Posted by: blogengeezer | March 17, 2008

Ace Fighter Pilot, Bruce Carr

Evading With A Dead Chicken Tied Around His Neck,

Bruce Carr, a 20-year-old American Fighter pilot in WWII, still hadn’t
decided how to cook it without the Germans catching him. After carrying it
for several days, and being as hungry as he was, he couldn’t bring himself
to eat it. In his mind, no meat was better than raw meat, so he threw it
away.

Resigning himself to what appeared to be his unavoidable fate; he turned in
the direction of the nearest German airfield. Even POW’s get to eat
sometimes. And they aren’t constantly dodging from tree to tree, ditch to
culvert. And he was exhausted.

He was tired of trying to find cover where there was none. Carr hadn’t
realized that Czechoslovakian forests had no underbrush until, at the edge
of the farm field, struggling out of his parachute he dragged it into the
woods. During the times he had been screaming along at tree top level in his http://www.mustangsmustangs.net/p-51/p51.shtml
P-51 “Angels Playmate” the forests and fields had been nothing more than a
green blur behind the Messerschmitt, Focke-Wulfs, trains and trucks he had
in his sights. He never expected to find himself a pedestrian far behind
enemy lines. The instant antiaircraft shrapnel ripped into the engine, he
knew he was in trouble. Serious trouble.

Clouds of coolant steam hissing through jagged holes in the cowling told
Carr he was about to ride the silk elevator down to a long walk back to his
squadron. A very long walk. This had not been part of the mission plan.

Several years before, when 18-year-old Bruce Carr enlisted in the Army, in
no way could he have imagined himself taking a walking tour of rural
Czechoslovakia with Germans everywhere around him. When he enlisted, all he
had just focused on flying airplanes – fighter airplanes.

By the time he had joined the military, Carr already knew how to fly. He had
been flying as a private pilot since 1939, soloing in a $25 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piper_J-3_Cub Piper Cub his
father had bought from a disgusted pilot who had left it lodged securely in
the top of a tree. His instructor had been an Auburn, NY , native by the
name of Johnny Bruns.

“In 1942, after I enlisted, “as Bruce Carr remembers it, “we went to meet
our instructors. I was the last cadet left in the assignment room and was
nervous. Then the door opened and out stepped the man who was to be my
military flight instructor – It was Johnny Bruns!

We took a http://www.warbirdalley.com/pt17.htm Stearman to an outlying field, doing aerobatics all the way; then
he got out and soloed me. That was my first flight in the military.”

“The guy I had in advanced training in the http://www.westhoustonsqdn.org/at6_pg.html  AT-6 had just graduated himself
and didn’t know a bit more than I did,” Carr can’t help but smile, as he
remembers, which meant neither one of us knew anything. Zilch! After three
or four hours in the AT-6, they took me and a few others aside, told us we
were going to fly http://www.warbirdalley.com/p40.htm P-40s and we left for Tipton , Georgia .”

“We got to Tipton, and a lieutenant just back from North Africa kneeled on
the P-40’s wing, showed me where all the levers were, made sure I knew how
everything worked, then said ‘ If you can get it started, go fly it’ – just
like that! I was 19 years old and thought I knew every thing. I didn’t know
enough to be scared. They didn’t tell us what to do. They just said ‘Go
fly,’ so I buzzed every cow in that part of the state. Nineteen years old
and with 1100 horsepower, what did they expect? Then we went overseas.”

By today’s standards, Carr and that first contingent of pilots shipped to
England were painfully short of experience. They had so little flight time
that today they would barely have their civilian pilot’s license. Flight
training eventually became more formal, but in those early days, their
training had a hint of fatalistic Darwinism to it: if they learned fast
enough to survive, they were ready to move on to the next step. Including
his 40 hours in the P-40 terrorizing Georgia, Carr had less than 160 hours
total flight time when he arrived in England .

His group in England was to be the pioneering group that would take the
Mustang into combat, and he clearly remembers his introduction to the
airplane. “I thought I was an old P-40 pilot and the P-51B would be no big
deal But I was wrong! I was truly impressed with the airplane. REALLY
impressed! It flew like an airplane. I FLEW a P-40, but in the P-51 – I WAS
PART OF the airplane and it was part of me. There was a world of
difference.”

When he first arrived in England the instructions were, “This is a P-51. Go
fly it”. Soon, we’ll have to form a unit, so fly.’ A lot of English cows
were buzzed. On my first long-range mission, we just kept climbing, and I’d
never had an airplane above about 10,000 feet before. Then we were at 30,000
feet and I couldn’t believe it! I’d gone to church as a kid, and I knew
that’s where the angels were and that’s when I named my airplane “Angels
Playmate.”

