Valor: Thanks, Luftwaffe

Feb. 1, 1995

Bruce Carr ended World War II as a lieutenant with 14 victories confirmed and the Distinguished Service Cross. Despite all that, he denies any claim to heroism–a doubtful assertion–but he can’t disclaim his role in a daring experience, to our knowledge unique in the history of that war.

Bruce Carr was a P-51 pilot with the 354th Fighter Group. At the time of this adventure, the group was based in France. In October 1944, while on a mission over Czechoslovakia, he was downed by flak. After days of evading–cold, hungry, and physically exhausted–he decided it was better to turn himself in to the Luftwaffe than to risk capture by the locals. He knew from the surrounding air activity that there was a German airfield not far away.

Lieutenant Carr found his way to the field and hid in the forest outside a fence surrounding a revetment in the woods. An FW-190 was parked there; its ground crew was completing servicing the aircraft. It was full of fuel and ready to go.

Carr’s plan of surrender took a 180-degree turn to the positive side. Maybe he could “borrow” the enemy fighter and fly back to his base in France. If he were caught tinkering with the bird, things would not go well, but it was worth a shot.

As dusk fell, Carr slipped through the fence and climbed into the FW-190. In the failing light, he did his best to familiarize himself with the cockpit and get ready for a takeoff at dawn. All switches and gauges were labeled in German, hence of no help. Then by the gray light of dawn, the young lieutenant found the switches for gear and flaps. Now to start the engine and get on his way before the ground crew arrived to preflight the bird.

To the right of the seat was a handle that he guessed might have something to do with starting the engine. Already there were sounds of activity on the field, so he didn’t have much time for experimenting. Cautiously, Carr pulled the handle. Nothing happened. He tried pushing it. He was rewarded by the sound of an inertial starter winding up. Pulling the handle must engage the starter, he guessed. He cracked the throttle, wound up the starter, and pulled. The engine came to life with a roar.

Taxiing through the woods with no parachute, helmet, or radio, he could see a green field ahead and no signs of unfriendly reaction. Carr firewalled the throttle, then roared across the field and into the air, leveling off at treetop altitude. He saw no sign of pursuit as he headed for home. Flying the fighter was no problem. An airplane is an airplane, as they say. He didn’t have time to consider what would happen at the field when the Germans discovered one of their planes was missing.

All went well until he reached the front lines. Every armed Allied soldier in range opened fire on him. There was little Lieutenant Carr could do in the way of evasive action since he was blowing leaves off the tops of trees, but his luck held. No hits.

Another problem lay ahead: the likelihood of being shot down by his own airfield defenses. Without a radio, he had no way of assuring them that this was a friendly FW-190. It was best to get on the ground as fast as possible. He came screaming in on the deck, pulled up, rolled over on his back, reefed it in for a short approach, dropped flaps, and pushed the button he thought would lower the landing gear. There was no reassuring thump of gear coming down. As he pulled up for another try, he could see the AA crews uncovering their 40-mm guns. With no parachute, his only option for avoiding another encounter with flak was to belly in. This he did without injury.

As the FW-190 ground to a stop, Lieutenant Carr was surrounded by MPs, whom he could not convince that he was a 354th pilot on a delayed return from a mission. Things grew more and more tense until the group commander, Col. George Bickell, arrived and stuck his head into the cockpit. His first words were, “Carr, where in hell have you been?”

After his extraordinary experience, Bruce Carr was back on operations in a few days. By April 15, he was credited with 7.5 more victories, five on one mission, putting him among the top 50 World War II AAF fighter aces. Today, retired Colonel Carr flies a P-51 owned by Dr. Joseph Newsome–but, he says, a little more conservatively than in years gone by. And with the consent of the owner.

Published February 1995. For presentation on this web site, some Valor articles have been amended for accuracy.