The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.


                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.






The Indestructible Man of World War l

Bizarre, Fascinating, and Wacky World War I & ll Secrets.

by Cecil Owen

A French Nieuport fighter plane roared across the sky, with the engine wide open. From the opposite direction, a German Albatross D-lll fighter plane came roaring, with the engine wide open also. The two pilots were playing the deadly game of "Tag." As they raced head long towards each other, both fired their machine guns. Thin streams of tracer bullets were singing past both pilot's ears. On the first three passes, the German pilot broke away first, but each time it was closer. On the fourth pass, their wings actually scraped each other. Now on the fifth pass, the German pilot broke first by dipping low beneath the French Nieuport. Suddenly, the French Nieuport fighter pilot dropped down and rammed his wheels into the top wing of the other plane. This brazen stunt completely ruined his landing gear but it caused the German Albatross to crash.

The time is Saturday May 12, 1917, over the battle lines near Nancy, France. And the brash stunt quickly identifies the pilot. It is none other than the "crazy Frenchman," as some call him, and others call him "The Indestructible Man." It is Lieutenant Charles Nungesser, the most aggressive, versatile, and reckless combat fighter pilot in history. And now Nungesser has quite a problem, how to land an airplane with no landing gear. But he is not troubled by this as he then goes after the last remaining German Albatross fighter plane aloft. This pilot does not want to fight, he tries to race past Charles and escape to the East. The

Cecil Owen

Frenchman waggled his wings in challenge and throttled back to reduce his air speed. He went into a steep dive and dropped nearly a thousand feet. He was almost on top of the German when he leveled off. The German was an excellent pilot and tried hard to shake Nungesser off but the Frenchman kept forcing the German down close to the ground in a series of hawking dives. Finally, the Albatross was only twenty feet off the ground. The German did not understand why he was not shot down. For Nungesser was flying just above the other plane. He was going to lock onto the top wing of the German plane and force it to the ground .... He would go in a piggy-back!!

This is exactly what he managed to do, as soon as they reached an open field. Lt. Nungesser plunged his shattered landing gear into the top wing of the Albatross and bulldogged it to Earth!! Both the planes settled down heavily and touched down to a jolting landing. The German pilot jumped out of his plane and was very shook up. Nungesser climbed out of his cockpit with a

"The Indestructible Man,"  Lieutenant Charles Nungesser

pistol in one hand and a crutch in the other one. The big Frenchman hobbled painfully along the wing and crawled down. He had to lower his pistol for a moment, so the German pilot tried to set their airplanes on fire. This made Nungesser mad, so he cold cocked the German with one punch. Some French soldiers came up and took them both back to the air base at Nancy.

When they arrived, the German pilot, a noble Prussian, protested very strongly at being knocked out by Nungesser. If he would have shot me or stabbed me with a knife, that would have been a proper act of war. But it was very humiliating for a German officer to be subdued by a vulgar blow to the chin. "Are your French fliers madmen, or just plain crazy," he asked. The officer in charge of the prisoners of war commented, "some people believe he is completely mad, while other people believe he is a genius. I believe he is a little of both."

Indeed, during all of World War 1, Lieutenant Charles Nungesser was one of a kind. He was badly injured twenty times and held the record for plane crashes. He suffered constant pain and was in the hospital much of the war. But still

Charles won more citations for bravery than most other pilots of the war. He always wore all of his medals when he took off, and enjoyed showing them off to new flyers. The Legion of Honor, the Military Medal, The British Military Cross, The American Distinguished Service Cross, the Russian Order of St.George, and the Croix de Guerre, French War

Cross, with fifteen Palms (one palm for each time awarded the Medal), the cross of Karageorgevitch, and lastly, two little stars he received while still in the Cavalry.

On one combat mission Lt.

The Nieuport 17, a French single seat fighting scout bi-plane.

Nungesser was attacked by a German Fokker fighter plane. It was a much better airplane than the old Voisin he was flying, a reconnaissance plane armed with only a rifle. But he never ran from a fight, so he chased the other pilot. When the German dived past Charles, he spun around behind his tail. He gunned his engine and buzz-sawed his propeller into the rudder of the other plane. Quickly it chewed the wood and canvas into small pieces, and the German Fokker spun out of control. So Nungesser pulled up, to unlock his plane so he would not crash with the other plane. Just then, as he was over the German lines, his plane was hit three times by German flak. He barely managed to fly back into French lines before he crashed in a farmer's field.

This big blond handsome Frenchman was always very unpredictable, as this next dog fight clearly shows. His opponent was Ernst Udet, one of Germany's top aces. (He finished the war with sixty two kills.) In the middle of their engagement, both of Udet's machine guns jammed. Instead of shooting his enemy down, Nungesser signaled Ernst to land safely. They were both over a German airfield and as the German pilot landed..... Surprise! Surprise! Lt. Charles Nungesser landed beside him! He yelled at the surprised enemy, "we will meet again and the next time it will be different." Then he gunned his engine and roared back up into the sky. They did meet again but it was in New York long after the war was over.

Nungesser's favorite airplane was a Nieuport 17, one of the best fighter planes of World War 1. It had painted on the fuselage his macabre insignia, a black heart with a skull and cross bones, a candle at both ends, and above the skull a small coffin. He never did explain what these symbols meant.

On April 1, 1916, all fools day, (we now call it April fool's day), a German airplane flew low over the Escadrille de Cicognes Airfield at Nancy, France. The pilot dropped a note for Lt. Charles Nungesser, daring him to attack one of their observation balloons. He knew that it was probably a booby-trap, however, he knew that he had to accept their dare. French Intelligence had just found out that the balloon was loaded completely with high explosives. All the high ranking German officers in the area had gathered under the balloon to watch Charles go "Kaput" (get blown up). Nungesser came diving down out of the clouds and caught the balloon only half way up. The balloons were anchored on long steel wire cables. He fired into the belly at close range and then pulled up quickly. The balloon caught on fire and exploded with a loud bang. Then it collapsed and fell to the ground rapidly, catching the Germans before they could leap to safety. The fire killed thirty enemy staff officers and wounded fifteen more. It also severely damaged his plane, so he barely managed to land back at his own airfield.

Lt. Charles Nungesser was certainly a remarkable person. He survived the entire War and lived until 1927. Then he vanished without a trace, doing what he loved to do best. He was flying a specially built white airplane called the L'Oiseau Blanc (the white bird). He wanted to be the first person to fly non-stop from Paris to New York. For there was a $25,000.00 prize for the first one able to accomplish this feat.

Charles Nungesser vanished just twelve days before Charles Lindbergh made his flight in his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis.

To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heavens: A time to be born, and a time to die
        ... Ecclesiates 3:1-2.

We never know when it will be for us.