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Last Dogfight of WW I

Last Dogfight of WW I

Did you know that on April 11, 1945 the last aerial combat of WW II was fought between a U.S. L-4 Grasshopper and Luftwaffe Fieseler Storch over Vesbeck, Germany? Here’s the story, in the words of the Grasshopper pilot, Lt. Merritt Duane Francies, U.S. Army, Retired, 5th Armored Division, 71st Field Artillery, 9th Army.

“I had named my new L-4 ‘Miss Me!?’ for two reasons. One was because I wanted the Germans to miss me when they shot at me, and the other reason is I hoped someone was missing me back home. On that day’s mission, Lt. William Martin was again spotting from the back seat as we flew out ahead of the advancing column looking for targets. We were flying at between 600 and 800 feet when we spotted a German motorcycle with sidecar. Running parallel to the front lines, and we assumed he was a messenger. Our plan was to see where he was going, and then fly alongside of him and pop a couple of rounds off at him from our .45s. All of a sudden, a German Fieseler Fi 156 Storch flew right below us at treetop level.

“Fiesler Storch tried to outmaneuver us, but it is darn near impossible to out-maneuver a Cub! I flew at him head on, and neither one of us was changing course or altitude. At the last minute, I jinxed back on the stick, and as we flew over him, missing him by a few feet, Lt. Martin and I started to fire at him with our .45s as we passed overhead. Instead of running, he tried to circle upward for altitude. I could turn tighter than he could, so it didn’t take us long to get back into a firing position. This time, I unloaded my entire magazine. I had to hold the L-4’s stick with my knees as I dropped my empty magazine out of the airplane; there was no way I wanted that to lodge under my rudder pedal. I continued to fly with my knees as I put a fresh magazine into my .45 and I began to fire at the Storch again. I led him just a little bit and when I thought I had the correct lead, I began to crank off rounds as fast as I could. I saw a small flash near his engine cowling, so I knew I was hitting him, especially when I saw fuel streaming from one of the fuel tanks.

The Storch began to turn left and climb, and then suddenly made a hard right and dove into a corkscrew turn. I was still above him as I emptied my last magazine. We were finally able to drive him into the ground as the Storch tried one last turn. He misjudged his height and his right wing dug into the ground. It was more of a controlled crash than it was a landing as the Storch plowed into a beet field, wiping out his gear and right wing.”

The remains of the Storch after its encounter with Lt. Merritt Duane Francies’s Grasshopper.

Photos courtesy of Flight Journal Archives

Updated: November 18, 2020 — 10:35 AM

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