Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: A B-17 damaged on a bombing raid over Germany reached England safely after a German pilot declined to shoot it down.
Examples: [Collected via e-mail, March 2008]
Origins: The basic framework of this tale about a memorable act of gallantry in wartime is true: In
Aside from pointing interested readers to a more comprehensive article covering these events (such as the one here), we don't have much to add other than noting that the shortened version of this tale which has circulated widely on the Internet (as reproduced in the "Example" block above) may include some fanciful embellishments intended to heighten the drama of the story:
We couldn't find any account (including those to which the two pilots contributed) that stated German fighter ace Franz Stigler had been dispatched specifically to shoot down
Again, no other account of this event we've found verified the claim that
It seems amazing that the heavily damagedSome accounts do state that Stigler "escorted" the
Glancing out the cockpit window, Brown saw a German fighter plane, a Messerschmitt 109, flying alongside.
Still partially dazed, Lieutenant Brown began a slow climb with only one engine at full power. With three seriously injured aboard, he rejected bailing out or a crash landing. The alternative was a thin chance of reaching the UK. While nursing the battered bomber toward England, Brown looked out the right window and saw a
Brown and Stigler did finally find each other in 1989 (and eventually met) after Brown placed an advertisement in a newsletter and discovered that Stigler was living in Canada near Vancouver. However, every news article we've found describing the reunion mentioned that since his retirement from the Air Force in 1972, Brown had been living in Miami, not Seattle (which would have put him about
After the war, Brown remained in the Air Force, serving in many capacities until he retired in 1972 as a lieutenant colonel and settled in Miami as head of a combustion research company. But the episode of the German who refused to attack a beaten foe haunted him. He was determined to find the enemy pilot who spared him and his crew.Franz Stigler passed away on
He wrote numerous letters of inquiry to German military sources, with little success. Finally, a notice in a newsletter for former Luftwaffe pilots elicited a response from Franz Stigler, a German fighter ace credited with destroying more than two dozen Allied planes. He, it turned out, was the angel of mercy in the skies over Germany on that fateful day just before Christmas 1943.
It had taken 46 years, but in 1989 Brown found the mysterious man in the
Stigler, now 80, had emigrated to Canada and was living near Vancouver. After an exchange of letters, Brown flew there for a reunion. The two men have visited each other frequently since that time and have appeared jointly before Canadian and American military audiences. The most recent appearance was at the annual Air Force Ball in Miami in September , where the former foes were honored.
In his first letter to Brown, Stigler had written: "All these years, I wondered what happened to the
She made it, just barely. But why did the German not destroy his virtually defenseless enemy?
"I didn't have the heart to finish off those brave men," Stigler later said. "I flew beside them for a long time. They were trying desperately to get home and I was going to let them do it. I could not have shot at them. It would have been the same as shooting at a man in a parachute."
Last updated: 11 March 2009
This material may not be reproduced without permission.
snopes and the snopes.com logo are registered service marks of snopes.com.