Heroic People Who Deserve to be Way More Famous
Heroic People Who Deserve to be Way More Famous

Heroic People Who Deserve to be Way More Famous

Khalid Elhassan - March 31, 2021

Heroic People Who Deserve to be Way More Famous
A P-51 making a low level attack on a German plane. Art Station

6. A Heroic Pilot So Good He Scared an Enemy Flyer Into Killing Himself

Bruce Carr’s previous flight experience got him sent to Spence Airfield in Georgia, for an accelerated pilot training program flying P-40 Warhawk fighters. After 240 hours in the air, he graduated as a flight officer in late August, 1943, and was sent for additional specialized training. It included qualifying in early models of the North American P-51 Mustang fighter, and its ground attack and dive-bombing variant, the A-36 Apache. Carr was sent to England in early 1944, and was assigned to the 380th Fighter Squadron, 363rd Fighter Group, Ninth Air Force.

Until then, Carr had never flown above 10,000 feet. When he took his P-51 to 30,000 feet, he was so impressed by its handling that he named his airplane “Angel’s Playmate“. He notched his squadron’s first kill, and his first heroic deed of the war, on March 8th, 1944. That day, Carr attacked a Messerschmitt Bf 109 near Berlin, and chased it to near-ground-level while firing his guns. Only one hit the enemy fighter, but its pilot panicked. Unable to escape from Carr, the Luftwaffe airman decided to abandon his plane and parachute to the ground. Unfortunately for the German, he jumped too close to the ground for his parachute to fully open.

Heroic People Who Deserve to be Way More Famous
Bruce Carr in front of his P-51. Aviation Geek Club

5. This Pilot’s Heroic Flying Was Seen by His Superiors as “Overaggressive”

Bruce Carr’s superior airmanship that scared an enemy into abandoning his plane and unintentionally killing himself was heroic. Unfortunately, Carr’s superiors refused to give him credit for the downed Bf 109 on the specious reasoning that it had crashed, and not been shot down. He argued that it was his daring pursuit and aggressive flying that had caused the crash. As Carr saw it, he had literally scared the enemy pilot to death, and caused him to kill himself. It did him no good.

Heroic People Who Deserve to be Way More Famous
Emblem of the 354th Fighter Group. Cyber Modeler

Carr was not only denied credit for his first kill, his aggressive airmanship was seen as “overaggressive” by his superiors. So he was transferred to 353rd Squadron, 354th Fighter Group. It was his old squadron’s and fighter group’s loss. Carr fit in better with his new outfit, and became one of the 354th Fighter Group’s top aces. His deadly streak started on June 14th, 1944, when he was credited with a probable kill of a Bf 109 over Normandy, France. Three days later, on the 17th, he shared a kill when he helped another pilot down a Focke-Wulf Fw 190.

Heroic People Who Deserve to be Way More Famous
Gun camera view of a P-51 strafing parked German bombers. World War Wings

4. Shot Down Behind Enemy Lines

Bruce Carr’s daring flying got him noticed, and in August, 1944, he was commissioned a second lieutenant. On September 12th, 1944, Second Lieutenant Carr’s squadron strafed Ju-88 bombers on a German airfield. On the way back, his flight spotted more than 30 Fw 190s two thousand feet below them. The Americans pounced, and in display of daring airmanship, Carr personally shot down three enemy fighters in just a few minutes – an aerial hat trick. He then escorted a fellow American pilot, whose airplane was severely damaged, back to base.

Carr’s heroic exploits that day earned him a Silver Star, America’s third-highest decoration for valor in combat. He became an ace on October 29th, 1944, when he shot down two more Bf 109s over Germany. Four days later, while leading his flight on a strafing run over a German airfield in Czechoslovakia, Carr’s P-51, Angel’s Playmate, was hit by antiaircraft fire. He bailed out from his fatally damaged plane, and parachuted safely to earth. Carr had escaped death in the air. Now he set out to escape Germans on the ground.

Heroic People Who Deserve to be Way More Famous
Fw 190 cockpit. National Air and Space Museum

3. A Heroic Escape Plan

Bruce Carr found himself stranded hundreds of miles behind enemy lines. He evaded capture for several days, but the going was rough. Eventually, cold, wet, exhausted, and starving, he decided to surrender. He knew that German airmen treated enemy airmen better than other POWs, so he headed to a Luftwaffe airfield that he had spotted. He made it to the surrounding fence, and decided to hide in adjacent woods that night, then walk up to the front gate and surrender the following morning. However, Carr saw something that made him change his mind: German ground-crew fueling and performing maintenance on an Fw 190 at the edge of a runway, close to his hiding spot.

