not down and locked. “Having trouble with the gear” the copilot shouted out. Charlie had been busy with setting the flaps and trimming the plane for a stable landing.
The navigator and engineer crawled around and looked out to visually view the status of the landing gear. The right wheel was down but the one on the left was a little over half way down. Quickly the crew started to manually crank the gear down. Sweat broke on their brow as they traded off turning the crank. As they turned, the wheel and gear inched down. The others watched the wheel dropped ever so slowly.
Charlie picked up the microphone and called to the tower that he had a damaged plane with dead and wounded aboard. The tower radioed back that the runway was too short for a bomber to land on. They advised him to fly on because they were in the process of having fighters take off for a mission.
Charlie held the microphone away from his mouth a few inches as he looked at his gages and then back out the window. He looked over at the co-pilot. “Charlie, we can’t go on, we have to land”, the co-pilot said as he looked right in Charlie’s eyes. No discussion needed, Charlie agreed and asked how the landing gear was going.
Below someone shouted that the wheel was down. Charlie brought the microphone back to his lips and pushed the button with his thumb and replied, “I can’t go on. I have to land right away. I am wounded along with the rest of my men and we are lining up on you runway”. No need to talk any more, Charlie placed the mike back and again placed both hands on the controls. “We’re taking her in everybody hold on.” Charlie looked over at the co-pilot and they both looked back out their windshields as they leveled the wings lining up their fortress for the short field.
On the ground the tower told the fighter pilots that were about to take off to sit tight! Fighters that were lined up for take off now started to pull away as best they could. Every body on the base could see the B-17 as it made a direct path for the end of the field. The crewmen hung on waiting for the initial bounce as the aircraft hit for the first time. The first bounce made everything that was loose in the aircraft jump and rattle making a terrific noise.
Gliding on for a few hundred feet the heavy bomber hit again and then one more time it settled into a roll on the uneven grass field. The bomber bounced along as Charlie and the co-pilot commenced shutting down the power and struggled to control the aircraft. The fighter pilots along the runway stood in their cockpits to watch the B-17 flash by. Everyone at the airfield had dropped what they were doing to watch the pilot of the bomber bring in his broken aircraft.
The tail wheel settled to the ground and the aircraft slowed as it left the end of the runway finally coming to a stop. Not every one at the airstrip had dropped what they were doing; the fire trucks and ambulances were already heading toward the end of the field to help the wounded crewmembers out of the bomber. As the B-17 stopped the crew opened the hatches and began helping the wounded toward the openings. Some had jumped out and helped the medical attendants with removing the more severely injured. However everyone needed attention.
Charlie unbuckled himself and slapped the co-pilot on the back. The co-pilot dropped out of the bottom hatch first and then Charlie. Charlie had been the last in the bomber and the last one out. They were quickly attended to by the medical personal. Charlie and his co-pilot walked around the bomber before they were taken off the field to the hospital. They reviewed the damage and were glad that they were back. “Ye Olde Pub” would never fly again. Her days of combat were over.
Charlie finishes the War
Charlie returned to fly 23 more missions to complete his 25 mission quota. His next B-17 was a G model and was named “Carol Dawn.” While flying the “Carol Dawn” Charlie would be credited with outstanding service. His crew claimed five enemy aircraft and damaged several others.
At the bottom of this page is a link to Charlie Brown’s story of the “Carol Dawn.” Please read this story at your leisure.
Franz finishes the War
Franz also continued to fly and fight against the American bomber formations. The difference between Franz and Brown was that Brown only had to fly twenty-five missions. The Luftwaffe fighter pilot had to fly and fight until they were either dead, too injured to fly, or the actual end of hostilities. Franz would attack many more B-17’s and B-24’s before the war ended. He personally sent many bombers back to England in the same condition as, “Ye Ole Pub” as well as many to their demise.
At wars end Stigler was officially credited with twenty-eight confirmed aerial victories. Stigler was credited with destroying a total of eleven four-engine bombers. He was also credited with over 30 probable which were severely damaged aircraft like Charlie’s B-17. How many safely got back like “Ye Old Pub” or crashed on the way home?
In the final days of the war Stigler flew his last 15 missions in the new jet fighter, the Messerschmitt Me-262 with JV-44. He shot down two more four-engine bombers flying the jet fighter but did not get credit for them because the bureaucracy of the Luftwaffe was in complete disarray. The end of the war was at hand and communications were starting to break down.
How many times did Franz and Charlie pass each in aerial combat? Did they battle against each other not knowing as the war continued? With so many American bombers and so few Luftwaffe defenders it is impossible to know yet the odds are high.
There is so much more to this story so I hope that you will consider one of my up-coming books. I will have three books covering the war in Europe.
The first book will cover a brief story of World War One then I will tell you about the Spanish Civil War which was the introduction to the Second War. You will read about the invasion of Poland and France plus the historic Battle of Britain. Plus I will add information about the contribution that Italy played in the Battle over England. Plus Franz Stigler flew vital supplies to the German air units that took part in the Spanish Civil war.
The second book will cover the war in Africa, Italy, Russia and the Normandy Invasion. The story of Franz Stigler and his first combat over the north African deserts will be in this volume.
The third book will cover the Bombing Campaign over Europe by the American and English air forces. The story of Franz Stigler and Charlie Brown will be told in full in this last volume.
Thank you for your time and please tell your friends about my endeavors.
At your service; Sir Ernie Hamilton Boyette
Charlie Brown, Franz Stigler and the artist Ernie Boyette.
The painting of the B-17 is of the “Carol Dawn” flown by Charlie Brown.
The Bf 109F is painted in North African colors and was flown by Franz Stigler with his Me262 below.
My brother Bill with Charlie Brown
Bill and Stigler.
Stigler signs my paintings.
Franz Stigler, Ernie Boyette and Charlie Brown
Visit Charlie’s and Stigler’s Pages Below
Please call or write for permission to use any word in this story.
I do not mind sharing, just ask.