Charles Carpenter enlisted in the US Army in 1942 commissioned a second lieutenant. After completing flight training, Carpenter flew light observation aircraft and accumulated substantial flight training for enemy surveillance and observation and artillery scouting missions.
In 1944, Carpenter was promoted and assigned to combat duty with the 1st Bombardment Division in France. When he arrived, he was assigned to fly artillery support and surveillance missions with a Piper Cub light aircraft – an L-4H.
This assignment was supporting part of General George S. Patton’s U.S. Third Army. The Piper L-4H had a combined weight capacity of approximately 232 pounds, including cargo and passenger.
Of note, it should also be mentioned that there was no radio aboard.
By the time of the Allied siege of Lorient and the encirclement of German forces around that city, Carpenter had become annoyed at not being able to attack Nazi forces during the occasions when Allied artillery was out of reach or assault aircraft were occupied in other combat missions.
Carpenter had noticed that other pilots had installed bazookas as armament on their planes as anti-tank fire. So with approval from Command Headquarters, Carpenter first attached two bazookas to the wings of his plane, which he called Rosie the Rocketer.
After some testing, Carpenter added two more rocket launchers, then later, two more for a total of six bazookas.
Carpenter’s bazookas each fired a single rocket-propelled anti-tank grenade with a battery ignited toggle switch operated by the pilot. The bazooka’s warhead could pierce approximately three inches (76 mm) of armor on impact when fired at a 30° flight angle, even though the rocket was highly ineffectual against the front armor of the German Tiger tanks.
Now with his aircraft armed, Carpenter began attacking German armored forces. With any firm hit against the thinner armor protecting the top of the tank, Carpenter found that even against the heavy tanks such as the Tiger I, using the bazookas as airborne weapons were quite effective at immobilizing the Nazi tank targets.
Most of Major Carpenter missions were flown alone because any additional weight had a negative impact on the plane’s maneuverability and speed.
When on the attack, Carpenter’s usual routine was to find his target while he was in the air, then corkscrew down before rapidly diving at the enemy tank or other target and releasing his bazooka grenades.
It wasn’t essential the enemy target be destroyed; as long as a tank was stopped from advancing any further. Within a short time, Carpenter was credited with immobilizing four Nazi tanks, two of which were Tiger 1 tanks, and knocking out a German armored car. Carpenter quickly became known as known as “The Mad Major” or “Bazooka Charlie” by his comrades in his unit.
His Carpenter’s heroic acts were soon recognized by several media accounts, including the Associated Press, the New York Sun, the Stars and Stripes, Liberty Magazine, and Popular Science.
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