WWII Pilot Fends Off His Injured Comrade to Finish Mission

By Katie Lange

Medal of Honor Monday

USA – -(AmmoLand.com)- While there were many bombing missions over Germany during World War II, one that happened 75 years ago was so heroic that it helped to inspire the book and movie “Twelve O’Clock High,” which was later turned into a highly regarded movie.

Today, we’re honoring a man who earned his Medal of Honor during that mission: Army Air Corps 2nd Lt. John C. Morgan.

Morgan began his military career as an airman in 1941 – before the U.S. entered the war – when he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. He would have joined the U.S. Army Air Corps, but because of an industrial accident at a job he’d previously had, he had been deemed unfit for duty for his own country.

World War II Army Air Corps 2nd Lt. John C. Morgan
World War II Army Air Corps 2nd Lt. John C. Morgan receives the Medal of Honor from Lt. Gen. Ira Eaker, Commander of the Eighth Air Force, in December 1943. Air Force photo

Morgan thrived with the Canadians and was eventually transferred to the U.S. Army Air Forces’s 8th Air Force when it joined the war effort in England. He became a qualified pilot in 1943 and started flying B-17s on bombing missions. His fifth mission on July 26, 1943, didn’t go smoothly at all – but his bravery that day earned him accolades for life.

Morgan was the co-pilot of a bomber heading to Hanover, Germany, when it was attacked by several enemy fighters well before reaching their target. And it was bad.

The main pilot on Morgan’s plane had been hit in the head with a .303-caliber cannon shell that shattered the windshield. The plane’s communications system was destroyed, and the oxygen system throughout much of the plane had been knocked out, causing the plane’s waist, tail and radio gunners to lose consciousness. The top turret gunner’s arm was blown off at the shoulder.

The main pilot’s injuries left him semiconsciously scrambling to get everything under control. He fell over the steering wheel and held onto it, desperately resisting Morgan, who was trying to gain control of the struggling aircraft.

Eventually, Morgan was able to use the controls on his side to pull the airplane back to formation.

Morgan assumed the rest of his crew had bailed out – he didn’t hear their guns being fired and he had no way of talking to them – so he was forced to make an important decision alone.

“There remained the prospect of flying to and over the target and back to a friendly base wholly unassisted,” the Medal of Honor citation reads. “In the face of this desperate situation, 2nd Lt. Officer Morgan made his decision to continue the flight and protect any members of the crew who might still be in the ship. For two hours, he flew in formation with one hand at the controls and the other holding off the struggling pilot.”

Eventually, the plane’s navigator was able to make it to the cockpit and relieve Morgan of his duties of fend off the struggling pilot, who later died. They were able to get back to a friendly base and land safely, having completed a successful – albeit terrifying – mission.

For his actions, Morgan received the Medal of Honor in December 1943.

After that, he continued piloting planes until he was shot down over Germany on March 6, 1944. He remained a prisoner of war there until May 1, 1945.

Army Air Corps 2nd Lt. John Morgan
Army Air Corps 2nd Lt. John Morgan dishes hot water from a field kitchen in the North I compound at Stalag Luft I, a German POW camp for Allied airmen. Air Force Magazine photo.

Morgan was sent home after the war and spent several more years hopping between active-duty and the Reserve. He eventually retired as a lieutenant colonel and lived a full life, marrying and having a son, who also joined the Air Force.

Morgan died in 1991 at the age of 76. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Thank you for your devotion to the cause, Mr. Morgan!



Department of Defense

U.S. Department of Defense

The Department of Defense provides the military forces needed to deter war and ensure our nation’s security. The foundational strength of the Department of Defense is the men and women who volunteer to serve our country and protect our freedoms. Visit www.defense.gov/ to learn more.

10 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
pigpen51
pigpen51(@pigpen51)
1 year ago

For those of you who speak of your father’s military service, I wish to thank you, in their absence, for their sacrifice. As has been said, without them, we would be speaking a different language. And while we have an all volunteer military now, back then, many, many men, and women, volunteered for the military. It was not just following the crowd, it was because of their knowledge that this country was worth any risk, and protecting their way of life, and their loved ones, made the possibility of giving their lives in service to their nation, well worth it.… Read more »

Firewagon
Firewagon(@firewagon)
1 year ago

Ahh, the days of yesteryear when ‘real men’ didn’t ‘talk about doing’ they DID the doing! Died in 1991 at the age of 76, that number seems like a ‘young age’ these days;) Thank you and your family for helping this country, and others, retain the ability to ‘speak English!’

RoyD
RoyD(@royd)
1 year ago

Just so you can read a still flawed but more complete record of this persons exploits:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_C._Morgan

Firewagon
Firewagon(@firewagon)
1 year ago
Reply to  RoyD

Thanks, good read!

Just1Saddletramp
Just1Saddletramp(@just1saddletramp)
1 year ago

There are several errors in this article but the most obvious is the fact that ” the oxygen system through most of the plane had been knocked out”. Most of the missions of the Eighth Air Force heavy bombers were flown around an altitude of 25,000 feet. Any of the crew that did not have oxygen at that altitude would have shortly died of asphyxiation, especially over a period of the stated “2 hours”. Flying at a lower altitude would enable those without oxygen to survive but the plane would have quickly been shot down by German fighters. I know… Read more »

Firewagon
Firewagon(@firewagon)
1 year ago

Thought the same thing. Have no knowledge of the oxygen system/s(?) on a B-17, but had the ogygen system been knocked out the pilot/s would also have been soon knocked out or dead!

RoyD
RoyD(@royd)
1 year ago

Really?

“The main pilot on Morgan’s plane had been hit in the head with a .303-caliber cannon shell that shattered the windshield.”

I would think that someone who writes about military things for a living would have a better grasp on the armaments used by German fighter aircraft circa July 1943.

Deplorable Bill
Deplorable Bill(@deplorable-bill)
1 year ago
Reply to  RoyD

German fighters at that time had 8mm ammo, 12.7 ammo and 20 mm cannon. Some of the heavy fighters had 30mm and 37mm cannon. I have not been able to find German planes using British caliber machine guns. Regardless, that man earned that medal. He saved a crew and he saved an aircraft. A B-17 has a crew of ten men in it. There was no other American service that took more casualties than Army Air force bomber crews. I am always glad to hear of exploits like these. A large part of the world was at war with socialism… Read more »

RoyD
RoyD(@royd)
1 year ago

My father joined the Navy after high school graduation in 1943 and went on to serve a year aboard the US Navy DE USS Howard F. Clark. He related a number of things they did and experienced during that year. After that he got out for a year and taught school then signed back up with the Air Force until retirement in 1964. He was in Germany after the war setting up radar installations and told of an instance where, if not for the presence of other German teenagers, he would have been killed by a “Werewolf.” He taught at… Read more »

Irrenmann
Irrenmann(@irrenmann)
1 year ago
Reply to  RoyD

I don’t know what “cannon shell” is about, but I suppose it is possible the bomber was struck by friendly fire from a fighter escort…?