Continuing with my series of posts on the story of the Lady Be Good.

Toner’s Diary:
THURSDAY, April 8, 1943
Hit Sand Dunes, very miserable, good wind but continuous blowing of sand, everybody now very weak. thought Sam & Moore were all gone. LaMotte eyes are gone, everyone else’s eyes are bad. Still going N.W.

Ripslinger’s Diary:
THURSDAY, April 8, 1943
Tired all out. We can hardly walk. Our 4th day out. A few drops of water each. Can’t hold out much longer without aid. Pray.

I guess these entries were made at a stop later in the afternoon as the sun was setting. They seem to me to have an ‘end-of-the-day’ feel to them. It’s been pointed out elsewhere that both Toner and Risplinger only used the space allotted in their diaries for the day in question. Was this just a habit or some, perhaps unconscious, expression of hope that they’d survive to fill out the remaining days that year. Clearly Risplinger knew that they were in serious trouble.

The dunes in the area where they were at this point are ‘linear dunes’ running roughly North-South. From the maps, they would appear to have been in a broad valley. The photo below is from somewhere relatively close – within 25 miles – and shows a gravel valley floor between two lines of dunes – in essence, showing how the dunes sit on top of the gravel plain.

Calanscio Sand Sea near where the remains of the crew of the Lady Be Good were found Below are a couple of photos, again within 25 miles of the fateful final location for five of the crew, that shows my seismic crew working in the dunes in this part of Libya. At least these workers had clearly marked routes to follow and distance markers. I find it hard to imaging what it must have been like to have been walking across this expanse, without food and water, and just seeing the same terrain continuing as far as you could see. Oh, and all the trucks in these photos had food and water on board, just in case. I did have two of my crew spend a night in the dunes when they got lost but we worked out where they were and got them home the next day. Thankfully they follow their training and stayed with their vehicle.

The remains of the crew of the Lady Be Good were found near this location

The remains of the crew of the Lady Be Good were found near hereToner also mentions the wind. The dunes are not a good place to be when the wind kicks up as you can see from the photos below. The sand just gets in everywhere and without goggles it would have been really painful on their eyes. The dehydration factor would also have made it very difficult, if not impossible by now, for them to have teared up to clear the grains of sand. The blowing sand also reduces visibility which makes the ability of the eight crew to stay on their chosen heading all the more remarkable in my opinion. Some have questioned the capabilities of navigator Dp Hays because of the absence of entries in the navigation log found in the plane but someone was keeping them on track.

Seismic Line crew in the Calanscio Sand Sea

Seismic line crew in the Calanscio Sand Sea

Working in the Calanscio Sand Sea on a blustery dayThe wind-borne sand that bedeviled the crew on their doomed trek also worked on the wreck of the Lady Be Good over the years to scour away the paint on the fuselage. I’ve had some people comment over the years on my color balance in these photos as the Lady Be Good was known to have been painted Desert Pink. In the photo below you can still see the Desert Pink on the top of the fuselage but much of it has been sanded away over the years. In some places the underlying olive drab remains while in others all the paint has gone and the bare aluminum is exposed. What really confuses me though is the order of paint layers of the star. My current guess is that this was factory original and the Desert Pink was painted around it. I’m thinking a blue disc was painted first and then the white star on top of that. With only one layer of blue paint that would explain (to me) why all the blue disc has been blasted off and why some is peeking through where the white paint of the star has been abraded off. Perhaps also the different pigments affected the adhesion qualities of the different paint layers.

Port fuselage of the Lady Be Good in 1991Inside the fuselage I imagine it looked very close to the way it did on the day of the flight. The stenciling on the fuselage was near pristine.

Interior of the fuselage of the Lady Be Good in 1991Channeling their inner Julius Caesar’s (I came, I saw, I left some graffiti), some of my colleagues read names and comments left by other visitors over the years.

Interior of the fuselage of the Lady Be Good in 1991Here’s the holder for a portable oxygen bottle – possibly for the use of tail gunner, Sgt. Samuel E. Adams.

Interior of the Lady Be Good in 1991And below, brackets for securing ammunition boxes. Note that the brackets are made of steel but the minimal corrosion indicates the general lack of humidity. I recall from one of my survival/health training seminars that the lack of humidity makes the sweat evaporate almost instantly. Consequently it’s difficult to know how much fluid you are losing through sweat. Thus the need to monitor the time between needing to pee and noting the color of the urine as a guide to one’s level of hydration.

Interior of the Lady Be Good in 1991In the photo below, three of my colleagues are having a conversation over the remains of the No.1 engine while another explores the rear section of the fuselage. I’m North-East of the wreck looking South-West. The accumulation of sand and the greater stripping of the paint on this side of the wreck shows that the prevailing wind at the wreck site is from the North East.

Examining the No.1 Engine of the Lady Be Good in 1991

More images to come in my next post.

