Reckless charges into danger make for great action movie scenes, but not good battle strategy. Every great military mind can tell you that victory is all about knowing when to back down, to come back at a time when the advantage is in your favor.
These men disagreed.
5Eric James Brindley Nicolson Keeps Flying -- and Fighting -- While on Fire
In 1940, WWII was going badly for the British. They stood alone against Hitler, and Winston Churchill used every bit of his oratory talent to keep his people going. Famously, in his "This Was Their Finest Hour" speech, he swore the nation would fight to the last breath, if necessary, against the impending Nazi invasion.
"I've discovered fascism's lone weakness: alcoholic courage."
Royal Air Force fighter pilot Eric J. B. Nicolson listened to every word, and boy did he take the advice to heart.
On August 16, 1940, Nicolson was part of an attack against German bombers that were trying their level best to relocate British soil into British atmosphere.
While swooping in on a formation of Nazi planes, he was suddenly strafed by a Messerschmitt fighter. The hail of cannon fire ripped up his Hurricane and wounded his legs.
Also, his cockpit was now on fire.
That isn't a euphemism, but it probably should be.
In pain, blinded by the blood from a gash in his forehead, and guided only by survival instinct (and probably also by the fact that the glass on his control panel instruments was starting to pop from the intense heat) Nicolson scrambled out of the cockpit to a section in the back of the plane where it was safe to bail out.
Then, just as he was about to jump to safety with his parachute, he saw the German plane that had hit him and remembered Churchill. Wounded and bleeding profusely, he climbed right back into the burning cockpit, brought the plane under control and went on the attack.
The Spitfire Story
"Burning alive ain't nothin' but a thing."
He gave fiery chase to the German plane, and shot it down. While wounded. And while his own body was engulfed in flame (we really feel can't mention that part enough).
Only when he saw the German fighter crashing to the ground did Nicolson (who was now also on fire) have the presence of mind to bail out of his plane (on fire) and jump (on fire).
As he floated to the ground, the British ground forces took a look at him and reasoned that this flaming sky-creature could only be some kind of Nazi hellbeast. So they opened fire on him.
Then the commander spilled his coffee, so really the whole thing was a total disaster.
But he made it to the ground alive, somehow, where he was extinguished by the suitably embarrassed ground troops. Nicolson realized that the day's collection of wounds had been increased by some pretty serious burns and a couple of friendly fire bullet holes, and also holy shit the glass of his wrist watch had actually melted in the intense heat. Did any of this matter? Hell no, he had just shot down a German!
Nicolson shrugged away his various life-threatening injuries in less than a year and was right back in the action in the fall of 1941, one Victoria Cross and a hell of a lot of bragging rights richer.