- The Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler incident occurred on 20 December 1943, when, after a successful bomb run on Bremen, 2nd Lt Charles “Charlie” Brown’s B-17 Flying Fortress (named “Ye Olde Pub”) of the USAAF was severely damaged by German fighters.
Luftwaffe pilot Franz Stigler had the opportunity to shoot down the crippled bomber but did not do so, and instead escorted it over and past German-occupied territory so as to protect it. After an extensive search by Brown, the two pilots met each other 50 years later and developed a friendship that lasted until Stigler’s death in March 2008. Brown died only a few months later, in November of the same year.
Brown managed to fly the 250 mi (400 km) across the North Sea and land his plane at RAF Seething, home of the 448th Bomb Group and at the postflight debriefing informed his officers about how a German fighter pilot had let him go. He was told not to repeat this to the rest of the unit so as not to build any positive sentiment about enemy pilots, lest other damaged bombers hold their fire on incoming fighter planes hoping to be rescued, only to be shot down. Brown commented, “Someone decided you can’t be human and be flying in a German cockpit.” Stigler said nothing of the incident to his commanding officers, knowing that a German pilot who spared the enemy while in combat risked a court-martial. Brown went on to complete a combat tour. Franz Stigler later served as a Messerschmitt Me 262 jet-fighter pilot in Jagdverband 44 until the end of the war.