I have a photo book containing several of my images of the Lady Be Good available through Blurb, below:

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Continuing with my sequence of posts on the story of the Lady Be Good, having baled out early in the morning of April 5, 1943, eight of the nine member crew were attempting to walk back to their base at Soluch, unaware they had baled out around 400 miles away.

Toner’s Diary:
WEDNESDAY, April 7, 1943
Same routine, every one getting weak, can’t get very far, prayers all the time, again P.M. very warm, hell. Can’t sleep. Every one sore from ground.

Ripslinger’s Diary:
WEDNESDAY, April 7, 1943
Started early A. M. and walked til about near spent. Terrible hot afternoon. Started again at 6 P.M. and walked all night. One spoon full of water is all.

This was the crew’s third day of walking. In their accounts, McClendon and Martinez imagine dialogue among the crew to help their narrative. For reason’s I cannot discern, Martinez pegs Hatton as being the weakest, or perhaps more correctly, most exhausted. Walker’s book has a full page chart indicating where the search teams in 1959 and 1960 located the various markers the crew left in the hope of aiding rescuers in finding them. The markers were made up of bits of flight gear, bits of parachutes and bits of parachute harnesses. What’s obvious from the chart is that while the heading the crew maintained was very disciplined, the spacing of the markers was not. Toner’s diary entry from the day before referred to a cadence of 15 minutes walking followed by 5 minutes rest. Given the maintenance of their heading, I think it reasonable to assume they maintained such a cadence but, given virtually no food or water for over 3 full days, the distances traveled in each time span would have varied.

They appear to have been following the guidance of the survival manual in covering themselves with parachutes when resting to ward off the worst of the sun. But as they trekked they used more parachute material for more markers so the quantity available for shade would have dwindled with each marker. Perhaps that’s why, shortly after making their heading change from 340 degrees to 320 degrees, the series of parachute markers came to an end. Perhaps at this time they only had enough material left to shelter under and could no longer afford any material to leave as markers.

The website has a good discussion on how far the crew would have walked each day. In the books by both McClendon and Martinez, the crew encountered the British LRDG tracks in the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday April 7. But if these accounts are correct, then the crew walked faster after encountering the tracks than they did before, which is highly unlikely. So the folks at have calculated allowing for fatigue, rest breaks, time building markers, etc. and they place the crew at the British LRDG tracks mid-morning the day before, on Tuesday.

I don’t see any of the accounts referring the moon phase at the time. has a sun/moon rise/set calculator that, if accurate, puts moonrise around 8:00 am and moonset around 9:00 pm an April 7, 1943. If correct, then this means that when the crew were walking at night they only had starlight to see by. Now, even today in the Libyan desert with all the oil installations, there’s relatively little light spill and East of the Calanscio there are no installations. So they would have had OK light to walk by but their placement of the markers at the intersection of the tracks to me supports the idea that they encountered this intersection during the day and not at night.

Since they had already set off from their assembly point on a bearing of 325 degrees before encountering the Italian tracks that headed at 340 degrees, I think the intersection of the tracks heading off in yet another direction would have resulted in some discussion before an agreement to return to the 325 degree heading that closely reciprocated their flight path into their predicament.

When the crew hunkered down around noon under the remaining parachute material to conserve energy in the hot afternoon, they’d walked about 50 miles from their bailout point and were only a few miles East of their flightpath in. Had the search plane that had flown into the desert to look for them on April 5th, that had turned around about 40 miles short of the wrecked Lady Be Good, there might have been a remote possibility that the crew might have been seen. However, my experience of flying over the desert tells me that unless the search plane had been flying very low and unless the crew were very close together, it’s unlikely they would have been seen from the air in that vast empty space and there’s no evidence that they had any means of signalling had a flight come close.

The photo below is from my first visit to the wreck of the Lady Be Good. One of our surveyors is using a hand-held Magellan Sat-Nav device to check our location. Back in 1991, this was still in an era when the US military would randomly degrade the signals which could produce quite a wide variation in location – during Desert Storm there was a lot of degrading of the signal for non-allied military users. No map on this thing, just a reading of latitude and longitude that we then had to transpose to our map. If I recall correctly it would give us a bearing to our destination but we still needed a compass for that. A mechanic is scanning the horizon through binoculars so at this point we think we’re relatively close.

Note the terrain. This is typical of the gravel plain the crew walked across until they were to enter the dunes the following day. In the foreground and to the right of the surveyor you can see the remains of vehicle tracks – the vehicles have pushed the gravel on the surface into the sand below. This would also happen when you walked on the surface. I recall it actually being quite soft. Other areas of Libya where I worked had much rougher gravel plains and some with no give at all but walking here was not particularly hard on the feet as I recall.

But note also the absence of features. To maintain a heading without landmarks is pretty tricky so the crew must have had a compass with them, it must have had luminous markings since they did a lot of their walking overnight, and they must have had to check it frequently to remain on course. I’ve read no mention of a compass having been found so I guess either Shelley or Moore ended up with it and, like Moore, it remains in the Calanscio Sand Sea somewhere.

