Lady Be Good (aircraft)
|Date||April 4, 1943|
|Site|| Libyan desert
|Fatalities||9 (1 initially, 8 subsequently)|
|Aircraft type||B-24D Liberator|
|Operator||United States Army Air Force|
|Flight origin||Soluch Airfield|
|Destination||Soluch Airfield or Malta|
Lady Be Good was an American B-24D Liberator, AAF serial number 41-24301, which flew for the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. Based at Soluch Field[note 1] in Soluch (today Suluq and Benina International Airport, Libya) as part of the 514th Bomb Squadron, 376th Bomb Group, it failed to return from an April 4, 1943 bombing raid on Naples, Italy. At the time, the plane was assumed to have crashed into the Mediterranean Sea and its nine crew members were classified as Missing in Action.
In 1958 the nearly intact Lady Be Good was discovered 710 km (440 mi) inland. Subsequent searches uncovered the remains of all but one of the crew.
Background and mission
The crew of Lady Be Good were on their first combat mission, having arrived in Libya on March 18, 1943. The aircraft was also new, having reached the 376th Bombardment Group (Heavy) on March 25. The plane had the identification number 64 stencil-painted on its nose and its given name hand-painted on the starboard, front side of the forward fuselage; it was one of 25 B-24s assigned to bomb Naples late in the afternoon of April 4.
The members of the Lady Be Good crew were:
- 1st Lt. William J. Hatton, pilot — Whitestone, New York
- 2nd Lt. Robert F. Toner, co-pilot — North Attleborough, Massachusetts
- 2d Lt. D.P. (initials only, also seen as "Dp") Hays, navigator — Lee's Summit, Missouri
- 2d Lt. John S. Woravka, bombardier — Cleveland, Ohio
- T/Sgt. Harold J. Ripslinger, flight engineer — Saginaw, Michigan
- T/Sgt. Robert E. LaMotte, radio operator — Lake Linden, Michigan
- S/Sgt. Guy E. Shelley, gunner — New Cumberland, Pennsylvania
- S/Sgt. Vernon L. Moore, gunner — New Boston, Ohio
- S/Sgt. Samuel E. Adams, gunner — Eureka, Illinois
The crew took off from Soluch Field shortly after 3 pm., one of the last to depart. High winds and obscured visibility prevented it from joining the main formation of bombers, and it continued the mission on its own. Their mission was the second part of a two-part, two-flight raid on the harbor of Naples, with a flight of 13 B-24s.
Nine B-24s returned to base because of the sandstorm, and four aircraft continued on. They arrived over Naples at 7:50 pm. at 7600 m (25,000 feet). With bad visibility, they did not bomb the primary target, but two B-24s hit their secondary target on the return trip, and two dumped their bombs into the Mediterranean to reduce weight and save fuel. The Lady Be Good flew back alone from Italy on the return trip to its home base in Libya.
At 12:12 am. the pilot, Lt. Hatton, called base by radio and stated that his automatic direction finder was not working and asked for a location of base. The bearing indicated the Lady Be Good was flying on a direct path from Naples to Benghazi.:p.28 However the radio direction finder in use at the base had only a single loop antenna and was unable to distinguish between a true bearing and its reciprocal, so that the same bearing would be returned whether the plane was inbound from the Mediterranean or if it had overflown the base and was heading inland.:pp.28-29
The plane apparently overflew its base and did not see flares fired to attract its attention; the plane continued into the interior of North Africa for two more hours. At 2 am., the crew parachuted to the ground and the Lady Be Good continued on for 26 km (16 mi) more with no one aboard, crash-landing in the Calanshio Sand Sea of the Libyan Desert. A search and rescue mission from Soluch Air Base to find the missing bomber was unsuccessful and no trace of the crew or aircraft was found.
Wreckage discovered in 1958
After the crew abandoned the aircraft, it continued flying southward. The mostly intact wreckage and evidence showing one engine was still operating at the time of impact suggests the aircraft gradually lost altitude in a very shallow descent, reached the flat, open desert floor and landed on its belly.
The first reported sighting of the crash site was on November 9, 1958 by a British oil exploration team. The team contacted authorities at Wheelus Air Base, but no attempt to examine the aircraft was made as no records existed of any plane believed to have been lost in the area.:p.25 The location of the wreckage was however marked on maps to be used by oil-prospecting teams that were due to set out to explore the Calanshio Sand Sea the next year.:p.25
Although the plane was broken into two pieces, it was immaculately preserved, with functioning machine guns, a working radio, and some supplies of food and water. A thermos of tea was found to be drinkable. No human remains were found on board the aircraft nor in the surrounding crash site, nor were parachutes found. Evidence aboard the plane indicated that the men had bailed out. Records in the log of navigator Lieutenant Hays, who was on his very first combat mission, ended at Naples.
|Wreckage of the Lady Be Good|
Bodies found in 1960
In February 1960, the United States Army conducted a formal search for the remains of the airmen, and five were found. Finding evidence that three other crew members had continued walking northward to seek help, the exploration concluded their bodies were likely buried beneath sand dunes. When the news media reported on the crashed plane and the five recovered bodies, an expanded joint effort of the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army called Operation Climax took place in May 1960, using a C-130 cargo plane and two Army Bell H-13 helicopters. A British Petroleum exploration crew found the remains of Staff Sgt. Shelley on May 12, 1960, 38 km (24 mi) northwest of the five bodies that were initially found, and a U.S. helicopter found Tech. Sgt. Ripslinger on May 17, 1960. His remains were located 42 km (26 mi) northwest of Shelley. These two bodies were the only ones found during Operation Climax. The body of Lt. Woravka was later found by another British Petroleum oil exploration crew in August 1960, and his remains were then recovered by the U.S. Air Force.
