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

Toner’s Diary:
SATURDAY, April. 10, 1943
Still having prayer meetings for help. No signs of anything, a couple of birds; good wind from N. Really weak now, can’t walk, pains all over, still all want to die. Nites very cold, no sleep.

Ripslinger’s Diary:
SATURDAY, April. 10, 1943
Walked all day and night. Suggested Guy, Moore and I make out alone.

No one knows why Toner wrote that Ripslinger, Moore and Shelley separated on the Friday while Ripslinger wrote it on the Saturday. Perhaps Ripslinger ran out of room to write this on the Friday and then added it as an afterthought on the Saturday.

Who were they writing for? Themselves? It’s interesting that no ‘last letters’ were ever found. Neither used the extra pages in their diaries to write anything to family members or loved ones. Perhaps the thought of that was unbearable.

While Hatton, Toner, Hays, LaMotte and Adams could go no further, Ripslinger, Moore and Shelley set off once more. Presumably one of them took a compass though I’ve never read of one being found with the remains of either Risplinger or Shelley. They appear to have made a course change, moving off their heading of 325 degrees to a heading closer to 308 degrees. Based on the dunes today, this took them out of the broad valley where their five comrades remained and over the western finger of dunes and on into the sand sea.

The photo below is of me, sitting in an old Bedford RL truck we came across, abandoned in the dunes close to where the remains of the crew members were eventually found. Vauxhaull-Bedford made over 74,000 of these trucks between 1953 and the early 1970s. The one below looks to have been what we would have called a ‘D’-Tanker. I worked on crews that had later Bedford MK versions of the same vehicle. The name came from the cross section of the water tank body. The tank held about 750 imperial gallons of water. The flat top of the tank allowed cargo to be carried in addition to water, adding to the versatility of the truck particularly in the desert where we used them to support near-surface drilling operations and carry drilling mud and other supplies.

This one, however, had ground to a halt many years before and the dunes were slowly swallowing it. I suspect most usable spares were salvaged by whoever abandoned it. The door still opened and closed with ease and the glassless wing mirror was still adjustable.

Note my footsteps leading up from the to the cab from just right of center at the bottom of the frame. This is on the slip face of the dune so the sand is much softer. I’m on the eastern side of this dune so in this general area, Ripslinger, Shelley, and Moore would have had to climb up the soft face of the dunes they encountered which takes a lot more energy then descending.

The prevailing wind constantly pushes the sand up the slope of a dune to the crest. At some point, the crest becomes unstable and breaks away under its own weight and the sand avalanches down the opposite side – the slip face – until the slip face reaches the angle required for the dune to become stable once more. This is usually about 30 to 35 degrees from vertical when standing at the base – a pretty steep climb in other words. When walking, the angle of the climb can be lessened by climbing on the diagonal but that lengthens the distance of the climb in the softer sand.

Abandoned Bedford Truck near where the remains of the crew of the Lady Be Good were foundBelow is the same Bedford RL some four to six months earlier. Notice that there is much more of the truck showing in this earlier photo. It’s possible that the varying wind over the years partially covers and uncovers this abandoned vehicle. Today it might be completely submerged in a wave of sand, only to emerge again in the future. The wooden peg is one of our seismic survey markers.

Abandoned Bedford Truck near where the remains of the crew of the Lady Be Good were foundThe image below gives a better sense of what Ripslinger, Shelley, and Moore were now trying to cross. At this time of day, with the sun high in the sky, the lack of contrast makes the shape of the dunes, the hills and the valleys, hard to make out. The cluster or wires in front of the Bedford RL truck is a geophone array. We used to circle the peg like this if there was too much elevation change across the normal pattern.

Abandoned Bedford Truck near where the remains of the crew of the Lady Be Good were foundThe photo below was taken as we were scouting a way to get our seismic crew out of the concession. We had come in across the dunes and that had been time consuming and very hard on the vehicles and equipment. I wanted to find a faster and easier way out and felt that driving North through the valleys might be more productive, and it was. In the end we saved several weeks through this approach. You can see that we didn’t have the best day for this scouting trip. The marker on the right marks a pipeline laid through the sand sea to move oil from the Sarir fields to the coast. Notice from the tire tracks that on the valley floors and on the windward side of the dunes the sand is quite firm. I would say that walking on this was little different to walking on maintained grass such as a soccer pitch. This was always the reward after climbing up a slip face.

Windy day in the Calanscio Sand SeaStill in the sand sea, North of where the remains of the crew were found, note how featureless this area is when the visibility shuts down. I wouldn’t call this a sand storm per se, just a blustery day where the sand was kicking up and hanging in the air. Ripslinger didn’t comment on the weather they encountered in the dunes – probably because in his diary the amount of space reserved for Saturday and Sunday entries was about half that available for the other week days.

Wndy Day in the Calanscio Sand SeaBelow are some more of my images of the wreckage of the Lady Be Good. Directly below is the Number 1 engine as we found it in late 1990. Note also how the leading edge of the wing has been taken apart over the years.

No. 1 Engine of the Lady Be Good in 1990-91Below, one of my colleagues examines the Number 1 engine more closely. You can see it has been separated from the wing. This separation had occurred sometime between 1960 and 1968 as the RAF Desert Rescue Group found all the engines separated when they went to recover samples and the Number 2 engine for McDonnell-Douglas. You can see where the Number 2 engine would have been fixed to the wing and also quite clearly the hatch in the roof of the fuselage where the sea survival gear was found by Sheridan and Martin.

Examining the No.1 Engine of the Lady Be Good in 1990-91While I chose a 3 inch x 4 inch section of the wing skin as my souvenir, my colleague liberated this spark plug from the Number 1 engine as his souvenir. We felt quite certain from our visual inspection that if we applied the right voltage, it would still spark.