Below is an image of the rear of the fuselage, taken by the US Air Force in 1959. You can see the waist gun ports are still secured and open. Although by this stage the machine guns have been removed, on the right you can see one of the ammunition boxes and the belted ammunition at the top of the box and draping down the side of the gun port. The cylinder top left is an oxygen cylinder – oxygen was essential for the crew at the high altitudes and it must have been noisy and cold standing by those open ports for hours on end. There are two baffles of some sort immediately to the rear of the gun ports – I’d love to know their function. Lower left there appears to be some form of hatch cover. If you go to and look to the rear of the fuselage from the waist guns then you’ll see just to the rear of the baffles, a hatch in the floor with a small ladder for ingress and egress at least to the mid and rear sections of the aircraft. I believe the hatch on the left is from this opening. Martinez has all the crew jumping out of the bomb bay doors, but given this rear hatch is open I think it’s possible that tail gunner Adams, and waist gunners Shelley and Moore, actually jumped out of this hatch. Why else would it be open and set to the side in the rear of the fuselage?

Lady Be Good - Wreckage in 1959 - Waist Guns

Interior view of the Consolidated B-24D “Lady Be Good” at the waist gunner positions. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Below is a photo of one of our mechanics in the rear of the fuselage in 1990. Stripped of pretty much everything over the years there’s way more light now. Also, it appears in the 1959 photo above that the doors to the tail turret are closed whereas in the photo below they are open. In 1990 I could open and close them with ease. My colleague is kneeling just behind the oval fuselage member that’s visible in the photo above.

Ripslinger mentioned that on this day they only had one spoon full of water. When I worked here we used to get our drinking water daily from the installation at Sarir on the western edge of the dunes. Our drinking water tanker driver would set off every morning and return every evening, seven days a week. We had the luxury of about 25 gallons of water per day for drinking, cooking and bathing. However, we got our drill water from a well drilled into an aquifer below this gravel plain the crew were desperately trudging across. In the photo below, two of my crew relax in a mud-pit from one of our light drilling rigs – a Mayhew 1000, rated for drilling holes up to 1000 feet in depth. We only drilled to about 300 feet and didn’t strike water in any of our holes so the crew certainly could not have dug down to any water. I do think though, by the end of this third day the crew would have given anything to have relaxed in a bath, smoking cigarettes, drinking beer and watching the sun set behind the dunes.

I have a photo book containing several of my images of the Lady Be Good available through Blurb, below:

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For the second day, the eight members of the crew of the Lady Be Good that had formed up after bailing out continued their trek across the featureless gravel plain. Since the markers they left show a steady bearing they must have had a compass. The only real way to maintain a heading while walking in such a featureless area is to pick a rock ahead of you, walk to it, then look at your compass and pick another rock, over and over.

TUESDAY April 6, 1943
Rested at 11:30, sun very warm, no breeze, spent P.M. in hell, no planes, etc. rested until 5:00 P.M. walked & rested all nite, 15 min. on, 5 off.

TUESDAY April 6, 1943
Started out early walking & resting. It’s now sundown and still going. One teaspoon of water today. The rest of the boys are doing fine.

It’s not clear when in the day these two were writing these brief notes in their diaries and neither provides any other information. Both McClendon and Martinez speculate dialog among the crew but there’s no way of knowing if their speculation has any validity. However, it is clear that the crew stayed together.

By April, the winter is long gone and sub-zero nights are behind you but there’s still a tremendous range of temperature between the heat of day and the coldest time, just before sunrise. Neither diary mentions any cloud cover so there’s nothing to keep the heat in at night. I first arrived in Libya in December 1984 and spent my first week in Benghazi. I thought the weather there was quite pleasant (but one year, 1985, I think, I did experience a very brief snowfall that melted as soon as it landed). The next week I transferred to the desert (in a Twin Otter filled with frozen meat) and found I was really not at all prepared for how cold it got at nights in the winter – sometimes cold enough to gel the diesel in the fuel tanks of our trucks!

Another aspect of the desert is how reflective it is. The sun not only beats down from above but reflects up from the thousands of grains of sand below you. We used to wear heavy polarized sunglasses – often ski glasses – to both cut down the glare and also help provide contrast. The remaining 8 members of the crew of the Lady Be Good didn’t have those luxuries. I read somewhere but cannot now find the reference that the crew had taken strips of parachute material and poked holes in them as a form of goggles to cut down the amount of light.

As the group continued to walk, they periodically left markers from parachute material, discarded flying boots, parachute harnesses, to help any rescuers that found the aircraft to follow their tracks. It’s not clear in any of the accounts if these markers were removed from the desert or left in place.

For a while, the team followed a set of vehicle tracks they encountered which were made by Italian trucks in 1941 following a raid on Kufra to the South. But then they encountered another set of tracks made by the British Long Range Desert Group when they moved their operations HQ from Siwa to Kufra in 1942. There’s no way to know what was going through the minds of the crew at this point and neither diarist mentions any tracks. From my experience, even though the tracks would have been easily visible, they would not have appeared fresh to the crew of the Lady Be Good. Fine sand particles, blown by the wind, would have filled any trace of the tire treads. The depressions in the surface of the gravel would be evident but the crew would have known they were not recent. And, it was found, near the point that the two sets of tracks intersected, Hatton and the others altered their bearing from a heading of 340 degrees to a heading of 325 degrees.

