The war had many amazing aircraft, but perhaps one that is often overlooked is Germany's Fi-156 Fieseler Storch (Stork). With a maximum speed of just over 100 mph, this plane was light and could take off and land on a dime. It was used in the daring rescue of Benito Musolini during the war, and was primarily an aerial recon aircraft.
The Storch was a fabric-covered STOL (Short Take-off and Landing) aircraft that held a crew of three. First flown in 1936, the Storch needed only 200 feet of runway to take off (that's 60 meters for you Europeans) and only 66 feet (20 meters) to land.
Variations were created for special conditions. A desert model had extra sand filters, an ambulance version could carry one stretcher, and an enlarged version could seat five.
A Storch carrying German commander Gen. Erwin Rommel flies over a Panzer column
A Fieseler Storch was the last dogfight victim of the western front.
Pilot Duanes Francies and his observer, Lieutenant William Martin, of the 5th US Army Division, were flying aerial recon in their Piper Cub when they spotted a Storch circling below them. Francies and Martin fired on the Storch with ther Colt .45 pistols, and the plane spiraled to the ground!
After a short gun battle, Francies and his observer took the two Germans into custody. Lt. Martin was awarded the Air Medal for his part in the fight, but Francies would have to wait until the story was reported in Cornelius Ryan's book "The Last Battle," to finally be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. The USAF was 22 years late. Apart from being the last Luftwaffe plane lost in the west, this Storch was also the only enemy plane downed by pistol fire during the war.
Basic facts about the Storch:
One 240-hp Argus 8-cylinder inverted V piston engine
Only weighed 2,050 pounds empty
Maximum speed 109 mph
Cruising speed 81 mph
Ceiling: 15,090 feet
Range: 239 miles
Armament: one rear-facing 7.93 mm machine gun
Number built: 2,900+