Why a German Pilot Escorted An American Bomber To Safety During World War II

Once in a while, you hear an old war story that restores your faith in humanity, but how many of them take place in mid-air? That’s the story of a crippled American bomber spared by a German fighter pilot. It was a few days before Christmas in 1943 and the allied bombing campaign in Germany was going at full tilt. Second Lt. Charlie Brown and his crew were about to embark on their first mission — to hit an aircraft factory in northern Germany. As they approached the target, Brown’s B-17F Flying Fortress, dubbed Ye Olde Pub, was hit by German fighters and the rounds destroyed their number two engine and damaged number four. Missing one engine and with another throttled back due to damage, the plane could no longer keep up with the formation and they fell behind. The tail gunner was killed and four others injured. The only defensive guns left in service were the top turret and the nose gun, but because the bomber’s hydraulics had been knocked out, the plane went into a spiral, plummeting towards earth. Somehow, Brown and the co-pilot managed to get the plane flying level again at about 1,000 feet of elevation. Lt. Franz Stigler, a Luftwaffe fighter pilot, saw Ye Olde Pub limp by and scrambled to give chase. However, what he saw calmed any aggression he may have had. He could see crew members giving first aid to the wounded, as well as how disabled the plane was. Stigler managed to fly within 20 feet of the bullet-riddled B-17 and used hand signals to give a message to Brown: "Land your plane in Germany and surrender or fly to Sweden. That heap will never make it back to England.” Stigler stayed with Brown’s plane, keeping other attackers away until they reached the North Sea. The bomber made it back to England, and it landed in a smoking pile of exhausted men and shredded aluminum. Stigler was never able to speak of his actions that day, as it would have meant certain court martial. After many years went by, Brown received a letter from Canada. It was from Stigler, who had been searching for him for years. From 1990 to 2008, Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler became like brothers. The two men remained close, dying within several months of each other in 2008.