The two photo’s below I found on the Internet but cannot find any attribution. However, they must have been taken before April 19, 1968 because the #2 engine is still clearly attached to the aircraft. On April 19, 1968 the RAF team, at the request of Walker who was then heading a McDonnel-Douglass project concerning long term missile storage, removed the #2 engine and various other samples including a section of the starboard main gear tire. These items were removed to the US. I’ve no idea what the yellow paint behind the roof hatches is for or when it might have been painted but since the registration number on the starboard tail is also painted in yellow I suspect this might be original to the aircraft. Note that things like the navigator’ cupola in front of the cockpit have been removed along with service panels from the #1 and #2 engines.

Lady Be Good - Port View

Image of the Lady Be Good of unknown provenance. This picture must have been taken between 1959 and 1968 as the RAF removed the #2 engine in 1968. Souvenir hunters have removed various aluminum panels and other pieces. Traces of the desert pink paint remain but it’s already been stripped in many places and in others the sand has scoured all the paint off to bare metal.

Even by now the erosion of the desert pink camouflage is evident. In the photo below, which from the color cast I think was taken by the same person at the same time as the image above, clearly shows the word ‘Good’ painted on the nose. It’s interesting that both black and white paint can be seen. I’ve yet to see a photo that shows the name to have been written on the port side of the nose also.

Lady Be Good - Starboard View

Image of the Lady Be Good of unknown provenance. Most likely between 1959 and 1968. The ‘Good’ can still be read on the fuselage. Most of the desert pink paint has already worn off but faint traces remain.

Below is how the top turret looked in 1959. Unfortunately this image doesn’t show enough of the fuselage to tell whether the yellow line was present at this time.

Lady Be Good - Wreckage in 1959 - Tail Gun Turret

Top turret and center fuselage wreckage of the Consolidated B-24D “Lady Be Good.” (U.S. Air Force photo)

And below is the tail turret in 1959:

Lady Be Good - Wreckage in 1959 - Tail Gun Turret

Tail turret view at Consolidated B-24D “Lady Be Good” crash site. (U.S. Air Force photo)

In Walker’s book he has two photos he attributes to the RAF visit of April 1968 showing the gutted wreckage. The yellow line on the fuselage is certainly evident in the aerial photo in his book but I have to question the date of the aerial photo since the #2 engine is gone and there is no obvious evidence of the tire tracks of the truck onto which it was hoisted. According to Walker, when the RAF team got there they found the tail section had been dragged several hundred feet away. For what purpose, only those that did it can know. Also in that photo it shows the #3 engine had also been removed and positioned in front of the #4 engine spot on the wings. The port tail is also shown to have been severed. Walker doesn’t say but I assume the RAF team pulled the wreckage back together which is why the tail section when I saw it is more aligned with the fuselage than when the plane was originally found.

I can only imagine all those souvenirs being taken off to desert camps and then being lost on subsequent camp moves. I doubt most of what was taken ever left Libya but was dumped or buried elsewhere in the desert. I, for one, would love to know what happened to the ‘Good’ that was carved off the starboard nose – if it still exists somewhere.

Below is a photo of the starboard main gear from the trailing edge of the wing looking forward.

And here is a view of the same tire taken from the leading edge of the wing looking back. The section removed by the RAF team in 1968 is clearly visible.

The next series of photos were taken around the tail section of the aircraft. You can clearly see that the port tail was cut off at some point. I believe the vertical post sticking up at left is the cut-off piece of the transverse section and that the vertical panel is lying on the gravel and now covered in sand.

The photo above of the starboard tail shows the largest then remaining area of the desert pink camouflage. If you look closely at the serial number you’ll see there is another serial number just above it. Also, you’ll see that the pink paint is covering part of the ‘2’, ‘3’, ‘0’, and ‘1’. This suggests to me that the yellow numbers are the originals painted on in San Diego. After the Lady Be Good was painted desert pink in Fort Worth, the serial number was again painted over the pink paint. I think that second, ghostly, serial number is the remains of the one the crew would have seen as they approached the aircraft for boarding on April 4, 1943.

More images to come in my next post.

I have a photo book containing several of my images of the Lady Be Good available through Blurb, below:

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With the aircraft almost out of fuel and just flying on one engine, the crew of the Lady Be Good baled out into the night sky. Since they were probably thinking they were still over the sea, finding themselves landing on the desert floor must have been quite a shock.

Co-pilot Robert F. Toner and Tech. Sgt. Harold J. Ripslinger both kept diaries. Their diaries indicate they jumped at around 2:00 am on April 5, 1943. With a top speed of 290 mph and being almost 450 miles inland from the coast, it’s certainly possible that they were overhead Benghazi around midnight, two hours earlier. Of the nine crew members, all but Bombardier John. S. Woravka met at the assembly point. The plane flew on for about another 12 miles after they crew had baled out before crashing into the desert.

