Fighter pilots who re-united with opponents they shot down, years later

Mitsuo Fuchida, who led the first wave of bombers at Pearl Harbor after coordinating the entire aerial attack for Admiral Nagumo, and transmitted the radio call “Tora! Tora! Tora!”, became an evangelical Christian missionary in the US after the war, as a member of the Worldwide Christian Missionary Army of Sky Pilots. He must have met quite a few Americans who had been his targets.

This is true, as far as it goes; IIRC, Maxwell Taylor held him while Robert McNamara beat him senseless.


Nice imagery, maybe, but I doubt that it’s true. Based just on things in this story.

  • radar (invented by the British) was pretty much more advanced on the Allied side than the Axis, all through the war. So if the German pilot was “testing a new radar”, it probable that the British bomber already had better radar installed. So the British plane would have seen him on radar as he approached, and certainly would not be surprised.
  • at nighttime, how would the German pilot be able to see the expression on the British pilot’s face? Cockpits weren’t lit up at night – pilots went to some effort to avoid lights, to keep their night vision intact. (And to keep their bodies intact, by avoiding been lighted targets.)

A bomber wouldn’t be carrying radar, as it would basically be like flying through the night with a lit signal flare, and would serve them no useful purpose. During WWII, only Night Fighters or maritime patrol planes carried radar, in both cases to help them locate their targets, which were moving around in the night. A bomber such as the Mosquito (which was made out of wood, fun fact) would typically be going after stationary targets on the ground.

As far as being able to see the other pilot’s face, bear in mind that while it’s dark at night, it’s not pitch black out. Once your eyes adjust to the darkness, you can actually see fairly well. It’s also possible that it’s an embellishment to the story that the German pilot convinced himself to be the case, of course.

EDIT: Some clarification on the radar thing: Radar existed, and the Brits were in the lead on it, particularly early in the war, but radar-equipped aircraft were very rare. Typically dedicated night-fighters, with multiple crewmembers so one could fly while the other worked the radar. The mosquito did also serve as a night-fighter during the war, as many such night fighters were modified bomber designs (radar sets are heavy). That said, if this particular Mosquito were a nightfighter, one presumes they would have seen the German plane coming. If it was a bomber instead, they’d quite possibly be caught by surprise.

Mosquitos were actually commonly used as pathfinders, dropping flares along the route to lead the bomber stream (The RAF didn’t fly in formation, but let each bomber make its way to the target on its own) and finally marking the area for the bomb drop.

Bombers did carry radars for ground mapping for navigation and target identification, most famous being the H2S, later developed by the Americans into the Mickey Radar. As you would expect, the Germans soon learnt how to track the H2S’s signal and guide their night fighters to it. Mosquitos (which were more heavy fighters than bombers) never carried them as far as I know though.

Would pathfinding radar be able to see other aircraft? IIRC, that sort of radar tended to be pointed downward at the ground rather than at the horizon.

Quite correct, I was just nitpicking about the statement that bombers didn’t carry radar.

I heard about this one years ago. Might be apocryphal, I’m not sure, but here goes:

An American bomber pilot was being interviewed on French radio, on the anniversary of the end of the war. The interviewer asks him if he ever feels guilt over all the people he killed on his bombing raids. The pilot says no: it was war, he was doing his duty, etc. etc. Except for one time.

They were on a raid into Germany when their bomber developed engine trouble and had to turn back. Worried that they might be too heavy to make it back, they dump their payload over the French countryside. Unfortunately, they don’t realize they’re flying over a farmhouse until it’s too late. The farm takes a direct hit, and is flattened. The pilot didn’t know if there was anyone in the farmhouse at the time, and had always felt bad about the incident.

The interview concludes, and they open up the phone lines. And one of the callers is from the family that lived in the house at the time! They’d abandoned it to live with relatives further away from the fighting, and after the war, had returned home to find the area largely untouched by war - except for the string of bomb craters walking right through where their home used to be. From the timing, they figured it had to have been the Allies (Germany not having much of an air force left at this point), but could never figure out what had happened, until he heard the American pilot’s story. He told the pilot that his family didn’t hold a grudge over it, and thanked him for his efforts in freeing France from the Nazis.

