I cannot kill these half-dead people. It would be like shooting at a parachute.
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Tuesday, December 20, 2011
TFH 12/20: 2LT Charles L. Brown, USAAC
From time to time, the valor of our heroes takes too long to recognize. In the case of Charles Brown, recognition of his heroism during World War II took over 64 years. On December 20, 1943 Brown was piloting a B-17 Flying Fortress on a bombing mission over Germany when it was heavily damaged by Nazi anti-aircraft fire and attacking fighters. On February 4, 2008 the United States Air Force presented him with our Nation's second highest award for courage, the Air Force Cross.
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Second Lieutenant Charles L. Brown for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an armed enemy of the United States as a B-17 Pilot of the 527th Bombardment Squadron, 379th Bombardment Group (Heavy), EIGHTH Air Force, in action over Germany, 20 December 1943. On this date while attacking a heavily defended target over occupied Germany, Lieutenant Brown's aircraft sustained severe flak damage, including destruction of the Plexiglas nose, wing damage, and major damage to the number two and four engines. Lieutenant Brown provided invaluable instructions to the copilot and crew requiring the number two engine to be shut down. He then expertly managed to keep the number four engine producing partial power. This action enabled his crew to complete the improbable bombing run and bomb delivery on this important strategic target. Immediately upon leaving the target, sever multiple engine damage prevented maintaining their position in formation. During this extreme duress, the demonstrated airmanship displayed by Lieutenant Brown could only be described as crucially pivotal to the aircraft's survival and displayed by only more seasoned and experienced aviators during the War. His violent, evasive tactics to counter the multiple enemy efforts to destroy their airplane directly contributed to his crew and his aircraft's survival. Alone and outnumbered, the aircraft was mercilessly attacked by the enemy in which crew difficulties were compounded when discovered only three defensive guns were operational, the others frozen in the -75 degree Fahrenheit temperatures. The result of this brief, but devastating aerial battle was one crew member dead; another critically wounded that would require amputation of his leg; serious damage of the third engine; the complete destruction of the aircraft's left elevator and stabilizer; the inoperability of the bomber's oxygen and communications systems; and the complete shredding of the rudder by enemy fire that produced a death roll of the plane as it spiraled helplessly out of control causing the entire crew to temporarily lose consciousness. Miraculously, prior to ground impact, Lieutenant Brown and the copilot regained consciousness and managed to regain full flight control by pulling the heavily damaged aircraft out of its nose-dive. Although managing to recover this aircraft from certain doom, the crew's plight was further complicated when a lone German fighter witnessed the maneuver, now attempted to force the crippled aircraft to land. Displaying coolness, courage and airmanship of more senior pilots, he boldly rejected the enemy fighter's attempts at a forced landing and directed the struggling aircraft to the North Sea. While attempting this improbable, treacherous return to home station, Lieutenant Brown's command and control was instrumental to the remaining crew's survival. While in the cockpit, he provided the essential engine control, fuel management, and piloting skills necessary to the cockpit team during their hazardous, yet miraculous return of the aircraft's perilous crossing of the North Sea back to home station in England. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, Lieutenant Brown reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Army Air Corps.
There's another side to this story: that of the German Luftwaffe pilot who intercepted the stricken B-17 and let it escape. His name was Franz Stigler. Stigler, who had already shot down two B-17s that day, could see through the holes blasted in the plane by his comrades' weapons. He saw the dead and dying crew inside, and held his fire, thinking:
The Nazis weren't known for their compassion, but Franz Stigler showed it that day. Had his act of mercy become known to his own chain of command, he'd have been executed for his actions. His courage in not shooting is also worthy of our praise.
Late in their lives, both Brown and Stigler located each other and the incredible story of 12/20/1943 became known. Both of them passed away in 2008: Stigler in March, Brown in November - about 9 months after receiving his Air Force Cross.
The 379th Bombardment Group's descendant, the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, flies in defense of our Nation today.