Woravka’s parachute malfunctioned. His body was found on August 11, 1960, lying on his back, dressed in high altitude flying gear with his parachute shrouds tangled above him. On his waist belt he had nearly a full canteen of water and in his hand he held a first aid kit. Martinez speculates that Woravka was the first to bale out, possibly because of his location to the North of the assembly point. I’m guessing had he baled out somewhere else in the sequence it’s more likely one of the others would have come across his body than if he baled out first. Despite being closest to the downed bomber, Woravka’s was the last body to be found.

The assembly point was found about 700 yards South West of Woravka’s body – a small area with several sheepskin-lined high-altitude jackets, pants and boots, discarded life preservers, and used signal flares. I think it unlikely they would have jumped with life preservers had they known they were over land.

Toner’s diary entries for April 4 and April 5 were:

SUNDAY, APR. 4, 1943
Naples- 28 planes. Things pretty well mixed up- Got lost returning. out of gas, jumped. landed in desert at 2:00 in morning, no one badly hurt, can’t find John, all others present.

MONDAY April 5, 1943
Start walking N.W., still no John. a few rations, 1/2 canteen of water, 1 cap full per day. Sun fairly warm. good breeze from N.W. Nite very cold, no sleep. Rested & walked.

While Ripslinger’s corresponding entries were:

SUNDAY, April 4, 1943
Mission to Naples, Italy. T.O. 3:10 and dropped (sic) bombs at 10:00. Lost coming back. Bailed out at 2:10 A.M. on dessert.

MONDAY, April 5, 1943
All but Woravka met this A.M. Waited awhile and started walking. Had 1/2 sandwhich & piece of candy & cap of water in last 36 hr.

It’s clear that they were not well prepared for the desert hike and that they didn’t know how long a trek they had ahead of them. They could well have used the water in Woravka’s canteen.

It’s interesting that in my desert survival classes we were always, always instructed to remain with the vehicle if lost or broken down. For one, its far easier to spot a vehicle than a single person, for another the vehicle provides shelter of a sort. Had Hatton’s crew followed the bomber, they would have had water and, more importantly, they would have been able to radio for help, since the radios were found to be working when the plane was discovered. Counter to that, though, they likely would not have found the wreckage given it’s spiral off course once the crew had baled out and they would have had no idea of how well the plane had survived impact.

Having seen the wreck from the air on June 15, 1958 and again on February 7, 1959, D’Arcy geologist Don Sheridan had made up his mind to get to the downed bomber on his upcoming land survey. Sheridan, along with Don Martin, who had also seen the plane on the February 7 flight, were assigned along with Gordon Bowerman to make a ground survey. They were to construct a map and collect rock samples to help decide how much of the concession BP would bid on for exploration. On February 20 they set off from Kufra oasis with three Libyan assistants Sayid Bin Ramadan, Ali Shariff, and Abul Gaelil; driver, cook and mechanic respectively. The team had three vehicles, a Land Rover, a Dodge Power Wagon and a Bedford truck.

Their navigation system was ‘dead reckoning’. This is a process of determining where you are now by estimating based on speeds or distance, time, and course, relative to a previous known location. The method is subject to errors and, from my experience in the desert, it’s very difficult to actually drive in a straight line for any real distance as the surface features get in the way. We used dead reckoning when I was in the desert. I found it immensely liberating to be able to point my own Land Rover in a direction and just take off, un-restricted by pesky things like roads, fences, owned property, and the like. You either hit your target or you hit some other land feature from which you could make a course correction. But, of course, in the mid-1980s when I first went to Libya, the desert was already pretty well mapped thanks to people like Sheridan, Martin and Bowerman. Bowerman would take fixes from the stars as they camped each night to determine their starting point for the next day. When I was in the desert, pre GPS, our surveyors would use sun shots and a solar position table to determine location – basically using the sun instead of the stars.

The team was hoping to find the wreck on February 26 but were unable to and by mid-day had to move on to their next geological objective, blockhouse rock, on the edge of the sand sea. On one of the my two visits to the wreck of the Lady Be Good, I also stopped by Blockhouse Rock.

Disappointed at not finding the wreck, the team decided to look again late on February 27 and, scouring the landscape through binoculars as the sun was going down, Bowerman saw a reflection of light that led them to the bomber.

Lady Be Good - Wreckage in 1959 - Front 1

Photo attributed by Martinez to Bowerman. Most likely taken on the morning of February 28, 1959.

The team waited overnight before entering the bomber on the morning of February 28, 1959. They had anticipated finding bodies in the wreckage but soon realized there were none. Martinez claims that the name ‘Lady Be Good’ was painted on both sides of the nose but in the photo below from the QMS team, taken on or shortly after May 26, 1959, there’s no name evident on the port side of the nose, just the squadron identifier for the aircraft, the number ’64’ in white paint. You can also tell from this photo where the darker patches are that the desert pink paint coat was already eroding to reveal the olive drab coat below it.

