Handguns > Semi-Auto

The M1911 Gets a Zero

Though never confirmed, many believe Lt. Baggett took down a plane with his M1911A1.


In the hands of American soldiers and marines, the M1911A1 performed admirably throughout World War II. In fact, there are numerous accounts of the 1911 being used in courageous acts earning the bearer the Medal of Honor.

There are also legends about the power, accuracy and reliability of Browning’s masterpiece, which may, or may not, be true, but speak to the magnificence of a pistol design that is more than 100 years old. One of these stories took place March 31, 1943, near Pyinmana, Myanma, and was first reported July 1996 in “Air Force Magazine.”

On that fated day, the 7th BG's 9th Bomb Squadron was sent on a mission to destroy a railroad bridge, but was attacked before it could reach its target. The bombing group took heavy fire from Japanese fighter planes, wounding the squadron’s commander, Col. Conrad F. Necrason, and disabling numerous B-24 Bombers, including one carrying Lt. Owen J. Baggett.

Though the crew continued to fight, it was obvious that the plane was going to crash, so Baggett’s pilot, Lt. Lloyd Jensen, ordered the men to bail out. Along with the other members of his unit, Baggett jumped from the plane and pulled his parachute.

The Japanese pilots fired on the floating crew killing some and wounding Lt. Baggett in the arm. The story goes that when the pilot who fired upon Baggett came around for a look, the young lieutenant hung limply in his harness as if dead. The ruse worked because the fighter raised his canopy as he flew within feet of the parachute giving Baggett an opportunity. As the plane soared by, Baggett raised his M1911A1 .45 and fired four rounds at the plane, which banked before stalling and crashing into the ground.

After landing on the ground, Lt. Baggett, along with three other crew members, was captured and taken to a POW camp near Singapore. Baggett didn’t really believe that he had taken down a fighter plane with only a handgun, but Col. Harry Melton, commander of the 311th Fighter Group, ended up at the same camp telling a story about a Japanese colonel that had said that the pilot Baggett had fired upon had been thrown clear of the plane and had been found dead of a single bullet to the head.

While there is no direct evidence that Lt. Owen Baggett did in fact take down a Japanese fighter plane with a handgun, many believe it to be true. Regardless, this is a great story of a courageous man involving a legendary pistol.

After the end of World War II, Owen Baggett remained in the military eventually rising to the rank of colonel in the U.S. Air Force, which was his rank when he retired to San Antonio, Texas. In 2006, at 85 years old, Owen Baggett died in Texas, but he will always be remembered as the man who used a .45 to get a Zero.

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13 Responses to The M1911 Gets a Zero

J miller wrote:
November 17, 2011

According to accounts of this story elsewhere the zero pilot was near stall when he opened his canopy to take a closer look at Baggett. This is when Baggett fired.

denner F. wrote:
August 02, 2011

combined with its light weight, resulted in a very low stalling speed of well below 60 kn (110 km/h; 69 mph). According to the story it's very possible that curiosity killed the pilot.

Det. Gordon Martines wrote:
May 29, 2011

@Soldier, I couldn't agree more with you, except I think think this Pres. could give a hoot. I was the person responsible for getting the M1911A1 accepted for duty use for my beloved police department in Las Vegas, Nevada, back in 1981. Previously we had to use the 9mm cartridge in the S and W mod. 59 and I can't even begin to tell you the failures our department had with that cartridge, not in killing, but in stopping aggressive action and preventing injury to others. Bless the makers of the M1911A1 and the 45 cal ACP cartridge, I own 8. Just an old cop reflecting, Det. Gordon Martines,60 yoa, 36 yr police veteran and still going strong thanks to the M1911A1.

Soldier wrote:
April 11, 2011

legends about the power, accuracy and reliability of Browning’s masterpiece, What have we done? the 45 ACP is a great ammo, so what nut was paid off and went to a over sea's CO. for a 9mm gun with no take down power? If not a 1911 then a our Soldiers need a great 45 acp not a 9mm, and as a soldier I know the power of the two! and the 9mm is not what our Soldiers need as a side arm! now why are we sending our money to a CO over sea's to make guns for our Soldiers at a time our great gun makers our out of work? They need better and so do US gun makers! I would like every one that cares to call the white house and ask why? But I'm just a retired Soldier that knows our soldiers need better!

Richard S. Najjar wrote:
April 07, 2011

Apparently, a third party witness, a Japanese colonel, said that the Zero pilot was shot through the head. That is about as credible as you can get.

Steve Hearne wrote:
April 02, 2011

I once shot a snake from the back of a horse with a 22 cal. revolver. I was amazed to have actually made the shot but I used to shoot that gun a lot. I can easily believe the Lt. gunned down the Zero.

Bill White wrote:
April 01, 2011

As a retired Infantryman with CIB that flew gunships in Vietnam I have seen stranger things happen. I own an army issued colt M1911A1 and fired thousands of rounds through it. I have no reason not believe Lt. Baggett's story.

John B. Lurvey wrote:
April 01, 2011

Completely believable. The shooter probably emptied the magazine as the Zero flew by. The pilot simply flew into the bullet.

Raymond Hutson wrote:
April 01, 2011

Zero must have been in a near-stall (60 knots?)to even get a brief sight picture. Imagine trying to shoot the driver of a 300 mph car with a pistol as you stand on the shoulder of a highway. I'd like to believe it, though.

Det. Gordon Martines wrote:
March 31, 2011

There is no doubt in my mind that this story is true if it had the M1911A1 involved. Take it from someone that had the good fortune to walk away unharmed in three gunfights because I had utilized the M1911A1, 45 cal. to overcome and apprehend hostile resistance (violent criminals) on duty. I my opinion God's hand had guided the design of this pistol. Just an old cop reflecting, Detective Gordon Martines Las Vegas Metro Police Dept.

Mike Schrader wrote:
March 31, 2011

It happened in WWI also with a different side arm I am sure. The pilots then used their side arm in flight on numerous occasions due to the unreliability of the aircraft mounted guns.

scorpio27 wrote:
March 29, 2011

I believe it. I always said that gun could do anything.

Roy Weller wrote:
March 29, 2011

I believe it could have happened. More than once I've heard stories of pilots being in such close combat they considered using their sidearm to take out the pilot. Ive heard others like that when they ran out of ammo or machine guns jammed.