Bazooka Charlie – Pilot Who Attached A Bazooka To Plane


The year is 1944, and on a distant French
battlefield a column of Nazi tanks are making their way to a beleaguered American position. The German Panzer and Tiger tanks are amongst
the best the world has ever seen, and heavily protected from the front and sides- American
Sherman tanks often see their shells bounce harmlessly off the thick front armor, and
have trouble landing damaging strikes against even the side plates. However from up top, the tanks are incredibly
vulnerable. The American outpost the German armored column
is moving towards is under heavy attack and on the verge of being overrun. US troops are attempting a fighting withdrawal,
but this new column of tanks and tracked infantry fighting vehicles spells doom for the beleaguered
soldiers. Then, suddenly, there’s the rapidly growing
sound of a diving aircraft. Confused, the Americans look up- they’ve been
calling for air support for hours but there’s simply none available in the area. As the diving aircraft grows in size the men
are even more confused- it’s a L-4 Grasshopper, a light, unarmed aircraft used exclusively
for aerial reconnaissance. The Germans however are keenly aware of what
this airplane is, and more specifically, of the madman who pilots it and what he’s able
to do. Desperate machine gunners atop the tanks and
infantry fighting vehicles fire up at the diving airplane, and despite the hail of gunfire
the plane keeps coming. Then just a few hundred meters from becoming
a smoking crater on the ground, there’s a rapid series of popping sounds as two bazookas
jerryrigged to the wing of the aircraft fire. The anti-armor rounds hit home on two of the
tanks, easily penetrating the thin top armor and knocking them out of commission. As the small Grasshopper pulls up, it begins
to bank, ready to make another attack run- it still has four more bazookas left to fire. In a panic, the German tanks scatter, giving
the Americans the opportunity to withdraw safely. Two years earlier 29 year old high school
teacher Charles Carpenter couldn’t have been further from a feared combat ace. Mild mannered and well educated, Carpenter
was well liked by his community, and had a job teaching history at the local high school. However, when war came for the United States
in 1942, Charles immediately volunteered for military service. Thanks to his education, Carpenter was commissioned
as a second lieutenant after going through boot camp and a shortened version of officer
candidate school. Then due to his intelligence and calm demeanor,
Carpenter was chosen to be a pilot, and the ever-eager Carpenter happily accepted. Unfortunately though Carpenter was assigned
to be a spotter for Army artillery, meaning he would be learning to fly the L-4 Grasshopper
and the Stinson L-5 Sentinel. These aircraft were incredibly light and carried
no armament, designed instead to be fast, agile, and able to loiter over a battlefield
for a long time so as to serve as a spotter for friendly artillery. With an aircraft in the area radioing back
firing directions, artillery was many times deadlier than without, and despite being initially
disappointed that he wouldn’t be flying in a fighter, Carpenter accepted his equally
important, if less glamorous job. Disappointment it seemed would follow Carpenter
though, as after finishing his flight schooling Carpenter was stuck training others in the
US, and left out of the war until getting orders to head for France in 1944. Taking advantage of his many flight hours
in the US though, Carpenter had mastered the handling of both the Grasshopper and Sentinel,
a skill which would come very handy soon. In France Carpenter was assigned to the 1st
Bombardment Division, under the command of Major General R.B. Williams. Many he met routinely underestimated Carpenter,
who very much gave off the vibe of a calm and collected history teacher, surely someone
very out of place from the chaotic battlefields of western Europe. Then Carpenter got a chance to prove himself
in combat when he was assigned temporarily as an artillery liaison to a ground unit. Despite being a pilot, Carpenter was well
versed in the techniques for calling in artillery fire, as well as the different types of fire
support available to the US Army. His unit’s responsibility was to move ahead
of friendly lines and scout out locations that could be turned into suitable landing
strips for friendly aircraft. During the scouting mission, Carpenter’s unit
stumbled across an under-strength unit of infantry pinned down by heavy enemy fire coming
from a nearby village. The German soldiers spotted Carpenter’s unit
approaching, and immediately set up a blocking force- the tactical picture was simple, and
deadly clear to all: if Carpenter’s unit didn’t break through this blocking force and engage
the enemy in the town ahead, the pinned down infantry would be killed to a man. The tank platoon commander in command of the
unit’s tanks hesitated however; their job was to act as scouts and not become decisively
engaged, and taking tanks into an enemy-held town without proper infantry support to cover
them was very dangerous. That’s when Carpenter acted however, unable
to watch the pinned down infantrymen die from a distance. Much to the shock of the tank’s crew, Carpenter
rushed to one of the lead tanks and hopped atop the turret, grabbing the butterfly trigger
on the .50 caliber machine gun mounted there and letting loose on the enemy ahead of them. Roaring like a madman, Carpenter screamed
out “Let’s go!”, and the rallying cry immediately set the men in the tanks into
action. Surprised by the zealous charge of tanks,
the Germans holding the town beat a hasty retreat. When the fighting stopped however, Carpenter
was arrested by military police on behalf of the tank commander. Carpenter was not even in the unit’s chain
of command, as he’d been attached temporarily to act as a liaison, and then he had completely
usurped that chain of command he wasn’t even a part of to boot. Threatened with court martial, General Patton
