Which Allied aircraft during World War 2 did the German soldier fear the most? The fighters? The heavy bombers? When questioned, many Germans said they most feared the Piper Cub, a tiny canvas and steel-framed craft that carried no armament. They were feared because they could loiter high over the battlefield and accurately direct devastating artillery fire. The Germans tried to knock these planes down by any means possible.
The Army’s designation for the Piper Cub was the L-4. The L stood for liaison aircraft.
Edward Atkinson from Flasher, North Dakota, was born on this date in 1917. During World War II, he was the air group commander for the 182nd Field Artillery Group supporting the 4th Armored Division. In early August of 1944, Captain Atkinson and his spotter were flying their L-4 Piper Cub near Nancy, France.
Movement to the right of the Cub caught Atkinson’s eye. Ed looked and was shocked to see a German Messerschmitt fighter flying in formation with him. He glanced off his left wing and there was another one! Glancing to the right again, Ed saw that plane turning to attack.
Atkinson slammed the stick forward and stamped on the right rudder pedal sending the Cub under the fighter. Fortunately the slow and highly maneuverable Cub was able to stay out of the way of the fighters guns for the moment, as Ed headed for the deck. But the German pilot, at nearly stalling speed, managed to turn his fighter toward the Cub to unleash a hail of 20 millimeter cannon fire. The Cub’s rudder was blown away.
Atkinson’s only chance now was to get on the ground, and he made a quick, rough landing near a railroad bed. Ed and his passenger jumped out before the plane stopped and sought shelter in a culvert under the train track. The German fighters took turns strafing the tiny Cub and eventually flew away.
Atkinson and his spotter emerged from their hiding place and inspected their faithful Piper Cub and realized it would never fly again.
They caught a ride with a Frenchman on a load of hay and eventually made it back to their unit with quite a story to tell.
After the war, Ed and his wife, Lucille, lived and worked in Flasher where they raised 5 children.
Ed Atkinson passed away in 2004.
Dakota Datebook by Scott Nelson
Sources: Personal interview with Ed Atkinson. Book, “The Fighting Grasshoppers” US Liaison Aircraft Operations in Europe, 1942-1945 by Ken Wakefield. “Liaison aircraft served as Air Observation Posts with the Field Artillery; in this capacity it has been said that a single Air OP, controlling the fire power of an entire Division, could bring a greater weight of explosives to bear on a target than any other aircraft of the Second World War. With the exception of the atomic bomb carrying B-29 Superfortress, no other single aircraft had the destructive capability of the diminutive Piper Cub."