A Higher Call

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by silence, Aug 10, 2013.

  1. silence

    silence Active Member

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    Just stumbled across this on Youtube:


    View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkVc5o1UXAA

    Excerpt from the Wiki posting:

    Pilots

    2nd Lt. Charlie Brown (a farm boy from West Virginia) was a B-17F pilot with United States Army Air Forces (USAAF)'s 379th Bomber Group stationed at RAF Kimbolton in England. Franz Stigler (a former airline pilot from Bavaria) was a veteran Luftwaffe fighter pilot attached to Jagdgeschwader 27 and at the time had 22 victories to his name and would be eligible for the coveted Knight's Cross with one more downed enemy aircraft.
    Bremen mission

    The mission was Brown's first and targeted a Focke-Wulf aircraft production facility in Bremen.


    Bomb run

    Brown's B-17 began its 10-minute bomb run at 27,300 feet with an outside air temperature of minus 60 °C. Before the bomber released its bomb load, accurate anti-aircraft flak shattered the Plexiglas nose, knocked out the number two engine and damaged the number four engine which had to be throttled back to prevent overspeeding. The damage slowed the bomber and Brown was unable to remain with his formation and fell back as a straggler – a position from which he would come under sustained enemy attacks.


    Attacks by fighters

    Brown's straggling B-17 was now attacked by over a dozen enemy fighters (a mixture of Bf-109s and FW-190s) for over 10 minutes. Further damage was sustained including the number three engine which would produce only half power (meaning the aircraft had at worst 40% of its total rated power available). The bomber's internal oxygen, hydraulic and electrical systems were also damaged. The bomber's only remaining defensive armament were the two dorsal turret guns and one of three forward-firing nose guns (from eleven available). Most of the crew were now wounded (the tail gunner had been killed) and Brown was wounded in his right shoulder.

    Lacking oxygen, Brown lost consciousness, but came round to find the bomber remarkably flying level at around 1000 ft. He regained the controls and began the long flight home in the shattered bomber.


    Franz Stigler

    Brown's damaged bomber was spotted by Germans on the ground, including Franz Stigler, who was refueling and rearming at an airfield. He soon took off in his Messerschmitt Bf-109 and quickly caught up with Brown's plane. Through the damaged bomber's air frame Stigler was clearly able to see the injured and incapacitated crew. To the American pilot's surprise, Stigler did not open fire on the crippled bomber. Remembering the words of one of his commanding officers from the Jagdgeschwader 27, Gustav Rödel, during his time fighting in north Africa – “You are fighter pilots first, last, always. If I ever hear of any of you shooting at someone in a parachute, I'll shoot you myself." Stigler later commented, "To me, it was just like they were in a parachute. I saw them and I couldn't shoot them down."

    Twice, Stigler tried to get Brown to land his plane at a German airfield and surrender, or divert to nearby neutral Sweden, where he and his crew would receive medical treatment but be interned and sit out the remainder of the war. Brown refused and flew on. Stigler then flew near Brown's plane, escorting it until they reached the North Sea and departing with a salute.


    Landing

    Brown managed to fly the 250 miles across the North Sea and land his plane at RAF Seething, home of the 448th Bomb Group and at the after-flight debriefing informed his officers about how a German pilot had let him go. He was told not to repeat this to the rest of the unit so as not to build any positive sentiment about enemy pilots. Brown commented, "Someone decided you can't be human and be flying in a German cockpit." Stigler said nothing of the incident to his commanding officers, knowing that a German pilot who spared the enemy while in combat risked execution.

    Lt. Brown went on to complete a combat tour.


    Post war and meeting of pilots


    After the war, Charlie Brown returned home to West Virginia and went to college, returning to the Air Force in 1949 and serving until 1965. Later, as a State Department Foreign Service Officer, he made numerous trips to Laos and Vietnam. But in 1972, he hung up his government service hat and moved to Miami to become an inventor.

    Stigler moved to Canada in 1953 and became a successful businessman.

    In 1986, the then retired Colonel Charlie Brown was asked to speak at a combat pilot reunion event called "Gathering of the Eagles". Someone asked him if he had any memorable missions during World War II. Brown thought for a minute and recalled the story of Stigler's escort and salute. Afterwards Brown decided he should try to find the unknown German pilot.

    After four years of searching vainly for U.S. and West German Air Force records that might shed some light on who the other pilot was, Brown hadn't come up with much. He then wrote a letter to a combat pilot association newsletter. A few months later, Brown received a letter from Stigler who was living in Canada. "I was the one" it said. When they spoke on the phone, Stigler described his plane, the escort and salute confirming everything Brown needed to hear to know he was the German fighter-pilot involved in the incident.

    Between 1990 and 2008, Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler became close friends and remained so until their deaths within several months of each other in 2008.


    Books

    The incident was the subject of Adam Makos' New York Times best-selling book, A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II, published 19 December 2012.



    If this topic had already been posted, forgive me for doing it again. Incidents like this (and the Christmas soccer match in WWI) give me hope.
     
