This handsome P-51 Mustang, named Bad Angel, sits in the Pima Air and Space Museum, near Tucson, Arizona, USA. Proudly displayed on the fuselage of Bad Angel were the markings of the pilot's kills: 7 Germans; 1 Italian; 1 Japanese and, curiously, 1 American.
Lt Curdes’ unusual tally of kills adorns his P-51 Mustang.
Fortunately, one of the museum's documents revealed the explanation. In 1942, the United States needed pilots for its war planes and a certain Lt Louis Curdes was one of them. When he was 22 years old, he graduated from flight training school and was shipped off to the Mediterranean to fight over Southern Europe.
He arrived at his 82nd Fighter Group, 95th Fighter Squadron in April 1943 and was assigned to P-38 Lightnings. Ten days later he shot down three German Messerschmitt Bf-109 fighters. A few weeks later, he downed two more German Bf -109s.
In less than a month of combat, Louis was declared an Ace. During the next three months, Louis shot down an Italian Mc-202 fighter and two more Messerschmitts before his luck finally ran out. A German fighter shot him down on 27 August 1943, over Salerno, Italy.
Captured by the Italians, he was sent to a POW camp near Rome. However, a few days later, the Italians surrendered and Louis, with a few other pilots, escaped before the Germans could take control of the camp.
Louis volunteered for another combat tour. This time, Uncle Sam sent him to the Philippines. where he flew
Soon after arriving in the Pacific, Louis downed a Mitsubishi reconnaissance plane near Formosa. Now he was one of only three Americans to have kills against all three Axis Powers: Germany, Italy, and Japan.
Up until this point, young Lt Curdes’ combat career had been stellar. His story was about to take a twist so bizarre that it seems like the fictional creation of a Hollywood screenwriter.
While attacking the Japanese-held island of Bataan, one of Louis' wingmen was shot down. The pilot ditched in the ocean. Circling overhead, Louis could see that his wingman had survived, so he stayed in the area to guide a rescue plane and protect the downed pilot.
It wasn't long before he noticed another, larger aircraft, wheels down, preparing to land at the Japanese-held airfield on Bataan. He moved in to investigate. Much to his surprise he saw that the aircraft was a Douglas C-47 transport, with American markings. He tried to make radio contact, but without success. He manoeuvred his Mustang in front of the big transport several times, trying to wave it off but the C-47 doggedly continued its approach. Apparently the C-47 crew didn't realise they were about to land on a Japanese-held island, and soon would be captives.
Lt Curdes, mindful of the vicious reputation of Japanese soldiers toward their captives, knew that whoever was in that American C-47 would be, upon landing, either dead or wishing that they were.
Desperate measures were called for. Audaciously, he lined up his P-51 directly behind the transport aircraft, carefully sighted one of his 50 caliber machine guns and knocked out one of its two engines. Still the C-47 continued on toward the Bataan airfield. Curdes shifted his aim slightly and knocked out the remaining engine, leaving the baffled transport pilot no choice but to ditch in the ocean.
The big plane came down in one piece about 50 yards from his bobbing wingman. At this point, nightfall and low fuel forced Louis to return to base. The next morning, Louis flew cover for a PBY Catalina that picked up the downed Mustang pilot, 12 passengers and crew, including two female nurses, from the C-47. All survived. Later, Lt Curdes would end up marrying one of these nurses!
For shooting down an unarmed American transport aircraft, Lt Louis Curdes was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Thereafter, on the fuselage of his P-51 ‘Bad Angel’, he proudly displayed the symbols of his kills: 7 German, one Italian, one Japanese and one American flag.