Richard Baron and the German Pilot
On or around this date in 1944, Richard Baron from Mandan found himself having a drink with the enemy – a pilot in the German Air Force.
One week before, on June 6, 1944, Baron, a P-47 fighter pilot with the Eighth Air Force, was supporting the D-Day Landings in Normandy. One evening, about a week after D-Day, after the missions for the day had been flown, Dick Baron and several of his squadron mates were preparing to visit the Officers Club. It was already quite dark when a late returning fighter caught their attention. The control tower also noticed and turned on the runway lights, but something was strange about this plane. It was not a P-47. Was it a Mustang or a Spitfire? Something was odd about the note of the engine. Could it be a damaged fighter from another base making an emergency landing?
The guys in the tower realized the truth first and quickly doused the landing lights, but it was too late. The plane was a Messerschmitt 109 German Fighter, but fears of a sneak late-evening raid to attack the base were tempered by the plane’s approach, coming in slow with its flaps and landing gear down. Before anyone could bring guns to bear, the plane had landed. It pulled off the runway and came to a stop in the grass.
One ground crewman, still thinking this was an American or British plane, jumped up on the wing to see if the pilot needed any assistance and came face to face with a German Officer. For several tense seconds they eyed each other, then the German pilot turned over his side arm and surrendered. Dick and his friends were there when the ground crewman and the German came walking off the field. The German could speak perfect English. As it turned out, he had attended University in London before the war. One of the group suggested: “We are on our way to the Officers Club, mind going with?
There was some confusion on base. The news about the German plane had spread, but where was the pilot? The German had walked with Baron and his squadron mates through the gate, with the unassuming guard even giving the German pilot a smart salute!
They were able to have one drink before the MPs finally tracked down the German pilot and hustled him off for interrogation.
DDB by Scott Nelson
Sources: My only source is a personal interview with Dick Baron that is archived at the Heritage Center. I contacted Gerry Fry, historian and author of the 78th Fighter Group to try and corroborate the story through Fighter Group records. Gerry said there are probably no records of this event. Things like this did happen, but they were neatly covered up as they did not want the Germans to know they had these defecting pilots and the information they provided.