History

William “Bill” Overstreet

Written by Mike L.

 

Captain William “Bill” Overstreet was a pilot and a hero in World War II.  He wasn’t a triple ace, he never had a confirmed Me262 kill, he didn’t shoot down a notable ace of the Luftwaffe, or fly any record setting test planes after the war.  None of this makes him any less of a true hero of the skies.  What he did do in service to his country, and for his first confirmed kill, was quite remarkable and daring: he chased a Bf109 under the Eiffel Tower in Paris in a show of bravery and skill that few pilots possess.

Len Krenzler's depiction of Overstreet pursuing the Bf109 under the Eiffel Tower in Paris.Artwork can be purchased here: http://www.oldgloryprints.com/Berlin%20Express%20Arrives%20in%20Paris.htm

Len Krenzler’s depiction of Overstreet pursuing the Bf109 under the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Artwork can be purchased here: http://www.oldgloryprints.com/Berlin%20Express%20Arrives%20in%20Paris.htm

Overstreet was just 21 years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, effectively plunging and mobilizing the United States into World War II.  Like many other American men, he felt the desire to serve his country by joining the armed forces.  He had a strong desire to be a fighter pilot with the US Army Air Corps and talked his way into the cadet pilot program.  He reported to Tulare, CA for his primary flight training at Tex Rankin’s flying school.  There, he was taught in the Stearman not only to fly, but to think on his feet, but to truly master the aircraft and push the man/machine envelope.  Bill told Warbird News during an interview, that at one point in his flight training, his flight instructor cut the engine and rolled the Stearman inverted before passing the controls to Bill and telling him to land it.  Bill, not the one to give up, quickly realized that all he needed was “just quarter roll it into a left turn, line up with the runway and set it down.”  This would just be the first of many remarkable things that Bill did to survive his career as an Air Corps pilot.  After passing the intermediate BT-13 Valiant course, he went on to fly P-40 Warhawks and P-39 Airacobras in Santa Rosa with the 357th Fighter Group, 363 Fighter Squadron.

Overstreet's P-39 wreckage laying in a vineyard. Photo Credit-Warbird News www.warbirdsnews.com

Overstreet’s P-39 wreckage laying in a vineyard. Photo Credit-Warbird News www.warbirdsnews.com

It was during his time in combat training that Overstreet would have his first brush with death.  While conducting Air Combat Maneuver training his P-39 Airacobra entered a dreaded flat spin, something that the P-39 was prone to do.  P-39 pilots were uniquely inhibited from exiting the aircraft due to the design of the doors on the cockpit which opened in the same manner as a car, as opposed to the sliding canopy found on most other aircraft of the time.  Spiraling to his death, Overstreet was facing certain death falling back to earth at a fatal rate.  With his premature death guaranteed, Overstreet managed to wedge himself against the wall of the cockpit, force the door open, escape the aircraft and pull his parachute just in time to land next to the burning wreckage of the aircraft he was in merely moments before..  This would be the first, but not the last time that he nearly died serving his country in the air.

Overstreet's P-51C "Berlin Express Photo Credit-Warbirds News www.warbirdsnews.com

Overstreet’s P-51C “Berlin Express Photo Credit-Warbirds News www.warbirdsnews.com

Early in 1944, the stage was set for Captain Overstreet’s moment of fame.  Overstreet was escorting a group of bombers, when he chased a Bf109 away from the formation and down to the surface in Paris, France.  The 109 pilot, desperate to get away and hit several times by the .50 cals of Overstreet’s P-51C, pointed his aircraft towards the Eiffel Tower and flew directly under it.  Undeterred by the 109s attempt at survival, and trained to think on his feet by his early flight training, Overstreet pursued the 109 through the Eiffel Tower and scored several fatal hits, downing the aircraft amidst the German flak and anti-aircraft guns located in Paris.  He then pushed the throttle all the way forward and flew along the river until he was safely away from Paris and the Nazi ground forces trying to shoot him down.  This would be his crowning achievement, and the feat of supreme airmanship that would gain Overstreet his piece of history in the war.

Sadly, Captian William “Bill” Overstreet passed away on December 29th, 2013 at the age of 92.

This article was written solely from http://www.warbirdsnews.com’s interview article which can be found here:

http://www.warbirdsnews.com/warbird-articles/wwii-veteran-aviator-bill-overstreet-p-51-mustang-berlin-express.html

About the author

Mike L.

Mike L. | USN OIF/OEF Veteran | Ruck HQ |
Mike served in the US Navy from 2003-2007, and in the US Army National Guard in 2008. During his career, Mike served aboard the USS Harry S. Truman from 2004-2006, and with Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron Seven from 2006-2007. His brief tour in the Army National Guard was in Tulsa Oklahoma as a 22Q in 2008. Currently, Mike is a freelance writer and professional photographer specializing in military aviation and aviation history. He is also an aviator, and enjoys building flight hours whenever he has time.