himself dismissed the charges, proudly exclaiming that Carpenter was exactly the type of man
he wanted in his Third Army. It seems however that Carpenter’s brief stint
in ground combat left him with a deep frustration when flying air recon missions overhead in
his unarmed aircraft. Watching German tanks and armored troop transports
rumble by below and unable to do anything about it was too great a frustration to bear,
and Carpenter got an idea. By now the rumor mill spoke of pilots who
had experimented with attaching bazookas to their aircraft, and using them to attack tanks
from above. Firing a rocket-propelled explosive penetrator,
the M1A1 Bazooka had an effective range of between 250 and 300 yards. Against the thick front armor of a German
tank, the Bazooka was useless, and American infantry had to wait to take shots at the
sides or ideally the rear of German tanks. A dangerous prospect, it was still better
than being completely helpless against these lumbering behemoths. Carpenter immediately attached two bazookas
to the wings of his Grasshopper, and then rigged an electric switch he could toggle
from the cockpit that would fire them. Carpenter’s airplane was soon nicknamed Rosie
the Rocketeer, and it would be a well-earned name. He soon scored his first kill against a German
armored car, diving down from the sky and getting a direct hit with a single bazooka
shot. Not long after Carpenter was hunting for German
tanks, and shortly after his first kill on an armored car, he got his first Panzer kill. From the sky the Bazooka could easily penetrate
the very thin top armor of even a King Tiger tank- one of the most feared tanks of World
War 2. To do so though, Carpenter had to dive down
onto his target until he was only a hundred meters or so above it, as he had no way of
aiming his bazookas and had to ensure an accurate hit. This daredevil maneuver saw him then pulling
several Gs as he immediately yanked back on the throttle in order to avoid smashing his
airplane into the ground below. At first, Carpenter was ignored by German
infantry and vehicles below. The sight of small artillery spotter planes
was a familiar one to the Germans, and opening fire on one was generally a bad idea as it
would give their position away and invite the pilot to call in an artillery strike on
them. This let Carpenter earn kill after kill, blasting
apart armored cars, tanks, and even groups of infantry with his bazookas. Soon though the Germans grew wise to Carpenter,
and upon spotting his small plane would light it up with all the firepower they had. Despite flying into virtual walls of lead,
Carpenter refused to give up his attacks, and he continued to rack up enemy kills. His original two bazookas grew to six, and
soon other pilots were hearing of his successes and trying the tactic out for themselves. However the extreme flying maneuvers required
and the sheer amount of return fire the pilots faced quickly discouraged many from the suicidal
act. Carpenter’s greatest deed though would come
late in 1944, when the Germans launched a blistering counterattack against the 4th Armored
Division. Caught completely off guard, the Germans advanced
deep enough into the lines of the 4th Armored that they now threatened the unit’s battlefield
HQ- if they could take the HQ it would throw the entire Division’s defense into disarray,
leading to the destruction or capture of hundreds of men. Carpenter immediately took to the air, his
trusty Grasshopper fitted with six bazooka tubes ready to fire. Unfortunately thick ground fog prevented Carpenter
from getting a visual on the fight below, and so he decided to loiter until the fog
cleared up. By noon the fog had finally lifted enough
for Carpenter to see what was going on below, and that’s when he spotted a column of APCs
and tanks heading to reinforce the attack on the Division’s HQ. Carpenter immediately
put his plane into a dive and lined up with two leading personnel carriers, taking them
out with his bazookas and getting the attention of the Germans below. The Germans broke formation as they tried
to evade the aerial attack, buying enough time for the Americans to redeploy to face
this new threat. Flying back to rearm twice, Carpenter launched
deadly strafing attack after strafing attack on the German unit, allowing the 4th Division’s
HQ section to successfully retreat. Carpenter would go on to fly his Grasshopper
with reckless abandon throughout the war. Thanks to the very light construction and
the plane’s incredibly lift capacity, unless an enemy round managed to hit the cockpit,
the fuel tank, or the engine directly, the small plane could take a major beating and
keep on flying. Often Carpenter would return back to base
with his fuselage and wings full of bullet holes, only to patch them up and be back up
in the skies the next day. Sometimes though, Carpenter wasn’t satisfied
playing his part of the war in the skies, and once he strafed a column of German tanks
and then landed on a field next to them, picking up a discarded German rifle and taking six
of the men prisoner. By war’s end, Carpenter was known to all as
the “Mad Major”, and though he was only officially credited with six tanks destroyed
or disabled, his unofficial record was much higher. Carpenter however fell seriously ill in 1945,
effectively ending his participation in the second world war. It was discovered that he had Hodgkin’s Disease,
and though doctors only gave him two years to live, Carpenter once more defied the odds. He returned back to the states and to his
role as a quiet, unassuming high school history teacher, where he would remain until his death
in 1966 to cancer. Rarely speaking about his part in the war,
Carpenter taught hundreds of young students who no doubt had little clue that they were
being taught by one of the bravest, and most insane, pilots of all time. Think you would’ve had the guts to be a pilot
in World War II? What other historical figure do you want to
hear about? Let us know in the comments! And as always if you enjoyed this video don’t
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