Then a bunch of Germans roared down through us, and my leader immediately
dropped tanks and turned hard for home. But I’m not that smart. I’m 19 years
old and this SOB shoots at me, and I’m not going to let him get away with
it. We went round and round, and I’m really mad because he shot at me.
Childish emotions, in retrospect. He couldn’t shake me but I couldn’t get on
his tail to get any hits either. “Before long, we’re right down in the
trees. I’m shooting, but I’m not hitting. I am, however, scaring the hell
out of him. I’m at least as excited as he is. Then I tell myself to c-a-l-m
d-o-w-n.”

“We’re roaring around within a few feet of the ground, and he pulls up to go
over some trees, so I just pull the trigger and keep it down. The gun;
barrels burned out and one bullet – a tracer – came tumbling out and made a
great huge arc. It came down and hit him on the left wing about where the
aileron was.

He pulled up, off came the canopy, and he jumped out, but too low for the
chute to open and the airplane crashed. I didn’t shoot him down; I scared
him to death with one bullet hole in his left wing. My first victory wasn’t
a kill – it was more of a suicide.”

The rest of Carr’s 14 victories were much more conclusive. Being a red-hot
fighter pilot, however, was absolutely no use to him as he lay shivering in
the Czechoslovakian forest. He knew he would die if he didn’t get some food
and shelter soon.

“I knew where the German field was because I’d flown over it, so I headed in
that direction to surrender. I intended to walk in the main gate, but it was
late afternoon and, for some reason I had second thoughts and decided to
wait in the woods until morning.”

“While I was lying there, I saw a crew working on an http://www.aviation-history.com/focke-wulf/fw190.html FW 190  right at the
edge of the woods. When they were done, I assumed, just like you assume in
America, that the thing was all finished. The cowling’s on. The engine has
been run. The fuel truck has been there. It’s ready to go. Maybe a dumb
assumption for a young fellow, but I assumed so. “

Carr got in the airplane and spent the night all hunkered down in the
cockpit.

“Before dawn, it got light and I started studying the cockpit. I can’t read
German, so I couldn’t decipher dials and I couldn’t find the normal switches
like there were in American airplanes. I kept looking and on the right side
was a smooth panel. Under this was a compartment with something I would
classify as circuit breakers. They didn’t look like ours, but they weren’t
regular switches either.”

“I began to think that the Germans were probably no different from the
Americans – that they would turn off all the switches when finished with the
airplane. I had no earthly idea what those circuit breakers or switches did
but I reversed every one of them. If they were off, that would turn them on.
When I did that the gauges showed there was electricity on the airplane.”

“I’d seen this metal T-handle on the right side of the cockpit that had a
word on it that looked enough like “starter” for me to think that’s what it
was. But when I pulled it – nothing happened. Nothing.”

But if pulling doesn’t work, you push. And when I did, an inertia starter
started winding up. I let it go for a while, then pulled on the handle and
the engine started.

The sun had yet to make it over the far trees and the air base was just
waking up, getting ready to go to war. The FW 190 was one of many dispersed
throughout the woods, and at that time of the morning, the sound of the
engine must have been heard by many Germans not far away on the main base.
But even if they heard it, there was no reason for alarm. The last thing
they expected was one of their fighters taxiing out with a weary Mustang
pilot at the controls. Carr, however, wanted to take no chances.

“The taxiway came out of the woods and turned right towards where I knew the
airfield was because I’d watched them land and take off while I was in the
trees. On the left side of the taxiway, there was a shallow ditch and a
space where there had been two hangars. The slabs were there, but the
hangars were gone, and the area around them had been cleaned of all debris.”

“I didn’t want to go to the airfield, so I plowed down through the ditch,
and when the airplane started up the other side, I shoved the throttle
forward and took off right between where the two hangars had been.”

At that point, Bruce Carr had no time to look around to see what effect the
sight of a Focke-Wulf ERUPTING FROM THE TREES had on the Germans.
Undoubtedly, they were confused, but not unduly concerned. After all, it was
probably just one of their maverick pilots doing something against the
rules. They didn’t know it was one of our own maverick pilot doing something
against the rules.

Carr had problems more immediate than a bunch of confused Germans. He had
just pulled off the perfect plane-jacking; but he knew nothing about the
airplane, couldn’t read the placards and had
200 miles of enemy territory to cross. At home, there would be hundreds of
his friends and fellow warriors, all of whom were, at that moment, preparing
their guns to shoot at airplanes marked with swastikas and crosses-airplanes
identical to the one Bruce Carr was at that moment flying. But Carr wasn’t
thinking that far ahead. First, he had to get there. And that meant learning
how to fly the German fighter.

“There were two buttons behind the throttle and three buttons behind those
two. I wasn’t sure what to push so I pushed one button and nothing happened.
I pushed the other and the gear started up. As soon as I felt it coming up
and I cleared the fence at the edge of the German field, then I took it down
little lower and headed for home. All I wanted to do was clear the ground by
about six inches. And there was only one throttle position for me FULL
FORWARD!! “

As I headed for home, I pushed one of the other three buttons, and the flaps
came part way down. I pushed the button next to it, and they came up again.
So I knew how to get the flaps down. But that was all I knew.

