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.
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.