Truly touching moments of humanity, ethics and morals are rather rare in warfare. The Christmas Truce of WWI was an excellent example of such humanity, as were the heroic actions of German Luftwaffe fighter pilot Franz Stigler on December 20th, 1943. His actions got nine men home for Christmas.
Charlie Brown of the USAAF was a Lt. flying his first mission as an aircraft commander flying a B-17, “Ye Olde Pub” on a bombing run over Bremen.
Brown’s bomber occupied the especially dangerous left of the formation, sometimes called the Purple Heart Corner. Bremen was defended by a large contingent of fighters and well-manned flak guns.
Two B-17s were quickly struck by heavy flak, and many went down. Brown’s bomber was hit at least once in the left wing. The crew had to shut down an engine which took them out of the formation. Soon they were met by about eight enemy fighters.
The B-17 was sometimes referred to as the flying porcupine and Ye Olde Pub sure lived up to The name. the gunners took out at least one of the fighters and as many as three, all on their own.
The remaining fighters were still able to take the fight to the bomber, however, and bullets tore through Ye Olde Pub.
The tail gunner, Sergeant Hugh “Ecky” Eckenrode, was killed as large sections of the tail were shot apart. Nine more crewmen were injured, some very badly wounded.
The electrical, hydraulic and oxygen systems were damaged. Brown was wounded in the shoulder, and the seriously wounded had little reprieve as the morphine syringes were frozen.
Oxygen deprivation and wounds caused Brown to black out momentarily as the bomber spiraled towards the earth. Brown woke up and said that his first memory was of dodging trees.
The wounds and lack of oxygen made his memory hazy, but from the severe damage and drop in altitude, it is assumed that the German fighters figured that their target was destined to crash.