Image for larger view
P-51 Mustang "Bad Angel" in Hanger #4 at
Air and Space Museum.
(Continued) I was admiring its aerodynamic
lines and recalled enough history to know that until the Mustangs
came into service, the skies over the Pacific Ocean were dominated
by Japanese Zeros. Not true
the Grumman Hellcat
shot down more Zeros than any other aircraft including the
Corsair or P-38. Combined, they held their own against the
Zeros. Certainly the P-51 was a welcomed addition.
Then something very strange caught my eye. Proudly displayed
on the fuselage of 'Bad Angel' were the markings of the pilot's
kills: seven Nazis; one Italian; one Japanese AND ONE AMERICAN.
Huh? "Bad Angel" shot down an American airplane?
and two more Messerschmitts before his
luck ran out. A German fighter shot down his plane on August 27, 1943
over Salerno, Italy. Captured by the Italians, he was sent to a POW
camp near Rome. No doubt this is where he thought he would spend the
remaining years of the war. It wasn't to be. A few days later, the
Italians surrendered. Louis and a few other pilots escaped before
the Nazis could take control of the camp
Click Image for larger view
Was it a terrible mistake?
Couldn't be. If it had been an unfortunate misjudgment,
certainly the pilot would not have displayed the American
flag. I knew there had to be a good story here. Fortunately
for us, one of the Museum's many fine docents was on hand
to tell it.
In 1942, the United States needed pilots for its war planes
lots of war planes; lots of pilots. Lt. Louis Curdes was
one. When he was 22 years old, he graduated flight training
school and was shipped off to the Mediterranean to fight
Nazis in the air over Southern Europe.
He arrived at his 82nd Fighter Group, 95th Fighter Squadron
in April 1943 and was assigned a P-38 Lightning. Ten days
later he shot down three German Messerschmitt Bf-109 fighters.
A few weeks
later, he downed two more German Bf -109's. In less than
a month of combat, Louis was an Ace.
During the next
three months, Louis shot down an Italian Mc.202 fighter
One might think that such harrowing
experiences would have taken the fight out of Louis, yet he volunteered
for another combat tour. This time, Uncle Sam sent him to the Philippines
where he flew P-51 Mustangs. Soon after arriving in the Pacific
Theater, Louis downed a Mitsubishi reconnaissance plane near Formosa.
Now he was one of only three Americans to have kills against all
three Axis Powers: Germany, Italy, and Japan.
until this point, young Lt. Curdes combat career had been stellar.
His story was about to take a twist so bizarre that it seems
like the fictional creation of a Hollywood screenwriter.
While attacking the Japanese-held island of Bataan, one of Louis
wingmen was shot down. The pilot ditched in the ocean. Circling
overhead, Louis could see that his wingman had survived, so
he stayed in the area to guide a rescue plane and protect the
It wasn't long before he noticed another, larger airplane, wheels
down, preparing to land at the Japanese-held airfield on Bataan.
He moved in to investigate. Much to his
surprise the approaching plane was a Douglas C-47 transport
with American markings.
Image for larger view
Pilot Lt. Louis Curdes in his P-51
Mustang "Bad Angel"
machine guns and knocked out one of
its two engines. Still the
C-47 continued on toward the Bataan airfield. Curdes shifted his aim
slightly and knocked out the remaining engine, leaving the baffled
pilot no choice but to ditch in the ocean.
He tried to make radio contact,
but without success. He maneuvered his Mustang in front of
the big transport several times trying to wave it off. The
C-47 kept head to its landing target. Apparently the C-47
crew didn't realize they were about to land on a Japanese
held island, and soon would be captives.
Lt. Curdes read the daily newspaper accounts of the war, including
the viciousness of the Japanese soldiers toward their captives.
He knew that whoever was in that American C-47 would be, upon
landing, either dead or wish they were. But what could he
Audaciously, he lined up his P-51 directly behind the transport,
carefully sighted one of his .50 caliber
|The big plane
came down to it wings in one piece about 50 yards from his bobbing
wingman. At this point, nightfall and low fuel forced Louis
to return to base. The next morning, Louis flew cover for a
rescuing PBY that picked up the downed Mustang pilot and 12
passengers and crew, including two female nurses, from the C-47.
All survived, and later, Lt. Curdes would end up marrying one
of these nurses.
For shooting down an unarmed American transport plane, Lt. Louis
Curdes was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Thereafter,
on the fuselage of his P-51 "Bad Angel", he proudly
displayed the symbols of his kills: seven German, one Italian,
one Japanese and one American flag.*
A/C was shot down! A P-64 King Cobra was shot down in the USA! See
Sgt Joe Tillery's The Flying Pinball Machine. Click
Note: According to TruthorFiction.com
"Summary of eRumor:
Force Lt. Col. Louis E. Curdes, the pilot of a P-51 Mustang dubbed
Bad Angel, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross
for shooting down an American C-47 that his girlfriend happened
to be aboard.
Truth: "Its true that Lt. Col. Louis E. Curdes shot down
a C-47 that his girlfriend was aboard to prevent it from landing
on a Japanese airstrip.
while its true that Curdes was awarded the Distinguished Flying
Cross for the valor he demonstrated in flying a P-51 Mustang with
the 95th Fighter Squadron, 82nd Fighter Group, it doesnt appear
that he received the recognition for shooting down an American C-47
in the Pacific (more on that later)."
This does not seem to
detract from the story at all.