  2. wheelsup_cavu

    wheelsup_cavu Well-Known Member

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  3. vinnye

    vinnye Member

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    There were many acts of chivalry during the Second World War - in the air, at sea and on the ground.
    They usually happened were the SS were absent.
     
  4. Gixxerman

    Gixxerman Member

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    Great true story.
    It just goes to show, even in the midst of all that carnage dehumanising blood-letting some people manage to hang on to their basic humanity.
    Pity it's not a universal thing, we'd never have wars in the 1st place.
     
  5. davparlr

    davparlr Well-Known Member

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    Brown went on and completed his tour. How many more German men, women, and children, were killed because he continued to fly. Sure the Allies would have quickly replaced him, but. We like to hear these stories of humanity but war is not humanity. These men were killers and their job was to destroy the enemy. I suspect an army trooper would have not been disinclined to shoot a sniper in the back as he ran away, nor would his commanders chastise him. If I would have been a fighter commander my instructions would be it the enemy pilot bailed out over friendly territory, let him go, if over enemy territory shoot him. Uncivilized, yes, but tomorrow he may kill my best friend, or, me.
     
  6. oldcrowcv63

    oldcrowcv63 Well-Known Member

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    #6 oldcrowcv63, Aug 11, 2013
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2013
    double post
     
  7. oldcrowcv63

    oldcrowcv63 Well-Known Member

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    #7 oldcrowcv63, Aug 11, 2013
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2013
    Dav, It's not so much that I "like' your post, seems like the wrong word... I just think it is well stated and reflects the reality of war and the professional perspective that you do your job, not because you like it but because it has to be done.

    Maybe we should add an icon that indicates respect for a post without a whole hearted endorsement. You stated a hard truth and not a very palatable one.

    OTOH, I appreciate Stigler's act because his subsequent choices suggest his actions may have been an act of defiance to Nazism, based on his own contemporary dissatisfaction (or objection) with his country's activities and policies. In other words, he was essentially what would be called a traitor to his own country's cause and his own mission. He may have recognized a higher morality or ethical standard than did Nazi leadership. I suspect it's not an easy call or an easy decision to make in the moment, and it is one of the great moral issues of that and any war. As the title suggests, he heard and answered "a higher call"

    I want to stand with USN naval hero Stephen Decator when he is often misquoted, "My country right or wrong",: He is actually supposed to have said

    Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!

    which was later modified by US Senator Carl Schurz (ironically a German immigrant who was also a US Civil War general) to be:

    "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.

    Of course, who is responsible for set[ting] a country right, when mass murder becomes national policy set by a small radical and powerful minority and what judgements can be rendered of people who act contrary to its aims. A current, if not dramatically or perfectly exemplified, theme of debate in our country today.

    The hard, often ignored truth, of WW2 was that in the ETO in may ways, we were fighting ourselves. Commonwealth countries, France, Germany, Italy and the USA are all Christian nations with common cultural threads and heritage. Walking a street in Europe, it's difficult today to imagine the animosities that motivated such a carnage. Cartoonist Walt Kelly said it best, especially applicable to the ETO in WW2, "We have met the enemy and it is us."

    The inherent western eastern racism and cultural intolerance of an earlier age and alien cultural norms of the PTO even today, mask the higher genetic truth that all humans are literally family and such carnage is, at some level, fundamentally insane. Two of my favorite films: Farewell to the King and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence depict the clash of alien cultures with notions of universal humanity brought about by the war. (although Farewell is I believe a predictable Hollywood distortion of actual events associated with a British T.E. Lawrence-like Anthropologist/Officer .

    Pogo_-_Earth_Day_1971_poster.jpg
     
  8. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    I've posted a thread in the 'WW 2 Videos' section, regarding a new book on this action, and a possible movie.
     
  9. davparlr

    davparlr Well-Known Member

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    I certainly understand your feelings as they typically reflect mine. When we read about compassion in war it adds a sense of civilization in an uncivilized event and we feel good about that. But war is terrible. Tens of thousands of men, women, and children were incinerated in places like Dresden and Toyko just because it was determine it would shorten the war. Tens of thousands of men, women and children were vaporized in Hiroshima and Nagasaki because it was felt that even more people would die in an invasion, including many Allied personnel (a position I support). Pre-school children were selected for horrible death just because they were there. They were no threat unlike a trained aircraft crewman. These crewmen were trained killers, far more deadly than snipers and far more important to the enemy. In the PTO, no quarters were given by the Marines or the Japanese. But who is going to condemn them. We all think gallantry is a positive thing, but in war you are dealing with real lives and real deaths and your gallantry could lead to terrible consequences, and the loss of innocent bystanders. I am not criticizing any of the events above. I wasn't there and I have not been exposed to the ravages of war. It is war and it is inhuman. Its a bitter pill to swallow. I am glad I never had such a decision to make.
     
  10. oldcrowcv63

    oldcrowcv63 Well-Known Member

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    Amen to that brother! War requires / demands a brutal calculus.
     
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