Owen J Baggett: The World War II Pilot Who Took Down a Plane With Only a Handgun

Owen J. Baggett

World War II was a long, difficult and unforgiving war that had some pretty incredible stories come out of it. Some of the best trained soldiers and pilots were put on the fronts during this collossal war, giving everything they had to fight and survive.

One such pilot, Owen Baggett, showed not only skill, but also sheer luck, in what was one of the most incredible recorded aerial combats of the war. This American B-24 co-pilot not only survived the combat, but, also managed to strike down his enemy with nothing but a handgun.

On top of all this, the soldier was almost 5,000 feet in the air, without a plane.This is the incredible story of Owen Baggett, the soldier who took down a plane while parachuting.

Early Life

Owen Baggett was born in Texas in 1920. After studying at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Baggett went to New York City for a job at Johnson and Company Investment Securities.

In 1941, while he was still working for the investment firm, Baggett volunteered to join the U.S. Army Air Corps. Shortly after enlisting, Baggett went to pilot training at the New Columbus Army Flying School.

First Army Duty

After finishing his basic pilot training, Baggett left for his first official duty in India, in a town close to Japanese occupied Burma. A part of the Tenth Air Force, Baggett eventually became a co-pilot for a B-24 bomber based in Pandaveswar, and attained the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.

Also known as the Consolidated B-24 Liberator, the plane was a heavy bomber. In Pandaveswar, Baggett joined the 7th Bomb Group. His duties were to fly bombing runs into Burma and help to defend supply routes between India and China for allies.

The Mission

After about a year of being posted with the 7th Bomb Group, Baggett would go on what would seem like a routine mission, that would change his life.

On March 31, 1943, Baggett and the rest of the 7th Bomb Group went to fly into Burma to destroy a small railroad bridge near Pyinmana. However, the bombers were unescorted, and, shortly after they took off, all the bombers were attacked by more than twenty four Japanese Zero fighters.

When the plane’s emergency oxygen tank was hit, the first lieutenant Lloyd Jensen ordered the crew to bail out. Since the intercom had also been destroyed by the Japanese airstrike, Baggett relayed the message using hand signals.

The Attack

After bailing from their place, the crew was immediately attacked by the Japanese Zeros. Parachuting down slowly, the 7th Bomb crew became a very easy target.

Baggett later recalled seeing some of his crew mates being torn to pieces by gunfire. Baggett himself was shot in the arm, although it only grazed it. In a desperate attempt to survive, Baggett decided to play “dead”, lying limp in his parachute’s harness.

This strategic move would be pivotal to his survival. Of the nine soldiers aboard the bomber, only four survived.

Baggett’s single shot

As Baggett was playing dead, an enemy pilot flew by him slowly to check out whether Baggett was dead or not. The enemy pilot’s canopy was open so that he could see better. When the plane went directly past Baggett, he stopped playing dead and pulled out his M1911, aimed it at the pilot, and shot four times.

The plane soon stalled, and Baggett couldn’t recount what happened to the pilot he had shot at, since he had other pilot and his crew to worry about. When Baggett got to the ground, he tried to find the surviving members of his crew.

Three of the four survivors, including Baggett, were captured as war prisoners. Baggett was forced to explain his escape from the attack to Major General Arimura, commander of the Southeast Asia POW camps. After giving his account, Baggett was the only prisoner to be offered to die with honour by committing harikiri. Baggett refused the offer.

The enemy pilot

While still a prisoner of war, Baggett would encounter Colonel Harry Melton. Melton would inform Baggett of the fate of the enemy pilot that Baggett had shot at.

According to Melton, the plane that Baggett had shot at had crashed directly after the shooting. The plane had first stalled, then crashed, and the pilot’s body was thrown from the wreckage.

Apparently, the pilot had been killed, and had a gunshot wound. However, Baggett remained skeptical about the story, not truly believing that he could have successfully shot a plane while he was in parachute.

Baggett’s Lucky Shot

The details of Baggett’s shot were only investigated in 1996 by John L. Frisbee. Colonel Harry Melon’s claim that the enemy pilot had a .45 caliber bullet wound couldn’t be verified.

However, there are witnesses that saw the plane stalling at about 4,000 feet. This is enough time for the pilot to recover from the stall and re-start the engine before crashing. Which lead witnesses to believe that the pilot was not physically able to re-start the engine. The survivors also confirmed that there weren’t any allied fighters in the area that could have shot down the plane.

If it had been an engine failure, the pilot would have still had some control over the plane. Witnesses confirmed that the pilot headed straight down and crashed after the stall.

Being a Prisoner of War Was Challenging for Owen

Owen Baggett ended up serving the rest of his time in the war as a prisoner of war. Over the two years that he was kept prisoner, Baggett went from 180 pounds to about 90 pounds.

It wasn’t until September 7th, 1945, that Baggett was finally liberated by the OSS. After World War II ended in 1945, Baggett continued to serve in the military for many years. He eventually reached the rank of Colonel. He was never recognized by the military for his incredibly lucky shot.

Sources: Air Force Magazine