Both pilots met decades later and became good friends

Ye Olde Pub: The American B-17 bomber saved by a German Bf-109 fighter pilot

It's been many years since I read this nice story of World War II, and it's about time it had its own entry on this website.

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On December 20, 1943, a US Army B-17 bomber, nicknamed "Ye Olde Pub", was returning to England after a mission over the city of Bremen, Germany. During the bombardment, German anti-aircraft artillery had caused serious damage to the plane, with ten crew members on board and whose pilot and commander was 2nd Lieutenant Charlie Brown. The B-17, with two damaged engines, was unable to follow its formation of bombers on the return flight.

An artist's rendering of the encounter between Brown's B-17 and Stigler's Bf-109.

During this solo flight, the "Ye Olde Pub" was attacked by several German fighters, which further damaged the American plane, leaving it with only one engine fully operational, the tail gunner dead, and the largest part of his crew badly wounded. After surviving this new German attack, the B-17 was tracked down by a Luftwaffe ace, Colonel Franz Stigler, author of 27 kills and who went out to hunt down the bomber with his Messerschmitt Bf- 109G-6.

When the German pilot approached the B-17, he saw it destroyed and was able to make out the wounded crew members on board. The bomber was an easy target, but Stigler did not fire, risking being shot down by the B-17 gunners , but they did not open fire on him (most of the onboard weapons were disabled ). Stigler thought that shooting down that plane in that state would have been murder, and that contradicted his sense of honor.

The protagonists of this story in photos of the Second World War: the then 2nd Lieutenant Charlie Brown and Colonel Franz Stigler.

Using signs, the German pilot tried to convince Brown to deviate and fly to Sweden, which would be their shortest route to find salvation and free themselves from captivity, but the American pilot did not understand him. The commander of the B-17 wanted to return to England, and since he ignored his instructions, Stigler decided to risk his life again by flying in formation with the B-17 so that German anti-aircraft artillery would not mow down Brown and his men. Stigler also risked being identified and shot for treason by returning to his base.

The B-17 managed to travel more than 400 kilometers to reach the RAF Seething base. When Brown explained to his superiors what had happened, they ordered him to keep the incident secret, since it could have led to fraternizing with the enemy. More than 40 years passed without anyone else knowing what happened.

Another artist's rendering of the encounter between Brown's B-17 and Stigler's Bf-109.

After the war, Stigler moved to Canada. In 1986, the then Lieutenant Colonel Brown was invited to a meeting of World War II veteran pilots held at the Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama (United States). There he finally told the story that occurred on December 20, 1943. As a result, Brown began to look for records that would allow him to identify that German pilot. Four years later he received a letter from Stigler identifying himself as the pilot of the Bf-109 that had escorted him. When they spoke by phone, the German pilot gave details of what had happened that only Brown knew, proving that the testimony of him was true.

Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler in a meeting when they were old.

Brown and Stigler became good friends, they looked almost like brothers. They both died in 2008, just a few months apart. Undoubtedly, his story is one of the most beautiful and exciting in a war that was filled with horror, atrocities and dishonor.

In 2014, the Swedish metal band Sabaton dedicated a song titled "No bullets fly" to this story. In November 2020, Yarnhub made a video recreating what happened and including the Sabaton song. You can see here a version subtitled in Spanish by Martin Boniotti:

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