Lady Be Good - Wreckage in 1959 - Port Bow (U.S. Air Force photo)

Lady Be Good – Wreckage in 1959 – Port Bow

The team spent a few hours crawling through the wreckage, noting personal items left by the behind by the crew and making observations such as a Thermos still containing coffee, an ash tray with cigarette butts in the navigator’s space, Hatton’s Colt revolver sitting on the pilot’s seat and the navigator’s tools, still neatly boxed, maps of the raid route to Naples and a maintenance log with the last entry on April 3, 1943. Their souvenir hunting was the start of a trend that saw the aircraft slowly dismantled over the following years by other oilmen working in the area, such as myself.

Since the US Air Force, still then with a base in Tripoli, had shown no interest when the finding of the bomber had previously been reported, the team helped themselves to some souvenirs before heading back to their geological survey later in the morning. During this process they opened the hatches on the roof above the wings just rear of the top turret and found canteens full of water as well as life rafts and other marine survival equipment. There’s a video on YouTube of an intentional ditching of a B-24. It’s not at all clear to me the, particularly if ditching in the sea, anyone would have been able to get out of the plane and retrieve those items in the event of a real ditching experience. With it’s high-wing configuration, although empty fuel tanks would provide some buoyancy, most of the fuselage would be under water and, in my view, would have quickly filled with water while all but the pilots would have been disoriented after the violent impact.

Now the plane had a serial number and name the US Air Force were able to find records and became interested in the wreck. A team from the Quartermaster Mortuary Service (QMS) was sent out on May 24 to land at the site and start looking for the crew, all listed still as MIA, presumed dead. One of their two aircraft encountered mechanical problems so they couldn’t use it to reconnoiter for the crew as intended but both aircraft were able to land near the wreck. In the photo below taken on May 24-25, 1959, the SC-47 aircraft from this visit can be seen behind the wreckage.

Lady Be Good - Wreckage in 1959 - Starboard Rear

Tail view of the crashed Consolidated B-24D “Lady Be Good.” Note the C-47 recovery aircraft parked in the background. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Below is another shot from that QMS visit, from the front of the aircraft showing wreckage from the landing including part of the #4 engine, the nose wheel, parts of the bomb bay doors, stripped off as the aircraft skidded to a halt and corkscrewed around to face back in the direction from where it came. The #4 engine itself came to rest just in front of the #2 engine having rolled across the desert floor having been ripped from the airframe.

Lady Be Good - Wreckage in 1959 - Front

Aircraft parts were strewn by the Consolidated B-24D “Lady Be Good” as it skidded to a halt amid the otherwise emptiness of the desert. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Landing in the desert required some nerves as the hardness of the surface was difficult to judge. The QMS team had some indicators though, the tracks left by Sheridan’s visit and some WWII tracks left by Italian and British trucks. Tracks would stay in the desert for a long time. If the Google Earth images of this section of desert were the same as the resolution of my house, where I can make out both my trash can and recycle can in the image, then you’d likely see the tracks in this area also and I’d be able to see for sure where my camps were. But the resolution here is crappy.

In the sequence below I show our resupply flight landing on one of our Libyan Desert landing strips (from the traffic cones I know this is not near the Lady Be Good as there we used oil drums. This one is most likely on the other side of Libya, near the Algerian border). We were given instructions on the depth a Land Rover could penetrate at a certain speed to judge the firmness of the strip. Note the absence of features on this gravel plain.

Our Southern landing strip, about 60 miles North-West of the Lady Be Good looked more like this:

Note that birds such as this one who landed were as doomed as the crew of the Lady Be Good. Having fallen out of the upper air currents that take them North and South across the desert they never had the energy to once again gain those heights.

Later in our survey we moved about 30 miles to the North-East which would have put us within about 15 miles of where the bodies of Hatton and four others were discovered, possibly in the same valley. Our landing strip there was much softer, even though we would water the surface to harden it. One day our MedAvia CASA C-212 Aviocar resupply flight got stuck in the sand and we had to tow it out with a M.A.N 6×6 water tanker. The crew were extremely nervous about the towing operation and after that refused to land at that strip again, forcing us to make the 60-mile round trip to the old strip once per week. To help the pilots find the landing strips we’d set a fire of old tired and oil soaked rags when they thought they were within 50 miles. Then they could look for the black smoke which would also tell them about wind direction and speed at the landing strip.

By the time we got to the Lady Be Good wreckage in 1990, while the plane was still identifiable pretty much everything that could be easily taken had been.

More images to come in my next post.

I have a photo book containing several of my images of the Lady Be Good available through Blurb, below:

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Since I recently posted some detail shots of the Lady Be Good some of my readers have asked to see more of my images so, since today, April 4, is the 51st anniversary of the raid that started the mystery I’ve decided to post a number of photos over the next few days. Several of the photos I will post are not mine so will not be click-able. where I’ve been able to find attribution I will give it.

Lady Be Good (Altered US Air Force Photo)

Lady Be Good (Altered US Air Force Photo)

The Lady Be Good was built at the Consolidated Aircraft factory in San Diego and had the Army Air Force serial number 41-24301. She was one of a group of 629 B-24D Liberators ordered by the Army Air Force. She was a model 32 ordered by the British government in March 1941 but the US Army Air Force took over the order to accelerate their build-up as it was apparent that the United States would be entering the war. The completed aircraft was accepted by the Army Air Force on December 8th which was the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the same day President Roosevelt made his ‘Infamy Speech’ and Congress passed a formal declaration of war. The serial number designates the fiscal year in which the order for the aircraft was placed and the sequential order in which it was ordered. Thus, 41-24301 means that the Lady Be Good was the 24,301st aircraft ordered by the US Army Air Force in 1941.

After acceptance on December 8th she was flown to Fort Worth to the Consolidated Aircraft modification center. Later Ford and Douglas would start producing the B24 (Ford at the rate of one every 100 minutes, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week!) and design changes were coming too quickly to stop production so the planes were modified after delivery. According to Walker, the Lady Be Good was painted ‘desert pink’ in Fort Worth (she left San Diego painted ‘olive drab’) and was declared combat ready on February 15th, 1943 and flown to a staging center in Topeka, Kansas. The photo above may have been taken at Fort Worth but more likely was taken at Topeka and I’ve just colored it wrong. I’ve read somewhere else (I don’t have the reference) that the British Long Range Desert Group and Special Air Service vehicles of WWII were also painted a shade of pink. That’s likely because much of the gravel plains of North Africa have a reddish tinge to them.

On March 23rd, the Lady Be Good arrived at Soluch, near Benghazi in Libya and was assigned to the 514th squadron of the 376th Heavy Bombardment Group. I’ve not read any definitive version of where or who named the plane the Lady Be Good but it appears to have been after arrival in Libya. In the period between being declared combat ready and arriving in Libya, the aircraft suffered a number of mechanical failures that required remediation and the same occurred after arrival in Libya. So, the crew that had ferried the aircraft from the US to Soluch were assigned a different aircraft for a raid on April 2nd. That aircraft had mechanical issues during the mission and the crew had to divert to Malta. When they arrived back in Soluch on April 4th they found that the Lady Be Good had been assigned to a different crew for the raid that was due for later that day.

Lady Be Good - The Crew

The crew of the Lady Be Good, from the left: 1Lt. W.J. Hatton, pilot; 2Lt. R.F. Toner, copilot; 2Lt. D.P. Hays, navigator; 2Lt. J.S. Woravka, bombardier; TSgt. H.J. Ripslinger, engineer; TSgt. R.E. LaMotte, radio operator; SSgt. G.E. Shelly, gunner; SSgt. V.L. Moore, gunner; and SSgt. S.E. Adams, gunner. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The April 4, 1943 mission was to bomb the docks and shipping in Naples harbor. The Lady Be Good was assigned to Section B. The mission was flown without fighter escort and so was timed for the bombers to arrive over the target at sundown and then return at night to their base. Locating Soluch at night was a challenge. There was a low-power radio transmitter with a 50 mile range and a light beacon near the airfield but both were only on when returning planes were expected.

The first plane took off at 1:30pm local time. The wind was already kicking up fine sand and as the aircraft taxied and took off they increased the dust clouds such that visibility was less than a mile. Also, each subsequent aircraft was ingesting the grit raised by the aircraft taking off ahead of it. Walker has all the aircraft taking off between 1:30 pm and 2:00 pm but Martinez has the Lady Be Good taking off between 2:50 pm and 3:10 pm based on logs and flight diaries.

A Consolidated B-24D Liberator takes to the air.

A Consolidated B-24D Liberator takes to the air. (US Air Force Photo)

Consequently, the formation started to have mechanical problems and aircraft started to return or divert to Malta. Of the 13 planes in Section A, only 8 made it to the target. Of the 12 planes in section B, none made it to the target. With five planes ahead of him having turned back, Hatton found himself at the front of the flight of four aircraft. Although the section could see Section A bombing Naples, for reasons known only to Hatton he turned the flight East and passed over Sorrento, to the South of Naples. There navigator Dp Hays determined a course of 140 degrees for the return to Soluch. The Lady Be Good was last seen as the formation broke up over Licosa, Italy, for the flight home. On the way, all the aircraft encountered stormy weather. 21 of the 25 Liberator made it back to Soluch, 2 landed in Malta and 2 were missing. I find it interesting that Martinez is adamant that the Lady Be Good was not leading the flight of 4 bombers that turned back 15 minutes before reaching Naples while Walker is very persuasive that it was. McClendon and Martinez accounts both have one of the two missing aircraft also landing in Malta which makes Hatton’s Lady Be Good the only aircraft unaccounted for from the mission. McClendon also has Lt. Worley as the last of the B-24s to land at Soluch after the raid, stating in his mission debrief that Hatton was leading the flight as they abandoned their run on the target. However, Walker has Lt. Swarner landing 20 minutes later with his bombs still aboard. Martinez agrees with Walker that Lt. Swarner landed at 11:30 pm.

At 12:12 am the following morning a radio operator at Benina airfield (modern day Benghazi airport, 30 miles North-East of Soluch) received a coded request from the Lady Be Good for a positional bearing. They were given a bearing of 330 degrees. The problem with this was there was no way to tell where Hatton was – if he was flying towards the airfield or away from it. Given that the last plane had landed some 40 minutes earlier, it’s probable the Lady Be Good was already well on her way into the desert having long overshot the airfield at Soluch when they requested the bearing. This doesn’t quite fit, however, with the reports of an aircraft being heard over Benghazi around midnight and at Soluch a few minutes later. Either way, the crew missed the coastline and kept flying their heading into the desert. At this point, Martinez’ account passes into informed speculation, using the later recovered radio logs and navigation logs to construct a plausible scenario for the flight.

With the Lady Be Good missing and bad weather scratching the mission for April 5th, a number of attempts were made to find the Lady Be Good. Walker reports flights of up to 200 miles on the bearing given by Benina and Martinez reports flights up to 380 miles into the desert, just 40 miles short of where the Lady Be Good eventually ran out of fuel and glided into the desert, 420 miles inland. With nothing found, it was assumed the plane had ditched into the Mediterranean and the crew had drowned. Listed as ‘Missing in Action’ the war moved on and the Lady Be Good and her crew became just another war statistic.

According to Walker, the B-24 was seen by Charles Hellewell flying an aerial survey for D’Arcy Exploration and British Petroleum on April 17, 1958. Martinez reports the sighting as having been made on May 17, 1958. Since the rest of the details are the same, one or other most likely has the wrong month. Martinez reports other sightings on 15 June, 1958, November 9, 1958, and 7 February, 1959. McClendon has the first sighting by Ronald McClean on November 9, 1958. Since McClean published in 1962, Walker in 1994 and Martinez in 1995, it’s probable that Walker and Martinez were able to do more extensive research, hence the differences.

The two photos below come from an overflight by the US Quartermaster Mortuary System (QMS) team on May 14, 1959 to pinpoint the location of the wreck and search for possible markers left by the crew since the plane was only 10 miles off the 330 / 150 degree bearing line from Soluch.

Lady Be Good - Wreckage From Air May 14,1959

The Lady Be Good as it appeared when discovered from the air. (U.S. Air Force photo. May 14, 1959). Note the faint tire tracks that confirm this photo was taken after the visit by Sheridan, Martin, and Bowerman. Note also that on the fuselage where the wings connect the two open hatches that Sheridan opened to find the sea survival kits. (US Air Force photo).

As the crew flew on and started to run out of fuel, the crew feathered (shut down) engines 1, 2, and 3. The engines were numbered sequentially from left to right when facing forward so engine #1 was the outer port engine, #2 the inner port engine, #3 the inner starboard engine and #4 the outer starboard engine. The B-24 could fly on two engines but not on one so the crew would have known they would have to bail out once they were down to one engine. With the crew bailed out, the plane would have continued to descend in a clockwise spiral until hitting the ground. In the picture above, the aircraft would have come in from the lower right. The #4 engine ripped off on contact and other part of the aircraft including the bomb bay doors ripped off as the plane skidded along the desert floor still spinning clockwise. As the tail dug into the desert floor the plane would have whipped whipped around violently which cause the tail section to break off just behind the wings.

In the photo below, the plane would have come in from the lower left corner.

Lady Be Good - Wreckage From Air May 14,1959

The Lady Be Good as it appeared when discovered from the air. (U.S. Air Force photo. May 14, 1959). Note the faint tire tracks that confirm this photo was taken after the visit by Sheridan, Martin, and Bowerman. Note also that on the fuselage where the wings connect the two open hatches that Sheridan opened to find the sea survival kits. (US Air Force photo).

One of the things I find interesting is that several of the planes reported returning from the Naples mission very low on fuel, yet the Lady Be Good had enough fuel to fly on a further 420 miles. I’m not sure how this fits with the report of the single aircraft over Benghazi around midnight since to fly on 420 miles implies the Lady Be Good had lots more fuel left than the other aircraft, especially if she was the aircraft heard around midnight. Perhaps the crew feathered one or more of the engines much earlier in their flight to conserve fuel as they searched for a coastline they had already crossed. This is potentially even more confusing if the Lady Be good did take off around 3:00 pm, per Martinez, as she would have had to have flown faster to get into formation to be leading Section B as they approached the target, though Martinez doesn’t believe she was leading at this point. Another explanation for fuel discrepancies might be leaking fuel tanks on other aircraft and worse fuel consumption due to worn engines, the Lady Be Good being the newest plane on the raid. All speculation on my part.

Tomorrow I’ll post the next installment.

I have a photo book containing several of my images of the Lady Be Good available through Blurb, below:

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