This Day in History: Bazooka Charlie, Tank Ace
On this day in 1944, the Battle of Arracourt is waged in France. During the course of that battle, Charles “Bazooka Charlie” Carpenter would knock out two German tanks—but the way in which he did it might surprise you.
“‘Bazooka Charlie’ used to teach history,” a newspaper back home soon reported. “Now he is making it on the western front.”
Carpenter wasn’t supposed to be blowing up German tanks. He was supposed to be a simple artillery spotter, flying overhead in his Piper L-4 Grasshopper. His technical job was reconnaissance for the 4th Armored Division of General George Patton’s 3rd Army.
But “Bazooka Charlie” had other ideas.
At first, he attached two bazookas to the wing struts of his little plane. Then he worked his way up, finally deciding that six bazookas—three on each wing—was a workable load. He would no longer be just a reconnaissance pilot. He could attack, too.
On the side of his newly decked out aircraft, Charlie painted the words “Rosie the Rocketer.” It was a tribute to “Rosie the Riveter,” the women working in factories back home.
Charlie found immediate success with his bazookas. By October 1944, he was a “tank ace,” having taken out at least five German tanks.
“Word must be getting around among those [Nazis] to watch out for Cubs with Bazookas on them,” Charlie soon remarked. “Every time I show up now they shoot with everything they have. They never used to bother Cubs. Bazookas must be bothering them a bit.”
A few other pilots put bazookas on their planes, but not everyone was ready to follow Charlie’s lead.
“Some of his fellow pilots tried it out,” newspapers back home reported dryly, “but found that driving their frail craft into a hail of German small arms fire was extremely unhealthy and returned to their observation duties.”
Would you believe that, on one occasion, Charlie landed his plane in a field after he’d taken out a few tanks? He captured six Nazis that day with a few German rifles that he found. Nor was it the first time he’d been on the ground, seizing the initiative. On another occasion, a contemporary newspaper account explained, “[t]he major was scouting for landing fields when he came upon a tank and infantry formation stymied by enemy 88 fire before a vital town. Carpenter jumped on the lead tank, grabbed a .50 caliber gun, fired a burst and ordered an attack, yelling, ‘Let’s go.’”
That stunt prompted a successful American drive—and it also nearly earned him a court-martial. He was saved when Patton intervened.
“Some people around here think I’m nuts,” Charlie said of his own actions, “but I just believe that if we’re going to fight a war we have to get on with it 60 minutes an hour, 24 hours a day.”
To be fair, it’s worth noting that at least some people believe that Charlie’s feats were exaggerated by an Army that wanted to encourage citizens back home. But perhaps the conclusion of the story lends credence to the claim that Patton found Charlie to be “the kind of fighting man I want in my army.”
Charlie was unfortunately diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease just a few months after his showing at the Battle of Arracourt, and he was forced to return home. At the time, he thought he had about two years to live.
Instead, he lived for more than two decades.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised to hear that a man like “Bazooka Charlie” wasn’t going to let cancer have the last say.
Primary Sources & Further Reading
Bazooka Charlie gets 6th Nazi Tank, by Plane (Indiana Gazette; Oct. 12, 1944)
Bazooka Charlie Goes After Nazis: Former History Teacher Now Makes it With Patton's Forces (Lawrence Journal-World; Oct. 3, 1944)
Bazooka Charlie's Making (Not Teaching) History Now (Bennington Evening Banner; Oct. 5, 1944) (reprinting an AP report)
Don M. Fox, Patton's Vanguard: The United States Army Fourth Armored Division (2015)
George Forty, Patton's Third Army at War (2015)
Gordon L. Rottman, The Bazooka (2012)
Jim Busha, Bazooka Charlie and the Grasshopper: A Tale of World War II (Air & Space Mag.; April 2020)
Steven Zaloga, Patton Versus the Panzers: The Battle of Arracourt, September 1944 (2016)
Tank Ace has Troubles: 'Bazooka Charlie' finds Nazis getting timid (Deseret News; Oct. 11, 1944)