Martin Caidin once related a story like these in his book on the P-38. Seems a P-38 got shot down and crash-landed behind Italian lines in decent condition. The Italians rebuilt it and one of their pilots used it to pick off stragglers from bombing missions, who would welcome a “friendly” escort back home. One time one of his targets survived, and the Army decided to get a little payback. They turned a B-17 into a gunship, and researched the Italian pilot. Seems he was from a town the Allies had just captured. The B-17 pilot got a picture of his wife and painted it on the nose of the gunship. Then they played straggler. Sure enough, here came the Italian P-38. The American pilot taunted the Italian with descriptions of what a great lay this “Gina” was. That got the Italian steaming, and he attacked recklessly and was shot down by the gunship.

The pilots met outside the POW camp when Italy surrendered. The Italian pilot flew in salute over the American’s funeral when he was killed during the Berlin Airlift.

This is all very noble and stuff, but I can’t understand it.
Dad spent two years in New Guinea having malaria and with fungus growing on his body, shoveling the remains of aircrew out of B-25s with his hands to get them ready to bomb the Japanese again.
He recounted the story of a Japanese pilot who was strafing the air field running out of fuel and bailing out. They had been shooting at the aircraft with M-1s, .45s and tommy guns. They shot the pilot (with one round that hit) in his parachute.
These guys were doing the utmost to kill each other.
I just don’t get it.

Admiral Gallery is a fun author to read. I can second this recommendation.

It seems that gallantry to an opponent during wartime was something that might happen in the European theater unlike the Pacific or the Eastern front. In the Pacific and on the Eastern front combat was much more personal so, yeah, each side for a variety of reasons was much more willing to tear the others’ throat out with their teeth.

To top it off, I’ve heard that New Guinea – particularly from stories from the Kokoda Trail – was probably the worst environment of WWII to fight in. The second largest island (or is it third?) in the world a mere 11 degrees off the equator, mold and fungus everywhere, cloths rotting on your back, metal corroding before your eyes, thunderous downpours every day, slogging through mud with an ungodly stench, every animal in the jungle and more than a few plants poisonous or venomous. And then there’s the enemy with a moral code so utterly at odds with your own as to provoke thoughts of not just defeating them, but extermination or, at least, annihilation.

Based on what your father may have told you of his experiences, I’m not in the least bit surprised you don’t get it. Nor should you.

The Germans were white North West Europeans. the Italians were also of European stock. the Japanese were yellow Japs. Its not surprising that the views were different. Japanese troops could expect to have their skulls sent as mementos to girlfriends or their arm bones being made into letter openers. Admittedly, there were exceptions. However, the Japanese were seen as somewhat less human. it’s not to say that the Japanese did not return the compliment.

The film, *White Light/Black Rain*, starting at 42 sec., has a sad and weird “reunion” of Hiroshima survivors and Gen. Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay, on the TV show This Is Your Life.

Captain Robert A. Lewis

I see to recall that at the time of Nixon’s early trips to China, the USAF chief of staff discovered he had shot down the PLAAF chief of staff over Korea. Many drinks were drunk.

I almost remember I read it in Readers’ Digest.

I was privileged to interview VADM Stockdale about eleven years ago. I said that I bet he’d love to get his hands around some of the North Vietnamese who tortured him. He stated that he would love to see them - and have a drink with them! I told him that I was surprised, and he stated that “he was just doing his job and I was doing mine.” I was flabbergasted.

These guys tempered by war look at the world differently.

John McCain did quite a bit to help President Clinton normalize diplomatic and trade relations with Vietnam, and has been back several times since his involuntary stay in the Hanoi Hilton. Not sure he’s met any of his torturers again, though.

Much more racist, IMHO.


Well said. Perhaps only Guadalcanal could challenge New Guinea for the worst terrain/climate in the Pacific war.


Well said. Perhaps only Guadalcanal could challenge New Guinea for the worst terrain/climate in the Pacific war.[/QUOTE]

Burma could be pretty bad.