This is the last in my series of posts on the story of the Lady Be Good.
MONDAY, April 12, 1943
No help yet, very (unreadable) cold nite.
MONDAY, April 12, 1943
No entry made.
Monday April 12 was the last day that Toner made an entry in his diary and it was a single sentence. According to Walker, Toner’s diary was found in the pocket of a rolled up set of flight coveralls. Walker reports that the indications were that those of the five who survived longer had used the clothing of those who had passed to ward off the cold night temperatures. Toner makes no mention of anyone passing.
On Friday 9th, Toner had reported the five had one parachute left. They were using this to shelter from the sun during the day and it was found with the bodies, along with a life preserver that is theorized the crew brought along in the hope of using it to hold any water they might encounter. Two empty canteens were found with the bodies.
Each of the bodies were found a little distance apart that perhaps shows some reverence for those that departed. It’s not reported in the books I’ve read whether the coveralls were found by Toner’s body or elsewhere. That the coveralls were reported to be rolled up suggests that Toner wasn’t wearing them when found so either he wasn’t cold or he passed and one of the others tidied up his effects, or he was just a neat tidy guy and rolled them up himself, perhaps to protect the diary.
In the dunes, Ripslinger and Shelley also likely passed this same day. Ripslinger was found some 27 miles from the group of five and Shelley some 10 miles further. No sign has ever been found of Moore and Ripslinger made no mention of him after his entry on the Saturday of the group of three heading off alone.
When the body of Shelley was found, in his pockets they found both his billfold and Ripslinger’s, suggesting Rispslinger had passed earlier and Shelley had taken the billfold perhaps with a view to passing it to Ripslinger’s next of kin. But neither Ripslinger nor Shelley carried anything of Moore’s and there’s no way of knowing where or when Moore separated from the trio and if he was alive or dead at the time.
Shelley’s last day must have been an enormous struggle, completely on his own for probably the first time in his life with only his own thoughts for company, knowing he was all alone in this vast expanse of sand. Below is a photo of the terrain the Ripslinger, Shelley and Moore had been navigating since setting out on their own. Toner had mentioned on the Thursday that Moore, along with Adams were all gone, so I think Moore likely succumbed first of the three.
While the body of Vernon Moore has not yet been found there is an intriguing story on this page of Martinez’s site, www.ladybegood.com. The challenge with the story is the lack of detail on where the British Army convoy traversed the dunes in 1953. Certainly the body in the photo on this page is lying on sand and not gravel. What’s not clear to me on this account is whether the 80 miles refers to the width of the dunes at the crossing or the length of the journey at the crossing. We used to cross pretty much East from Sarir to our camp. Here the dunes were about 40 miles wide but the journey was considerably longer as we wound our way up and down the lines of dunes to saddles where crossing the dune lines was easier.
The body of 2nd Lieutenant John Woravka, the Bombardier, was the last of the 8 bodies to be found. He was lying on the gravel plain, about 12 miles North of the wreck of the Lady Be Good, shrouded in his parachute which had failed to open. As Walker writes, his failed parachute spared him the long drawn out ordeal of his fellow crew members. His body was also found to be less than a half-mile from the rally point where the other crew members assembled after bailing out, as determined by the pile of discarded parachute harnesses, life preservers and high-altitude clothing found at that point.
The markers left by the crew show that they followed tracks left by an Italian Army convoy of five trucks that had evacuated from Kufra oasis in 1941 escaping a Free French raid. They had followed this until they encountered crossing series of tracks determined to have been made by the British Army Long Range Desert Group in 1942 when they moved their base from Siwa to Kufra.
The photo below shows the remains of a British Army refueling dump from WWII. It’s possible that these are related to those same Long Range Desert Group operations. They were on the edge of the dunes, to the East of where the remains of Hatton and the crew were found but I took no fix on these. I think it’s safe to say they are still there now.
Where the German Army had the now famous Jerrycan for carrying spare fuel, the British Army used 4-gallon tin-plated cans, known as ‘flimsies’. Many of these were made in Egypt. These 4-gallon containers were packed in pairs in a wooden case. This was later replaced by plywood and eventually cardboard. The ones I cam across were packed in thin plywood and wire cases. The lack of robustness of the cans meant that they were effectively single use and were discarded once used. As their name attests, they often leaked which resulted in not only a loss of fuel but also an increased fire risk. By early 1942 the Long Range Desert Group had switched from using flimises to jerrycan’s captured from the Germans in fighting around Benghazi in late 1941.
Below is a closer view of one of the plywood crates with a pair of flimsies. From their condition still in the crate I suspect these had leaked their contents in transit. The one in the lower left appears to have a split in it near the base. The bird resting on the frame is doomed. With no water in the vicinity, once these birds had fallen out of the air currents that carry them across the Sahara they never regained the energy required to rise to the necessary altitude to one again be carried on the wind.
None of the flimsies in the photo below was opened from the top and most still had a wire from the crate running through the handle indicating the fuel they once carried never made it into the fuel tank of a vehicle. Note that these we made for the Shell Company.
When we finally left the concession, we drove North through the dune valleys to the northern edge of the Calanscio Sand Sea and then we followed the edge of the dunes to the West. The drive North through the dunes from the southern edge to the northern edge took us the whole day but we all emerged together with only one major breakdown that I recall and only a couple of trucks getting bogged down in soft sand.
Close to where we emerged we came across what our ordinance maps told us was the remains of three German Army trucks destroyed in an airstrike. Among the remains was this jerrycan.
Kraftstoff 20 L = Fuel 20 litres
Feuergefährlich = flammable
1941 = year of manufacture
ABP (logo) = AMBI-BUDD Presswerk Berlin
243 = unknown – some form of series number possibly
Wehrmacht = armed forces in general, not specific to the army.
Below is a photo of some of our convoy parked alongside the remains of the three vehicles destroyed in the airstrike. Note also how different this terrain is – gravel plain with undulating hills versus the near flat gravel plain South of the dunes.
Below is a fuel drum found among the airstrike wreckage.
Logo = Mauser (Mauser made their first metal drum in 1903)
1941 = year of manufacture
Kraftstoff = Fuel
200L = 200 litres
Feuergefährlich = flammable
Heer = army
And below, an unexploded WWII shell lies on the desert floor some 50-years or so after this particular conflict.
As we headed West, glad that we were out of the dunes with relatively little effort, we left the Lady Be Good behind in the desert.
In 1994, the Libyan Government removed the remains of the wreck from the desert. The remains appear to have moved around a bit, spending some time at El Adem and at the time of writing in Tobruk. The intent was to display it in a more accessible setting but with the ongoing political chaos in that country, in the humid, salty Mediterranean air, she rests unceremoniously junked in a yard. While I agree with the intent, the execution and circumstances appear to have doomed the plane once more.
Below are images of Toner’s diary:
And here is Ripslinger’s:
These maps are from www.ladybegood.net:
The remains of the crew members were collected by a U.S. Army Mortuary team based out of Frankfurt, Germany. A memorial service was held at the site before the bodies were removed. The image below must have been taken around sunset on February 17, 1960, judging by the shadows. I’ve not seen any reports as such but I can imagine ‘Taps’ being played and a very sombre mood.
And my final image of this series, a close-up of the serial number on the starboard tailplane.
I have a photo book containing several of my images of the Lady Be Good available through Blurb, below: