dawn , on 30th April 1944 , the P51B ''Mustang'' of 380th
Squadron , 343th Fighter Group , 9th US Air Force
, took off their base at Staplehurst near Maidstone in Kent , England .
They are to escort a Box of
B24 bombers on a bombing raid on a railway marshalling yard close to
Lyon . One of the young pilots was unaware that this mission would be
for him the longest and most dangerous of his career to date , as well as the last of
the campaign for him . Ths is his story , a story that came to change
his life and involve dozens of humble normans wo helped him without
second thought as to the extreme dangers that they risked .
Flying had always been Charlie's passion . His childhood was obsessed by
it . Charlie was not content to merely make aircrafts models , but
worked after classes at a local aerodrome , receiving flying lessons in
lieu of payment , and took off on his first flight on a WACO biplane at
the age of 13 . After leaving college , he was unable to become a
fighter pilot due to the requirement demanded by the USAAF of 2 years
college education after graduation from high school . He therefore
enlisted in the Army Air Corps and found his way as a Radio Operator in
a unit conveying B24 'Liberators' to UK under Lend Lease scheme .
Air Force was short of pilots , so the level of education required was
lowered and Charlie was able to enter Air Cadets School with the sole
ambition of not only passing out as a fighter pilot , but to become the
best in the Air Force . Due to his immediately obvious real qualities as
a pilot (''Born to fly'' according to all of his instructors , both
civil and military) , he immediately passed out of flying school and
entered the Air Force and won his single-engined aircraft ''wings'' in
August 1943 . One of his instructors remarked at the investiture that if
he didn't kill himself by taking excessive risks , he possessed all the
attributes to become one of the all-time great pilots of the war .
Leutnant Charles L.Moore arrived Scotland by boat in December 1943 , and
spent several weeks at an Air Training Base in Grimsby (England). Here ,
he flew little , but was taught the theory of plane identification , the
ways and customs of the English , Frenchs and Europeans , as well as
several briefings by Intelligence officers at the methods of avoiding
capture . This did not concerned all aspects of escape , which would
have been impossible , but mainly gave pilots some practical knowledge
on how to react and survive in the event of parachuting in ennemy
the end of February 1944 , he was posted to 380th Squadron ,
343 Fighter Group . Our single-engined flier had now become an
operational fighter pilot . Hardly arrived at the Squadron , remembering the words of
his instructors and telling himself ''I am here to execute flying skills
at a level yet to be achieved by others'' . His various flying escapades
quickly resulted in him being summarily ''grounded'' for 30 days for ''reckless
to the ground , Charlie was given the job running the Officers Mess ,
among other things the distribution of oranges , eggs , but above all
Johny Walker whisky . Charlie remembers this period as being among the
most pleasant moments of
his career in the USAF . It is indeed most frustrating for a pilot to be
grounded , but this ''work'' was a most welcome consolation , and
resulted in a period when oranges , eggs and whisky were
appearing on daily menus .
Charlie set out on his first missions ,including ''dive bombing''
targets over Germany . Charlie encountered heavy ''Flak'' but
strangely not one ennemy fighter during his first 5 missions . Three
further missions were aborted and called back due to bad weather
conditions . During one of these , 11 Mustangs out of a total of 48
never made it back to Staplehurst , probably due to icing problems
rendering the aircrafts uncontrollable .
, on this 30th April 1944 , Charlie's ninth mission was as
escort of a ''Box'' of B24s on a bombing raid to Lyon . The Fighters and
Bombers grouped at 18000 feet over Sancerre . The bombing mission over
this important railway marshalling station obtained , according to
fighter escort observers , excellent results , and
so the planes retraced their steps homewards . However , homeward
bound , they were intercepted by the german fighters of the 5/JGII ''Richtoffen''
based at Creil , who have been sent to intercept them . A dozen or so
Messerschmidt ME 109s attacked the B24s over Montargis .
Now everything happened very quickly indeed . The 380 Squadron flanked
to the right , slightly above in
a perfect position of defense , but the Mustangs pilots only realised
the presence of the Germans at the moment they opened fire . The ME 109s
then regrouped for a further attack .
to Charlie :
the best of my recollection , we were all taken by surprise by the ME
109s who came out of
nowhere . I chose a plane at the centre of the formation and followed it
down to the ground . The German pilot was no novice , and was absolutely
at one with his machine . He knew I was behind him even before I opened
fire . After my burst of fire , he turned one way and another , in a
manouvre to shake me off his tail , and hoping no doubt that I would
follow suit and crash "
he realised that I would not play his game , he made a manouvre that
stupefied me : reducing his speed , he deployed his flaps and dropped
his undercarriage , hoping I would thereby overrun him resulting in the
hunter now becoming the prey . His manouvre could have succeeded , but
by the Grace of God , I was sufficiently far enough behind him to avoid
this tactic succeeding . In reality , when I saw the smoke of his
exhausts , I realised that he had tried to get me to overtake him , and
I managed to outwit him by ''zigging'' from left to right . I believe
that this ''cat and mouse'' game I played saved my life . When the
German pilot realised that I would not pass in front of him , he
accelerated at maximum , at the same time pulling up his flaps and
undercarriage . However , only one leg of the undercarriage entered the
fuselage , the other remaining deployed .
, the left undercart leg had received some damage when he deployed it at
high speed , or alternatively by my firing into the hydraulics . The cat
and mouse game now over , he bailed out at around 1000 feet . I followed
him now under his parachute , and took pictures with my wing camera .
The German pilot made a sporting gesture whilst under his parachute that
I shall remember to the rest of my days : He turned towards me , waved
his arms and saluted . I then made tracks for England
at low altitude , just above the trees , as fuel was now short
and the return trip was a
long one '' .
5/JGII Squadron lost 4 planes during this engagement : 2 Focke-Wulff
190s and 2 Messerschmidt ME109s
. Only the pilots of the last 2 managed to eject over Montargis :
Leutnant Lackner , commanding
the 5/JGII and his wing man unteroffizier Kolmanisch , both Ritterkreuztrager of the Iron Cross . Upon his
return to base , Lieutenant Lackner confided to his comrades (and
confirmed by Leutnant Paul Mübgersdorff
to myself during a meeting with him in 1999) , the episode of the salute
upon his relief that the aircraft that had just shot him down made no
effort to harm him personally . Lt Lackner was to die in aerial combat
near to Beauvais in mid-May 1944 . The second ME 109 ''kill'' , that of
Kolmanisch was attibuted to a Charlie's Squadron pilot.
dogfight over Montargis had caused the Mustang of Charlie to become
somewhat separated from the rest , and so he was obliged to return on
his own . Around 11.30 , after 30 minutes flight , Charlie believed he
was approaching Cotentin peninsula , and a small flight of aircrafts ,
probably fighters , to his west attracted his attention , flying in
approximately the same direction , but at a much higher altitude .
Keeping a carefull eye on these and trying not to loose sight , Charlie
looked ahead again and saw a high tension line looming up ahead . ''If
I had gained a little altitude straight after having seen these pylones
and cables , there would have been no problem , but those unidentified
planes took all my attention and I waited a second or two too long . It
was now too late to avoid the towers , and I had to made the flash
decision to either fly over or under the cables''.
a reflex that probably saved his life , Charlie choose to fly under the
cables . In the course of this tactic , he was unable to avoid the
radiator air intake striking the branches of a tree .
radiator having been damaged (during the recovery of the wrecked plane
in 1996 , we found the radiator pierced by a piece of branch certainly
cut by the propeller and
which caused it to leak ). The Packard Merlin soon overheated alarmingly
due to the leak of coolant . As the temperature gage passed the top
limit , white smoke began to invade the cockpit . The aircraft continued
on its way with normal power nevertheless , but the fumes were now so
intense that it became hard to read the instruments on the dashboard .
Now mindful that the Mustang would eventually catch fire before
regaining England , Charlie climbed to 1000 feet , inverted the plane
and bailed out .
Back at base at Staplehurst , 2d Leutnant C.L Moore was reported ''missing
in action'' .
was around midday at Ecouché (Orne , Normandy ) . The hour when folk
were leaving the Sunday Mass , and recalled by Marie-Louise
Chambelland-Cavallo , historian of Ecouché , who recalls :
''We had heard the DCA fire and all of us kept the remembrance of
this aeroplane that flew over us so low , followed by an immense cloud
of white smoke , also the sound of the stricken plane . We hurried to
the bridge of the Orne close by , and with great relief witnessed the
parachute opening . However , the local German garrison was immediately
bustling with activity as vehicles full of soldiers made off in
direction of the crash site . We were fearful that the unlucky pilot
would find impossible to avoid them . We saw the plane hit the ground
towards the west near Batilly at the spot known as 'les Canards' ''.
his descent , Charlie had observed his plane hitting the ground .
Anticipating his likely reception , he tried to recall his briefings by
the Intelligence Officer with regard to escape procedures . In reality ,
his knowledge of Northern France was confined to the fact that Abbeville
was the home of a German fighter Unit that they named the 'Abbeville
Guys'' , and who were feared and respected by the Allied pilots .
Landing close to the right bank of the Orne river , Normandy and its
inhabitants were a completely unknown quantity to Charlie . Hardly able
to catch his breath , Charlie was joined by the brothers Jacques
and Michel Roger , who were on a fishing party close to
the ''Moulin de Serans'' . Jacques
Roger took Charlie in tow , running upstream , trying to find a
way across the Orne ,whilst brother Michel drew downstream the Germans
attention , opposite direction . The escape had to be quickly achieved
since the searches by the Germans intensified rapidly , closing in from
all sides .
the other side of the river , Bernard
Peschet and son Françis
had seen the plane crash within a few hundred yards from their farm ''La
Misaudiere'' at Sevrai , and also seen the parachute descend . They
approached the river which they knew well since it ran alongside their
property , 500 yards away . They then saw Jacques and Charlie and showed
them a way to cross the river by the ford close to the mill . They were
just in time , as the Germans were only a few hundreds yards away .
Incredibly , the Germans intensified their search on the right bank of the river and close tot the place where
the plane had crashed rather than in the direction of the farm .
and Françis Peschet take Jacques Roger and Charlie to the farm ,
providing him with some civilian clothing . Françis buried the pilot's
leather jacket , notwithstanding his envy for the garment , as well as
Charlie's .45 Colt pistol .
But Charlie cannot linger there any longer , as the searches intensified
. At the end of April 1944 , the
77th Infanterie Division (LXXIV Korps)
had its HQ.at Putanges , 7 miles away, and were responsible for
this sector . The Germans who had fired upon this aircraft in difficulty
and observed the scene that followed , send out patrols to find the
pilot . As previously mentioned , they confined their searches to the
right bank of the river Orne , being unaware of the ford close to the
''Moulin de Serans '' (Mill) , and therefore unaware that the pilot had
been able to cross the river .
now became imperative to get Charlie to the Resistance network and so in
the escape mechanism . Jacques Roger and Félix
Terrier , both members of the BOA (Bureau des Operations A ériennes)
and directed by Mr Verrier of the town of Ranes , decided to take Charlie directly to
Mr Verrier , but before doing so had to inform him of the situation .
Charlie had also to quit the farm as soon as possible . Bernard Peschet
gives his bike to Charlie and , led by Felix Terrier , they cycle off to
the home of two women at Saint Brice-sous-Ranes where he stayed for two
days (we were unable to find those two women) . As they left La
Misaudiere , they encountered a small horse drawn farm cart coming from
the direction of Ecouché .
the cart was the young Lucienne
Peschet (Mme Chombart) who does not recall who was pedaling , but
remembers that he was on her father's bicycle . Charlie was also to
spend several days hidden at the home of Mr and Mme Pottier
At the beginning of May , Charlie is transferred at the house of Mr
Verrier at Ranes . The clothing shop is rapidly
converted to enable Charlie to hide there , but there is no means
of escape should the Germans come calling . Mr Verrier feel he might be
under suspicion , so to play safe and avoid undue risks , Charlie is
transferred yet again , this time to the home of Mr Guillouard
at Saint Martin d'Aiguillon , where he stays for a week .. Here he
meets Mr Bachelier who is also a
member of the BOA and on the run from the Gestapo . However , Charlie is
unable to stay long , and has to find an other place to hide .
An employee of Mr Verrier , Thérèse
Bourguignon , suggests that Charlie could be hiden at the family
farm known as ''Les Chasnieres'' , well outside the commune of Marcei .
With the agreement of her other children Pierre
, Alfred , Roger , Suzanne and Gaston
, the widow Eugénie Bourguignon who had raised her family single-handed accepts
Charlie as ''Lodger'' , who is taken to Marcei in a Citroen ''Traction''
driven by Madame
of Joue-du-plain . In order to verify that there was no patrols on the
way , an other vehicle driven by Jules
Christophe (also from Joué-du-Plain) led the way . It seems that
the cars were checked by the Germans , who only looked at the papers of
the driver ...
morning after the transfer of Charlie , the sinister ''Bande à Jardin''
(French agents of the Gestapo for the Orne area) made a surprise visit
at the Verrier shop and made a vigourous search , fortunately finding
nothing . Nevertheless , Jardin's gang arrests Jacques and Michel Roger
, who were then deported to Neuengamme (Germany) . Only Michel was to
Moore was to arrive at Marcei the 21rst May , where Alfred Bourguignon ,
the second son of the family , was already hiden as he was looked for by
the STO (Forced Laour Service) for the year 1943 , but , not wishing to
go to Germany , had conceived of the genial idea of having a letter to
his mother taken by a comrade , also requested for STO and going to
Germany , who was posted in Ludenscheid , therefore 'attesting'' his
presence in Germany . The strategy worked , but of course Alfred was
obliged to remain hiden , like all the workers requested to work in
Germany , but on the run . The letter was shown to Frech Gendarmes who
came calling to inquire why Alfred was not on their lists , the letter
convainced them that Alfred was certainly in Germany !.
Alfred had hidden himself in different farms . He came back to ''Les
Chasnieres'' in order to hide with Charlie in a pile of faggots inside
which a cavity had been arranged by Pierre , heled by his brothers .
Charlie recounts : ''Our hidding place was narrow and very low
. The heat was unbearable and there was no ventilation , and I have to
this day the scars caused by the branches of the faggots''.
war had made Charlie and Alfred fugitives , and so the two young men (of
much the same age) , became great friends . This was also true for the
children of ''Les Chasnieres'' .
continued its daily course at the farm . The Normandy landings took
place , entraining large troops movements , and the fightings became
more and more intense as the Battle of Normandy progressed , followed by
the Liberation . From time to time , the Germans called at the farm ,
searching for food , which was given quickly in order to get rid of them
. Charlie hid himself anywhere he could find at such time , once in a
grain coffer . He often passed himself off as a farm boy , or even a
poacher !. One day , leaving a wood nearby , he came across two German
soldiers . Not loosing his cool , he said ''bonjour'' , receiving the
same reply !. Perhaps the only french word the three of them had in
another occasion , two Germans arrived at the farmhouse without even the
dogs barking . Charlie was eating his meal at the kitchen table . The
Germans took not the slightiest notice of him , being only interested in
getting the food being prepared by Eugénie . Charlie , making out that
he had finished his meal , got up from the table without a word and left
, only drawing breath when well clear of the farmhouse !.
Feeling very unhappy from within , Charlie followed with an expert eye
the many aerial combats over the plain of Argentan . It caused him much
grief one day to see two P38's go down without the pilots
managing to eject . Nevertheless , it was later the turn of the four
German planes who had shot them down , to be in turn shot down by more
Mustangs , perhaps those of Charlie's Group .
was liberated the 12th of August by the tanks of the 5th
Armoured Division and the 90th Infantry Division of the 3rd
US Army . It was to be sergents Walker
of the 90th ID who came to find him at the farm . It was the
general feeling that it was time as by now too many people knew his
After having been thus liberated , Charlie was sent back to
England where he was to stay for a couple of weeks . Before this , he
came back to say his farewells to Les Chasnieres , bringing to the
Bourguignon family all that he could in the way of provisions ,
cigarettes , etc ..., which they had lost the taste for since long ago
!. He was then sent back to USA where , whilst on leave , he was
involved in a serious road accident and spent some considerable time in
hospital . Upon leaving hospital , he resumed his duties in the USAF and
was sent in the Pacific Theatre of War . Now flying a P47 Thunderbolt ,
he was to participate in the battle of Okinawa in July 1945 .
was discharged from the USAF with the rank of Major . Aged to day of 84
, he has not lost any of the energy of the days of his flight from the
Germans in 1944 , and remains much the same personage that he was in
those far off days . He has returned in Normandy on several occasions
where he was able to meet some of those who helped him in 1944
. Especially the Bourguignon family (other than Gaston who died
in 1946) . His remembrances were relived with much emotion , which is
understandable . We were able to show him the spot where his P51 crashed
and Francis Peschet took him to the ''Gué du Moulin'' ford where he
crossed the river Orne , also the farm of La Misaudiere where he was re-equipped
with civilian clothings . I was also able to show him the major parts of
his plane who was desinterred in 1996 and found to be in remarkable
state of preservation . The Packard version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin
engine , found at 6 metres deep , has been mounted on a specially
constructed display craddle by Serge
Roger , youngest brother of Jacques and Michel , now forming an
important part of a project to show the aerial combats of the Battle of
Normandy , with the famous radiator pierced by the branch of a tree ,
forming a key part of the display .
was to experience a painful reaction when we showed him the parts of his
plane . This had brutally reminded him of his bitter feelings of a dream
unfullfilled . However , his painfull recollections were brought to a
head when he came to terms with his decision that he had made an error
of judgement in flying under the power cables rather than above .
(right) in 1999 with Francis Peschet on the doorstep of the
cottage where he left his uniform and dressed in civilian clothes supplied
by the Peschet family
years on , Charlie cannot not forget the thought that , on that day ,
this simple error has resulted in him being effectively ''grounded'' ,
whereas his country desperately needed him to be still at the controls
of his Mustang . He is also very aware
of the enormous risks that this error caused to be endured by
those who came to his aid . He now look upon all these people as members
of his family .
Many of them have made the trip to Las Vegas (Nevada) where he lives . I
met him there in 1996, 1998 and 2001 . There he told me the complete
story of his exploits in Normandy , which I have researched here and
related them above . We speak regularly by phone , and I hope to see him
there again soon .
Re-writen and completed
Aubry-en-Exmes, January 2005
V12 Packard 'Merlin' engine of the Charles Lee Moore's P51. The
compressor (pictured on the right) still remains in place.
'Mustang' radiator. The branch having damaged the radiator was
still present when the wreck was dug out. The real evidence of
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