Diary details and conclusions
After parachuting to the desert floor, eight of the nine airmen had managed to meet up by firing their revolvers and signal flares into the air. They had not been able to find the ninth crewman, bombardier Lt. John Woravka, because unknown to them his parachute had only partially opened and he likely died on impact.:p.38 Thinking they were fairly close to the Mediterranean coast, the eight surviving crew members walked north, leaving behind footwear, parachute scraps, Mae West vests and other items as markers to show searchers what their path had been. They survived for eight days, sharing only a single canteen of water while walking over 100 miles (160 km) in searing heat before perishing. Remains of five airmen were found in a group nearly 80 miles (130 km) from the crash site. The other three (Guy Shelley, "Rip" Ripslinger and Vernon Moore) had set off to try to find help while the other five waited behind. The bodies of Shelley and Ripslinger were found 32 km (20 mi) and 43 km (27 mi) further north, respectively. Moore's remains were never found, although it is possible that in 1953 his body had been spotted and buried by a British desert patrol, unaware that any air crews from the war had ever gone missing in the area.[note 2]
A diary recovered from the pocket of co-pilot Robert Toner told of much suffering on the walk northward and indicated the crew were unaware they were over land when they bailed out. There has been speculation that whatever airborne glimpses they may have caught of the empty desert floor in the darkness looked like open sea. It seems the crew never understood they were more than 400 miles (640 km) inland.:p.31
Some believe that the crew could have survived had they known how far inland they were and had their maps shown the area where they bailed out. Going north, the distance they walked was slightly less than the distance needed to reach the oasis of Wadi Zighen that was south of them, but they were wholly unaware of this. Additionally, if they had headed south they would have very probably found the wreckage of the Lady Be Good with its water and food supplies, however meager, along with its working radio, which they might have used to call for help.:p.38
According to the Graves Registration Service report on the incident:
The aircraft flew on a 150 degree course toward Benina Airfield. The craft radioed for a directional reading from the HF/DF station at Benina and received a reading of 330 degrees from Benina. The actions of the pilot in flying 440 miles into the desert, however, indicate the navigator probably took a reciprocal reading off the back of the radio directional loop antenna from a position beyond and south of Benina but 'on course'. The pilot flew into the desert, thinking he was still over the Mediterranean and on his way to Benina.
Parts of the plane were scavenged or returned to the United States for evaluation. A few aircraft with replacement parts from Lady Be Good later had inflight problems. A U.S. Army de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter with an armrest from the bomber crashed in the Gulf of Sidra. Only a few traces of the plane washed ashore and one of these was the armrest from the Lady Be Good.
Some parts from the Lady Be Good may be seen today at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. A propeller can be seen in front of the village hall in Lake Linden, the home of Robert E. LaMotte.
The U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum at Fort Lee, Virginia has a collection of military issue items, such as watches, silk survival maps, and flight clothing from the crew members who were recovered. Several of these items are on display.
A Royal Air Force team visited the site in 1968 and hauled away components including an engine (later donated to the US Air Force) for evaluation by the McDonnell Douglas company. Other pieces were stripped by souvenir hunters over the years.
In August 1994, the remains of the craft were recovered by a team led by Dr. Fadel Ali Mohammed and taken to a Libyan military base in Tobruk for safekeeping. The remains were subsequently moved and are now stored at Jamal Abdelnasser Air Force Base, Libya.
The remains of the Lady Be Good were in a "police yard" in Tobruk as of October 27, 2012.
In popular culture
The Lady Be Good incident was indirectly referenced in a couple of television shows and movies. Sole Survivor, a 1970 made-for-TV movie, was about the ghosts of a B-25 bomber crew that crashed in the Libyan desert.
"King Nine Will Not Return" is an episode of The Twilight Zone that told the story of a B-25 crew member finding himself alone with the wreckage of his plane in the desert. In the episode, the marker of a grave of a member of the fictional plane’s crew is dated "5 Apr, 1943," the day on which Lady Be Good was lost.
- Also Benina Air Field
- In 1953, a British patrol on a desert-crossing exercise found human remains in the same area where those of Shelley and Ripslinger were later found. These were quickly photographed and buried on the spot. The patrol never asked for an investigation. In 2001, a member of the patrol recalled the incident and photographic forensic investigation of the remains concluded they had likely belonged to a male whose head may have been shaped like Moore's. However, both recovering these remains and making any meaningful identification is highly unlikely.
- Vanishings! — Lost in Libya, 2003, History International Channel, re-aired on March 1, 2010, 3:30 pm. MST, and on September 6, 2010, 4:30 pm. CST.
- Barker, Ralph (1988) [First edition published 1966]. "The Lady Be Good". Great Mysteries of the Air (Revised ed.). London, United Kingdom: Javelin. ISBN 0-7137-2063-8.
- McClendon, Dennis E. (1962). Lady Be Good, Mystery Bomber of World War II. Aero Publishers.
- "Lady Be Good" B-24 Bomber, Quartermaster Graves Registration Search and Recovery
- Fact Sheets : Consolidated B-24D “Lady Be Good” : Consolidated B-24D “Lady Be Good”
- Sole Survivor
- "The Twilight Zone" King Nine Will Not Return (1960)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to B-24 Liberator Lady Be Good.|
- 376th heavy bomb group
- "Lady Be Good" B-24 Bomber
- Lady Be Good fact sheet from the National Museum of the USAF
- BoksburgHistorical.com: African Relics (Calanshio Sand Sea and "Lady Be Good")
- "Body and wallets lie among 200-foot dunes" ("Lady Be Good in the Calanshio Sand Sea)
- Robert Fisk: The remnants of war in the desert sands