I can’t make heads or tails out of any of the instruments. None. And I can’t
even figure how to change the prop pitch. But I don’t sweat that, because
props are full forward when you shut down anyway, and it was running fine.

This time, it was German cows that were buzzed, although, as he streaked
cross fields and through the trees only a few feet off the ground, that was
not his intent. At something over 350 miles an hour below tree-top level, he
was trying to be a difficult target. However, as he crossed the lines he
wasn’t difficult enough.

“There was no doubt when I crossed the lines because every SOB and his
brother who had a .50-caliber machine gun shot at me. It was all over the
place, and I had no idea which way to go. I didn’t do much dodging because I
was just as likely to fly into bullets as around them.”

When he hopped over the last row of trees and found himself crossing his own
airfield, he pulled up hard to set up for landing. His mind was on flying
the airplane. “I pitched up, pulled the throttle back and punched the
buttons I knew would put the gear and flaps down. I felt the flaps come
down, but the gear wasn’t doing anything. I came around and pitched up
again, still punching the button. Nothing was happening and I was really
frustrated.”

He had been so intent on figuring out his airplane problems, he forgot he
was putting on a very tempting show for the ground personnel. “As I started
up the last time, I saw the air defense guys ripping the tarps off the
quad.50s that ringed the field. I hadn’t noticed the machine guns before,
but I was sure noticing them right then.”

“I roared around in as tight a pattern as I could fly and chopped the
throttle. I slid to a halt on the runway and it was a nice belly job, if I
say so myself.”

His antics over the runway had drawn quite a crowd, and the airplane had
barely stopped sliding before there were MPs up on the wings trying to drag
him out of the airplane by his arms. What they didn’t realize was that he
was still strapped in.

I started throwing some good Anglo-Saxon swear words at them, and they let
loose while I tried to get the seat belt undone, but my hands wouldn’t work
and I couldn’t do it. Then they started pulling on me again because they
still weren’t convinced I was an American.

“I was yelling and hollering; then, suddenly, they let go. A face drops down
into the cockpit in front of mine. It was my Group Commander, George R.
Bickel. “Bickel said, ‘Carr, where in the hell have you been and what have
you been doing now?’

Bruce Carr was home and entered the record books as the only pilot known to
leave on a mission flying a Mustang and return flying a Focke-Wulf.

For several days after the ordeal, he had trouble eating and sleeping, but
when things again fell into place, he took some of the other pilots out to
show them the airplane and how it worked. One of them pointed out a small
handle under the glare shield that he hadn’t noticed before. When he pulled
it, the landing gear unlocked and fell out. The handle was a separate,
mechanical uplock. At least, he had figured out the really important things.

Carr finished the war with 14 aerial victories after flying
172 missions, which included three bailouts because of ground fire. He
stayed in the service, eventually flying 51 missions in Korea in http://www.warbirdalley.com/f86.htm F-86s and
286 in Vietnam, flying http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F-100_Super_Sabre F-100s. That’s an amazing
509 combat missions and doesn’t include many others during Viet Nam in other
aircraft types.

Bruce Carr continued to actively fly and routinely showed up at air shows in
a P-51D painted up exactly like’ Angel’s Playmate’. The original ‘Angel’s
Playmate’ was put on display in a museum in Paris, France right after the
war.

There is no such thing as an ex-fighter pilot. They never cease being what
they once were, whether they are in the cockpit or not. There is a profile
in to which almost every one of the breed fits, and it is the charter within
that profile that makes the pilot a fighter pilot-not the other way around.

And make no mistake about it, Col. Bruce Carr was definitely a fighter
pilot.


Responses

  1. Here is another outstanding piece of history brought to light once again.
    This is a great video clip honoring P-51 pilots of WWII. It’s focus is on one pilot’s story and becomes even more personal by bringing his grand kids into the feature. It’s well done and has some great clips of one of the classic fighters of all times.

    http://www.grayeagles.org/video.htm

  2. Sir
    I had the pleasure to meet COL Carr and COL Bud Anderson during a meet and greet they attended for my unit in 1996 in Tampa. The COL regaled us with his escape story and COL Anderson recalled getting a briefing on it while he was in theatre at the time.
    Well I have had to read over and over that this story is hogwash and never happened ! I consider both of them unimpeachable but do you know of any “Official” documents/reports I can site ? I find myself getting angry when a blogger is calling a fine man a liar when he is not around to defend himself.. T quote the fine Senator from Georgia ” I wish we were still in the days when I could challenge you to a duel !”
    Thank You
    SSG Joseph La&&


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