Franz Stigler's death in Surrey, B.C., received little notice in the local press, but friends knew a remarkable story about the man -- he had been a decorated German fighter pilot who saved the lives of a U.S. bomber crew.
Stigler began his career as a German pilot at age 12, going on to make 28 allied kills in the Second World War.
On Dec. 20, 1943, American pilot Charles Brown was flying his first mission in his B-17 bomber. He had just dropped his bombs on a German aircraft factory when he was attacked by fighters from above and flak from below.
"I do remember being inverted (and then) pulling up over the trees," Brown, who now lives in Miami, told CTV's W-FIVE. "At this point (we were) totally helpless."
Brown's four-engine bomber was badly damaged. Three engines weren't working, there was hardly anything left of the tail and seven of 10 crew member were injured. Brown had a bullet fragment lodged in his shoulder.
That's when Stigler saw the bomber overhead, trying to limp home.
"I went after him (to) finish him off," Stigler said.
But when Stigler got close enough to see the American bomber, he saw Brown's bleeding wounds and realized he couldn't shoot. Instead, he did something that could have seen him court marshalled and shot for dereliction of duty -- he guided the B-17 out of Germany.
"Then he gave me a wave salute and then he left," recounted Brown.
All but one of Brown's crew lived to fight another day. The American pilot was left wondering what happened to the German who spared his life.
Then, in 1990, Stigler contacted him from his new home in Surrey, B.C.
"He almost broke my ribs, he gave me a big bear hug," said Brown.
Once sworn enemies, the men became close friends and met almost every year until Stigler's March 22 death at age 92.
Saturday, 03 December 2011 14:01
WW2 German fighter pilot saved U.S. bomber crew
Published in World War History Online - World War II