The story of Bill Overstreet’s P-51B Berlin Express, the Mustang that flew under the Eiffel Tower in hot pursuit of a Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 109

The story of Bill Overstreet’s P-51B Berlin Express, the Mustang that flew under the Eiffel Tower in hot pursuit of a Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 109

By Dario Leone
Mar 23 2023
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The P-51B Mustang “Berlin Express” achieved legendary status in an epic World War II dogfight in Paris in 1944, piloted by Bill Overstreet, who flew the aircraft under the Eiffel Tower in hot pursuit of a of a Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 109.

In 1940 the British approached North American Aviation to license-build Curtiss P-40 fighters for the Royal Air Force. North American offered to design a better fighter, which flew as the NA-73X in October 1940. Production of the aircraft — named Mustang I by the British — began the following year.

In the summer of 1941, the USAAF received two Mustang Is under the designation XP-51. Although flight tests of the new fighter showed promise, the USAAF did not accept the first production P-51A fighters until March 1942.

Although excellent at lower levels, the P-51A’s Allison engines severely limited performance at high altitude. In April 1942 the USAAF ordered an attack version equipped with dive brakes and bomb racks, the A-36 Apache.

In the fall of 1942, Mustangs in the US and Great Britain were experimentally fitted with British Merlin engines. One in the US flew a remarkable 441 mph at 29,800 feet — about 100 mph faster than the P-51A at that altitude. Mass production of the Merlin-powered P-51B and P-51C soon followed (nearly identical, North American produced the “B” in Inglewood, Calif., and the “C” in Dallas, Texas).

Red Tail P-51C print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET  YOURS. P-51C-10 Flown by Tuskagee Airmen Col. Charles E. McGee, 302nd FS, 332nd FG, Italy

In December 1943 the first P-51B/C Mustangs entered combat in Europe with the 354th Fighter Group “Pioneers.” By the time of the first US heavy bomber strike against Berlin in March 1944, the USAAF fielded about 175 P-51B/C Mustangs. Along with P-38 Lightnings, these P-51s provided sorely needed long-range, high-altitude escort for the US bombing campaign against Germany.

The P-51B Mustang “Berlin Express” achieved legendary status in an epic World War II dogfight in Paris in 1944, piloted by Bill Overstreet, who flew the aircraft under the Eiffel Tower in hot pursuit of a of a Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 109. Overstreet eventually downed the German plane and eluded heavy enemy fire while escaping the battle with aircraft intact.

‘Bill was assigned to bomber escort missions with the 357th fighter group, and so he dubbed his plane the “Berlin Express,”’ Brian Burnett II, Tour Guide at National Museum of the US Air Force, explains on Quora.

The story of Bill Overstreet’s P-51B Berlin Express, the Mustang that flew under the Eiffel Tower in hot pursuit of a Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 109
Bill Overstreet

‘One time, a squadron of Messerschmitt 109’s outside Paris made a pass at the bomber group, and the P-51’s were hell bent on shooting all of them down. Overstreet was caught in a dogfight with one until the pilot had had enough, but Overstreet was just getting warmed up. He threw that throttle forward and went after him, following him into enemy territory. In an effort to get him off his tail, the 109 made low passes over Paris to get help from Anti-Aircraft guns stationed in the city.

‘That didn’t help because our man Bill was like Daredevil, the man without fear. Between flying so low and dodging enemy fire, he still shot a few bursts of his guns and hit the 109’s engine. In a last-ditch effort, the 109 flew under the Eiffel Tower hoping Overstreet would avoid it — NOPE! Bill followed him under the tower, and, as the 109 pulled up, Bill sent him back down in flames. Afterwards, Bill went down to the river and followed it, barely above water level. Under the cover of the structures on either side, he made his way out of the city and back to base.’

Photo credit: Len Krenzler / Action Art, US Government Photographer

The story of Bill Overstreet’s P-51B Berlin Express, the Mustang that flew under the Eiffel Tower in hot pursuit of a Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 109
Photo by Len Krenzler / Action Art

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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Comments

  1. Tom Griffith says:

    You know, this story is soooo fake. Bill Overstreet HIMSELF, a number of times before he passed verified that this NEVER happened.

    And while I’m pointing out “fake news,” the story mentions that the P-51A not being accepted by the USAAF until March, 1942. Wellllll…the contract for the P-51A was NOT even signed until much later in 1942, and the first P-51A did NOT even have a test flight until February, 1942. You’re probably referring to the NA-73, the aircraft called “Mustang Mk I” by the RAF, and the USAAF was given two from that batch, the two XP-51s (SN 41-038 and 41-039). Furthermore, NAA had a “working” or “house” name of “Apache” for those first aircraft that were called “Mustang” by the RAF. The “Apache” name was only temporary, and on 13 July, 1942, “Dutch” Kindelberger sent a Telegram to Col. Arthur I. Ennis, Chief of the USAAF’s P-R Branch saying, in effect, “if it’s an NAA aircraft of the P-51 fighter type, it shall be named ‘Mustang,’ for commonality with the RAF.”

