The Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler Incident

The date was 20 December 1943, 4 days before Christmas..
A box formation of Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers were flying back from a successful mission targeting the Focke-Wulf aircraft production facility in Bremen, northwest war-torn Nazi Germany.

​2nd Lt. Charlie Brown, a 21 years old farm boy from West Virginia, found himself the pilot of ‘Ye Old Pub’, a heavily damaged B-17F with four crew members injured and one killed. German flak cannons knocked out one engine, damaged another and ripped away half of the rear elevator.

Falling behind the bombers formation, Charlie Brown found himself face to face with Franz Stigler, a German veteran Luftwaffe ace. With 22 victories and only one more to get his Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross medal (the highest award made by Nazi Germany to recognize extreme battlefield bravery) Stigler was gazing through his Messerschmitt Bf 109 gun-sight to the worn-out B17 with amazement, every foot of the bomber had a hole. “How on earth are they still flying?” he said to himself..

​​With his finger on the fire trigger, Stigler was waiting for the bomber’s 50 caliber machine guns to entertain him. But back in the killing machine’s cockpit, Brown and his crew were scared to the bone. Frozen due to the high altitude low temperature, the defense machine guns failed to fire. The crew realized they were on a flying coffin, rather than a flying fortress..

Puzzled, Stigler flew closer to the bomber tail gunner window, just to see shattered glass stained in red with the gunner man shot dead and his head missing. Flying parallel to the bomber now, he saw a wounded man’s face, he suddenly remembered his brother’s face, his ace brother who got shot and killed by this very enemy. Looking further to the cockpit, he saw the 21 year old pilot and his co-pilot staring out at him. Shocked in terror and disbelief, Brown closed his eyes for seconds, hoping what he saw from his window isn’t real. But the enemy was still there when he opened them.. “No bullets fly, what on earth is he waiting for?!”

​​Risking his own life and his Knight Cross, the German pilot held back his bullets, sparing their lives and escorting the enemy’s bomber right across German lines out of the kill zone to England, staying just off their wing so anti-aircraft guns wouldn’t fire, then -with a short salute- departed back to Germany.

Against all odds, 40 years later (and after an extensive search by Charlie Brown) the two pilots met each others, and between 1990 – 2008 they developed a life-long friendship -or should I say BROTHERHOOD- that lasted until their deaths several months apart!

Franz Stigler 1915 – 2008 & Charlie Brown 1922 – 2008

The story was documented in an amazing New York Times best seller book by Adam Makos titled “A Higher Call“, was sang by Sabaton (band) in “No Bullets Fly”, and I think it will be filmed in “The Mighty Eighth”.