Monday, 5 October 2015

The "myth" of the last dogfight in Europe - a unique combat encounter - Grasshopper vs Fieseler Stork

An article in Le Fana de l'Aviation, issue April 2015 entitled "The "myth" of the last combat " relates the story of the last aerial 'combat' in Europe during WWII. This story was first published in Cornelius Ryan's bestselling book 'The last Battle'. According to Ryan the last 'fight' ensued on 11 April 1945 as two American 'Forward Observers' at the controls of an L-4 Grasshopper nicknamed 'Miss Me?!' flying ahead of 5th Armoured Division columns sighted an enemy spotter plane during a routine scouting mission some 100 km west of Berlin. The enemy aircraft was a German Fieseler Storch. The two aircraft were not prepared for fighting. However, the Americans – pilot and co-pilot Lt. Duane Francies and Lt. Bill Martin – took advantage of their air position above the Germans, opened their doors and used their service revolvers (.45 caliber pistols) to begin firing on the enemy spotter plane below.

Francies later wrote:

"...The German Storch, with an inverted 8 Argus engine, also a fabric job and faster and larger than the Miss Me!?, spotted us and we radioed, 'We are about to give combat.' But we had the advantage of altitude and dove, blasting away with our Colt .45s, trying to force the German plane into the fire of waiting tanks of the 5th. Instead, the German began circling..."

 Firing out the side doors with their Colts, the American crewmen emptied their guns into the enemy’s windshield, fuel tanks and right wing. Francies had to hold the stick between his knees while reloading. He late recalled,

"..The two planes were so close I could see the Germans'eyeballs, as big as eggs, as we peppered them."

 As the German aircraft maneuvered to evade enemy fire, one of its wings touched the ground resulting in an involuntary crash-landing. The L-4 Grasshopper proceeded to land safely close-by, the crew captured the Germans and provided first-aid.

 "..I never found out their names," Francies later wrote. "..They could have been important, for all I know. We turned them over to our tankers about 15 minutes later after the injured man thanked me many times for bandaging his foot. I think they thought we would shoot them..."  

And while not the last aerial combat encounter in Europe, it is probably the only known WWII dogfight using only pistols.

 As the Le Fana article makes clear, this was of course a long way from being the last aerial encounter in Europe. That took place over Czech territory. On 8 May a Yak-9 accounted for a 9th AF F-5E, the pilot, a Cpt. Malcolm L.Nash flying a recce sortie over POW camps around Dresden when he was mistaken for a German Fw 189. Nash was able to belly land at Reichenbach, 40 km west of Dresden. The following day Nash's unit sent out more F-5s to look for him. Once again the Soviets took on one of the F-5s in the vicinity of Prague and shot it down. So the last aircraft downed over Europe in WWII was a 39th PRS F-5 Lightning shot down over Prague by a Soviet P-39 on 9 May ! This was the thirteenth 'victory' of a Major Vasily Pschenitchnikov of the 100 GIAP.

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