When they were done, the Germans tightened the panels back on the plane and left, leaving it ready for combat the following morning. A plan began to form in Carr’s mind – more heroic than anything he had pulled off thus far. That night, Carr worked up the nerve to sneak up to the enemy fighter, and climbed into its cockpit. He fought off sleep until dawn’s early light allowed him to inspect the instruments. Everything was labeled in German, but there were enough similarities between the German and American cockpits for Carr to guesstimate what did what.

Heroic People Who Deserve to be Way More Famous
The Fw 190 that Bruce Carr stole and flew back to base. Large Scale Planes

2. This Airman Pulled Off One of the Most Extraordinary and Heroic Escapes of WWII

Bruce Carr found the Fw 190’s starter lever, spent half an hour building up his courage, then pulled it. Nothing happened. German starters worked the other way around. He eventually pushed it forward instead of pull it back, and the fighter’s BMW motor roared to life. Carr dared not risk his escape by wasting any time taxing to and lining up on the runway. Pouring on full throttle, he raced across a corner of the airfield, between two airplane hangars, then over the heads of sleepy and befuddled Germans. Upon reaching Allied territory, ground troops opened fire on the American pilot’s Fw 190.

To avoid friendly fire, Carr flew just above treetop at 350 mph. After flying about 200 miles, he reached his airfield. Unable to deploy the landing gear or communicate via radio, Carr made decided to make an immediate belly landing before his own airfield’s defenses blasted him out of the sky. Military police surrounded the crashed Fw 190, and refused to accept Carr’s word that he was American. It was finally sorted out when the group commander arrived, and identified his missing pilot. Carr’s heroic escapade made him the only Allied pilot to leave on a mission in a P-51, and return in an Fw 190.

Heroic People Who Deserve to be Way More Famous
Modern replica of Bruce Carr’s P-51. Aircraft Resource Center

1. More Heroic Deeds After a Heroic Escape

After his return, Bruce Carr was promoted to first lieutenant, and was granted a well-deserved leave. However, his heroic escape was not the end of his heroic deeds, and his wartime exploits were far from over. On April 2nd, 1945, First Lieutenant Carr led three other American fighters on a reconnaissance mission, when they spotted 60 German fighters above them. Despite the 15:1 odds against his flight, Carr immediately led an attack. Within minutes, he and his companions downed 15 Germans. Carr personally shot down two Fw 190s, three Bf 109s, and damaged a sixth plane.

Heroic People Who Deserve to be Way More Famous
A WWII Distinguished Service Cross. Military Medals and Collectibles

That made Carr the European theater’s last ace-in-a-day (somebody who shot down 5 or more enemy planes in a single day). It also earned him a Distinguished Service Cross, the country’s second-highest award for valor. By war’s end, Carr had flown 172 combat missions, scored 15 confirmed air-to-air kills, several more unconfirmed victories, and numerous ground kills. He flew another 57 combat missions during the Korean War, and 286 more in Vietnam, earning a Legion of Merit and Three Distinguished Flying Crosses. He retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 1973, died of prostate cancer in 1998, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Air Force Magazine, February 1st, 1995 – Valor: Thanks, Luftwaffe

Ancient Egypt Online – Queen Ahhotep I

Angers, Trent – The Forgotten Hero of My Lai: The Hugh Thompson Story, Revised Edition (2014)

Australian Dictionary of Biography – Armfield, Lillian May (1884-1971)

Aviation Geek Club – The Story of Bruce Carr, the P-51D Pilot Who Left on a Mission Flying a Mustang and Returned to Base Flying a Luftwaffe FW190

Black Past – Deacons For Defense and Justice

Cobb, Charles E. – This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible (2015)

Cracked – Unsung War Heroes Who Deserve Their Own Movies

Encyclopedia Britannica – My Lai Massacre

Face 2 Face Africa – The Deacons; the Black Armed Christians Who Protected MLK, Civil Rights Supporters Before Black Panthers

Florida Times Union, October 12th, 2012 – Veteran of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Portrayed in ‘We Were Soldiers’, Dies at 92

History Collection – Lenny Kravitz’s Heroic Uncle

History Daily – The Story Behind: A Member of the French Resistance Smiling at a German Firing Squad

Musee de la Resistance – Georges Blind [French]

Nation, The, June 17th, 2004 – By Any Means Necessary

New South Wales State Archives & Records – Tilly Devine and the Razor Gang Wars, 1927 – 1931

Straw, Leigh S. L. – Lillian Armfield: How Australia’s First Female Detective Took on Tilly Devine and the Razor Gangs and Changed the Face of the Force (2018)

Together We Served – Carr, Bruce W. (DSC), Colonel

University of Notre Dame, Australia – Tackling Sydney’s Organized Crime, Armed With Just a Handbag

Wikipedia – Basil L. Plumley

Wikipedia – Hugh Thompson Jr.

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