WWII veteran pilot surprised to see the tail of his battered P-47

93 years old WWII veteran pilot Charlie Screws got an opportunity to be reunited with the tail of his damaged fighter plane.  On 29th January 1944 Screws, a member of the 361st Fighter Group, was returning to base at Bottisham, England in his P-47 Thunderbolt fighter plane, when he was relentlessly attacked by German fighter planes.  After engaging the enemy and sustaining much damage to his plane, the pilot realised that the P-47 was ready to give out at any moment, so he decided to do a belly landing. This decision worked in his favour.  “When everything quit,” he said, “I bellied the thing in.”

The plane’s crash site was a beet field outside Dunkirk, France.   Needing to escape from the German-held territory, Charlie Screws hurried to a nearby forest and hid himself there.  He said: “I knew to go to that direction.” As night fell he began to search for residents who would sympathise with his miserable plight.  He was successful in finding a partisan family who helped him get to a train heading for Paris.

After the war he moved to Abilene, Texas and worked as a pilot instructor in a P-47 fighter plane based at the Abilene Army Air Base.  It just so happened that it was near Charlie’s home where the fighter plane’s 6-foot tall tail section finally wound up — damaged, but with the stencilled yellow numbers 275417 still visible.

Twenty years ago the battered P-47 was discovered in Europe by two relic hunters. Recently, while surfing the internet, film and stage actor Michael Fuller of California discovered the plane’s tail section for sale.  He contacted Malcolm Laing, the director of a branch of the Texas Air Museum at Slaton.  Laing was acquainted with Charlie Screws, so Laing and Fuller decided to surprise to this 93 years old veteran pilot.

It would never have been possible to reunite Screws with this piece of his fighter plane, which he had to leave behind 71 years ago in the German-occupied territory, if it hadn’t been for Fuller, who bought the tail section of the P-47 online and shipped it to the United States. The section will be taken by Laing to the museum in Slaton where it will be kept for display, the Washington Times reports.

Usually the Germans melted down the parts of the Allied fighter planes which fought against them, so Screws was a bit surprised when later he saw the tail of his crashed P-47.  The plane had fortunately failed to catch the notice of the German soldiers.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE