Japanese Zero Verus 1911A1

This post is a result of a recent post done by War History Online of a story that has certainly made its rounds among different communities, American Rifleman, Field & Stream, Guns.com and Sightm1911.com. You can read the biography behind the pilot involved at Wikipedia as well. The War History Online account is directly taken from the American Rifleman article, while the picture is taken from the Field & Stream article. Anyways, the skinny of the account is that a certain Lt. Owen Baggett was apart of a B-24 crew over Burma in World War Two, also know as the China Burma India Theater of Operations (CBI). Bomber goes on a mission that doesn’t do so hot, gets shot down, crew bails out, Japanese Zero flies by Baggett, wherein he takes out his issued 1911A1 and kills the pilot while he himself is in midair, floating down to earth in his parachute. This is the fuller account of the story from Sightm1911.com, in my opinion, the most fullest and detailed of all accounts because it takes from an article published in an Air Force magazine, which in turn was authored by Baggett and another Air Force officer.

With the intercom inoperative, Baggett hand-signaled the gunners to hit the silk and, nearly overcome by fumes, put on his own chute. He next remembers floating down with a good chute. He saw four more open canopies before the bomber exploded. The Japanese pilots immediately began strafing the surviving crewmen, apparently killing some of them and grazing Lieutenant Baggett’s arm. The pilot who had hit Baggett circled to finish him off or perhaps only to get a better look at his victim. Baggett pretended to be dead, hoping the Zero pilot would not fire again. In any event, the pilot opened his canopy and approached within feet of Baggett’s chute, nose up and on the verge of a stall. Baggett, enraged by the strafing of his helpless crew mates, raised the .45 automatic concealed against his leg and fired four shots at the open cockpit. The Zero stalled and spun in.

After Baggett hit the ground, enemy pilots continued to strafe him, but he escaped by hiding behind a tree. Lieutenant Jensen and one of the gunners landed near him. All three were captured by the Burmese and turned over to the Japanese. Sergeant Crostic also survived the bail-out. Baggett and Jensen were flown out of Burma in an enemy bomber and imprisoned near Singapore. In the more than two years he was held prisoner, Owen Baggett’s weight dropped from 180 pounds to ninety. He had ample time to think about his midair dual. He did not at first believe it possible that he could have shot down the enemy while swinging in his chute, but gradually pieces of the puzzle came together. Shortly after he was imprisoned, Baggett, Jensen, and another officer were taken before a Japanese major general who was in charge of all POWs in the area and who subsequently was executed as a war criminal. Baggett appeared to be treated like a celebrity. He was offered the opportunity of and given instructions on how to do the “honorable thing” – commit hara-kiri, a proposal he declined.

A few months later, Col. Harry Melton, commander of the 311th Fighter Group who had been shot down, passed through the POW camp and told Baggett that a Japanese colonel said the pilot Owen Baggett had fired at had been thrown clear of his plane when it crashed and burned. He was found dead of a single bullet in his head. Colonel Melton intended to make an official report of the incident but lost his life when the ship on which he was being taken to Japan was sunk. Two other pieces of evidence support Baggett’s account: First, no friendly fighters were in the area that could have downed the Zero pilot. Second, the incident took place at an altitude of 4,000 to 5,000 feet. The pilot could have recovered from an unintentional stall and spin. Retired Colonel Baggett, now living in San Antonio, Tex., believes he shot down the Japanese pilot, but because that judgment is based on largely indirect and circumstantial evidence, he remains reluctant to talk much about it. We think the jury no longer is out. There appears to be no reasonable doubt that Owen Baggett performed a unique act of valor, unlikely to be repeated in the unfolding annals of air warfare.

Owen Baggett, but was his feat possible?

Owen Baggett, but was his feat possible?

Now I’ve got a few issues with the description, probably more due to wording than accuracy. First of all, all accounts say that the Zero passed within mere “feet” of Baggett. From what I know of parachuting (never having done it myself), I’m aware that parachutists aren’t simply floating in the air, but are actually descending at a rapid rate. In addition to considering that the traveling Zero would have to be going at a similar or more speed, and in a perpendicular direction, the actual time on station that Baggett would have been within 25 meters (max effective of the 1911) of the Zero, in addition to the actual ballistics of the .45 ACP round not only being shot at a moving target, but also being shot from a moving position, makes a solid shot hard to fathom, even out of four rounds fired. Then you get the account which states that he was literally within feet of the plane, which doesn’t look possible with the wingspan and plane dimensions of the Zero. From our own Editor Phil, we have this input-

Terminal velocity of a person in free fall will reach a terminal velocity of approx 120 mph. Decent velocity under canopy is approx. 5 mph depending on the radius of the chute up to 9 mph in a current sport chute at full glide speed. The pilots old WWII chute should have him at close to the 4–5 mph speed.
   With the zero reaching near stall speed within feet of him it very well could have happened as described. Lucky shot for certain but still

However, at the end of the day, I think it makes for an excellent story of heroism, which if true makes it all the better, and if not, makes for a good camp fire tale.


Infantry Marine, based in the Midwest. Specifically interested in small arms history, development, and usage within the MENA region and Central Asia. To that end, I run Silah Report, a website dedicated to analyzing small arms history and news out of MENA and Central Asia.

Please feel free to get in touch with me about something I can add to a post, an error I’ve made, or if you just want to talk guns. I can be reached at miles@tfb.tv


  • Darkpr0

    With the dogfight doctrine of the time, this would certainly be possible, albeit very unlikely. Firing from a parachute at a moving target would be pretty much entirely luck, however if the Japanese pilot was indeed strafing or observing he would be at a range that is vulnerable. Keep in mind as well that if the aircraft was moving towards the pilot, it would increase the impact velocity, artificially increasing the effective range of the projectile. There’s a pretty solid chance this story is just that: A good story of a lucky shot when a guy needed it.

  • HeWhoDancesWithZeros

    And thus was the three sixty no scope brought into the world

  • TheNotoriousIUD

    This story is also in that Chris Kyle history of guns book.

  • ClintTorres

    Never underestimate the power of luck.

    I was once target shooting off-hand on the 200 yd. line (practicing for metallic silhouettes on the longest line at that range) and nailed the X perfectly. The guys on the next bench were zeroing in their hunting rifles and happened to to be scoping the targets with a spotting scope. One of the guys exclaimed something along the lines of “You hit a perfect bullseye!” to which I answered “Thanks but, you can’t see the three previous shots which were off the paper”.

    • eriky

      You did that wrong. Your answer should have been a mumbled ”I know”

  • gunsandrockets

    With the details of the Zero approaching near stall speed with an open cockpit, I find this incident entirely plausible. Especially if the Zero was approaching at zero angle deflection from a lower altitude, an approach that would be consistent with the Zero approaching with a nose up pitch.

  • Grindstone50k

    And the Japanese pilot ragequit and went back to playing LoL.

  • pbla4024

    Your numbers for parachute descent speed seem to be in meters per second, not in mph. Average for round canopy would be maybe 5-7 m/s, that is 10-14 mph.

    • For current sport chutes. I was talking about the old round chutes issued in WWII.

      • pbla4024

        You are wrong here. I wrote “round canopy” and current sport chutes are never round. If you check specs for some military round parachutes, you will see e.g. 5.3 m/s for Czechoslovak OVP-68, around 7 m/s for US T-10 etc. Basically you cannot get bellow 5 m/s (= 10 mph) with round canopy. Not that it changes anything.

        • Stand Up Hook Up

          Depends on how much you weigh and what the air is doing. People forget that hot air columns abound and can actually render a jumper stationary- I’ve seen skinny guys actually ascend for a second or two because of the air. Rates of decent depend heavily on weather and weight of a jumper.

      • Stand Up Hook Up

        As a paratrooper, Modern shoots have only gotten slower. The WWII chutes were about 28′ diameter which equals a fast descent. The relatively newer T-10 (Korean War design) is like 38′, and the modern T-11 is even larger. T-11 is very slow comparatively- I’ve jumped the T-10, MC-6, and T-11. T-10 is fast (and fun!) but I can’t imagine going faster….high risk of injury lol.

        Most modern military designs are round, save SOF only sport style chutes IE the rectangle shaped ones. T-10 and MC-6 (steerable) are round. The T-11 is round-ish; more of a rounded square.

        • Stand Up Hook Up

          Also, while you’re dropping at a very fast rate, a parachute ride is remarkably stable in good weather, assuming you had a good exit. You could probably hit a man sized stationary target with a rifle at 100m. Obviously the Zero was luck though, if it happened at all 😉

  • iksnilol

    Why did the Zero pilot open his canopy? That’s the confusing part for me.

    Well well, good to know that the LoopZook was based on reality.

    • Not unusual at the time—-

      • iksnilol

        Did not know that. Just seems weird to me to open the canopy in flight, even if you are at stall speed.

        • Darkpr0

          Same reason guys at work remove their safety glasses: to look at something closely. Aircraft are surprisingly hard to see, wartime glass isn’t always spectacular when it’s first produced, and it could have been covered with all kinds of grit, dirt, and grease during takeoff and combat operations. Mitsubishi Zeros in particular have a lot of bars and straps keeping the cockpit glass together, and they block line of sight which is an absolutely vital thing for WVR combat of WW2. Keeping the canopy open would have been less comfortable, but if you’re fighting and your life may depend on having constant visual contact you would probably think real hard about opening that canopy for that small advantage.

        • NDS

          My Grandpa flew a Corsair in the Pacific theatre and he told me a story one time about all the oil and soot that would cover the windscreen, I guess from the engine and propeller being directly in your face. He said you’d take off with a crystal clear canopy but land essentially blind.

  • Don Ward

    This is an old story but a goodie and most certainly happened. When you have an industrial war where the entire world is in flames with millions of combatants duking it out, one-in-a-million shots like this were statistically bound to happen.

    • Larry J

      I agree. While the odds of surviving a fall from high altitude with no parachute are very slim, there are documented cases of that happening. When you have tens of thousands of airmen being shot down, even very slim possibilities can occur.

  • Major Tom

    [USAAF]OwninOwen [M1911A1] [IJN]ChuteShoota42

  • Mazryonh

    This reminds me of a scene from a sci-fi film called Blood and Chrome where the protagonist takes out an enemy space fighter with nothing but a handgun. Only this WWII incident actually happened.

  • Jay

    Airmen were a lot more experienced with deflection shooting and shooting at moving targets. Zero had a very low stall speed, so this is not exactly something that can’t happen. Imagine shooting at the driver in a car going by at 60 mph. Not entirely out of the realm of possibility.

  • felix

    Cuz they don’t make a .46

  • W

    Really doubt that it happened. On the one hand, there are the ballistics and trajectories involved. On the other is the fact that war breed many a tall tale.

  • JustaDude

    I’m not discrediting the story at all, but every major power in WWII had incredible stories they would circulate as a part of the war propaganda machine and to boost civilian and military morale. The Russians did it with their snipers, the Germans did it with their tankers, the US did it with their superhuman infantry, and so on.

  • CupAJoe

    I met a bomber crew radio operator in Texas who claimed that when his bomber was shot down, the pilot gave the signal to bail out but only the front half of the airplane got the message. The last three guys in the back figured out what was going on and came forward to bail out as well as they were getting ready to jump, a Luftwaffe fighter had pulled alongside the descending aircraft to see if anyone was still aboard. One of the guys grabbed the waist gun and shot him down and then they proceeded to evacuate.