    To dovetail with this, the contract for the A-36 was not even finalized (as in, signed by all the parties) until August, 1942. SOOOOO…the “Apache” name was never-EVER officially used (by either NAA nor the USAAF) for the A-36A. The A-36A (the only model made, by the way) was named “Mustang” from DAY ONE. The other name, “Invader,” was a nickname given to the A-36A by the USAAF pilots and groundcrew in the MTO, but as you probably know, could never have been official because the Douglas Aircraft Company had that name for their A-26 Light Bomber/Attack aircraft.

    If this blog/website – whatEVER – wants to be considered to be a source of “historical information,” you might want to fix up this article.

    If you’re interested, I have two scans sent to me by the now-retired Historical Archivist of Boeing, Michael Lombardi. I could email scans to you. He emailed them to me in April, 2019 and they are 100% absolute proof about the A-36s name.

    Feel free to email me.

    Cheers.

  2. Gary says:

    Well I’m sure if Tom said it, it must be true and there’s video from one of the countless interviews Bill gave indicating that people like Bud Anderson is a liar. You could always ask Bud if you really wanted. And if you’re so eager to take the word of someone who might not know what they’re talking about, you’ll print inaccurate information constantly…..

    • Dario Leone Author says:

      Brian Burnett II, who is quoted as source of the article, is a Tour Guide at the USAF Museum. I think he’s a reliable source. Cheers

  3. axa181 says:

    Damn Tom lol. looks like the BF109 isn’t the only thing that went down in flames.

  4. Neil cooper says:

    Have you authenticated this story other than from an obituary in a US newspaper? I ask because, if the raid Overstreetwas escorting took place in early 1944 and flying to or from Germany, German aircraft would have been nowhere near Paris. If the raid was after March 1944 when Allied bombing was focussed on softening up prior to the Normandy invasion, almost all German fighters in the West were located in Germany acting as home defence. Is there a USAAF record of Overstreet’s victory? Other USAAF pilots have published records of victories and 1944 victories were either over Germany or Holland until the summer of 1944 when the Luftwaffe were obliged to fight in the skies above France.

  5. Neil cooper says:

    https://toflyandfight.com/interview-with-captain-william-b-bill-overstreet-363rd-fs/
    This is an interview with Captain Overstreet which reads as authentic and there is no mention of a low level combat over Paris. The interview contains many examples of his flying prowess, not to mention determination and bravery, so why wouldn’t he have mentioned it if it was true. In a separate Wikipedia article on the 357th there is a mention of an alleged low level flight over Paris by Chuck Yeager but that to mark the end of his tour of duty, not chasing a German plane. Overstreet mentions official disapproval of low level “buzzes” of civilian areas, so I wonder if the chase story emerged as an excuse and Overstreet’s name was thrown in to avoid Yeager being discredited while being the test pilot for the Bell X1?

  6. Rick Utt says:

    The P-51 Mustang had Identity issues at its beginning. In the book P-51 Mustang 75 year of America’s Most Famous Warbird by Cory Graff there are photos of Ads by Allison and North American Aviation. The Army wanted to call the P-51 the Apache. On page 16, Allison calls it the Apache Persuit ship and her sister ship, the Mustang of the RAF. on Page 47 an Ad by North American shows three Mustang like aircraft all in a dive with the name Apache in large letters at the bottom. Again, most people would assume it is the P-51 but an experts would know these are A-36 fighter-bombers. Another Ad by NAA following the battles for Sicily in Italy, had the title, …Yank pilots nicknamed it “Invader”. It goes on to say … Officially known as the A-36, the new fighter-bomber was adapted from the famous P-51.
    If one enters the name “Invader” in Boeing’s photo archives, it come up Invader, A-36 (P-51 Mustang).
    BUT ON A MORE IMPORTANT NOTE:
    In December of 2009, the French would remember.
    Sixty-five years later, Bill taking the fight under the Eiffel Tower which lifted the moral of the French people, He would receive a much-deserved Legion of Honor award from the people of France by the hand of the French Ambassador. This ceremony occurred at the National D-Day Memorial, in Bedford, Virginia. the next day an article in “The Roanoke Star” newspaper, December 10, 2009, there was a photo of Bill Overstreet, supporting himself on his walker, accepting the award in honor of those who did not come back.
    Be Careful what you call Fake News!

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