Spark Plug from the Lady Be GoodBelow is a view of the star on the port side of the fuselage and the waist gun port. The flap was to deflect the airflow past the open window. I can’t even begin to image what it must have been like, standing by those open windows at altitudes of 25,000 feet or more.

Port side waist gun port of the Lady Be Good in 1990-91Below the starboard tail plane was perhaps the largest expanse of the fuselage that still had paint on it in 1990-90. You can see below some of the remaining Desert Pink but mostly the underlying Olive Drab. Over the years various visitors had scratched their names into the paint. Someone from Tripoli visited on 6/3/1964. Tam Smith of the RAF Desert Rescue based at El Adem visited on 25 March, 1963 (20 years too late). Someone with the last name of Maglin, 10th Special Forces Group (ABN) visited on 24 May 1965. Howard visited on 3/18/71 and someone else on 25/12/76 – an interesting way to spend Christmas Day. (While I learned a few Arabic phrases I never learned to read it so I can’t translate the Arabic graffiti.) I wonder how the visitors in the mid sixties found the wreck and if any of them were involved in separating he engines, dragging the tail section across the desert, severing the port tailplane, etc.

Graffiti under the starboard tail plane of the Lady Be Good, Below, yet more names scratched in the paing below the starboard tailplane. Sandy Espey, W. Grant, V. Villanueva, someone who visited on 5 October 1975, M. I. Robinson, Vic Ware, 21 March 1963, c/o Union Jack Club, London, England. (The Union Jack Club still exists and is the ‘Premier Armed Force Club in London.) May they all R.I.P. I’m no handwriting expert but there’s enough similarities in the letters to make me think that phrase was carved by Mr. Ware.

Graffiti under the starboard tail plane of the Lady Be GoodI’m pretty sure that, like myself, these people all took a little bit of the Lady Be Good away with them, doubtless much of it now tossed into landfills around the world.

More images to come in my next post.

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

Toner’s Diary:
FRIDAY, April 9, 1943
Shelley, Rip, Moore separate and try to go for help, rest of us all very weak, eyes bad. Not any travel, all want to die, still very little water. nites are about 35, good N. wind, no shelter, 1 parachute left.

Ripslinger’s Diary:
FRIDAY, April 9, 1943
5th day out & we all thought we’re gone. All wanted to die during noon it was so hot. Morn & nite okay. 2 drops of water!

Walker’s book contains a reference that even at rest, the airmen would have been losing 2 quarts of water through dehydration every six hours in the 130°F heat. That’s over 54°C. I only recall a couple of days where for sure it got over 50°C (120°F) and that was because the thermometer at the airstrip we were working at only went up to 50°C, after which aircraft could not operate – because they no longer knew how hot it was to calculate lift, etc. for takeoff and landing. Martinez quotes from a report filed by the RAF Desert Rescue Team mission in April of 1968, that collected samples from the wreck for technical testing, that daytime temperatures were 20-30°C (68-86°F) which is much closer to what I remember.

Popular weight loss sites often state that the average daily calorie intake for an adult male to maintain his weight is 2,500. Eat more you gain weight, eat less and you lose. A deficit of 500 calories per day will lead to a loss of about one pound per week. So, they would have been losing about 10 pounds in weight per day. By day five they would have lost around 50 pounds of body weight! The relationship probably breaks down somewhere but assuming they were around 150 pounds, by this time they would have lost about a third of their weight! That they made it this far is truly remarkable. Doubtless this dramatic weight loss would also have affected the way that they experienced temperature.

In the fall of 1990 I got to make my first visit to the wreck and in the spring of 1991 my second and last visit. Had I had a digital camera back then I would have taken lots more photos but at the time I used slide film and I had to carry that in one each trip and make my stash of film last ten weeks so I rationed myself.

Below is an image of the nose of the Lady Be Good from 1990. In the bottom right corner where the skin is all bent up you can make out a white ‘6’ from the number 64. Below the windows of the cockpit there’s a scar where the word ‘good’ has been cut out. See the photo in my Lady Be Good – Day 2 post. To the left of the photo are the remains of the top turret. I never took any photos of the top turret for reasons now I don’t understand.

Starbord nose of the Lady Be GoodBelow, one of my colleagues poses for a photo in the remains of the cockpit. Note the featureless plain. As the sun came up on April 5th, this is the landscape that the crew would have seen which explains (to me) why they stuck to the vehicle tracks that had come across. A ‘Walking “Timeline” Calculator’ on the website suggests that sometime after dawn on Day 2, the crew came across another set of vehicle tracks crossing the tracks they were following. One can only imaging what discussions they had at that point. Again, someone must have been navigating and someone must have been leading as the crew decided to strike out on a heading of 325°, away from both sets of tracks and across something very much like this:

Cockpit of the Lady Be Good in 1990-91Below is a closeup view inside the remains of the cockpit. Walker reports that when the RAF Desert Rescue Team visited in 1968, the plane had already been stripped of virtually every toggle switch by souvenir hunters in the intervening 8 years since the wreck was found. All that remained in 1990 was the airframe and parts of the wiring loom.

Lady Be Good Cockpit Detail 1990-91Below is another photo of the wiring loom in the cockpit.

Lady Be Good Cockpit Wiring 1990-91On the inside wall of the starboard side of the cockpit was this fuse box. The circular item I assume to have been part of an internal communication system as a similar item can be seen on the ceiling of the tail gun turret.

Lady Be Good Cockpit Fusebox 1990-91Now here’s a detail I find interesting. According to the 1968 RAF DRG report (Martinez), the engines were separated from the aircraft but in the correct relative positions. Except they can not have been. In the photos taken when the Lady Be Good was discovered in 1959 (see my Lady Be Good – Day 1 post) the No.4 engine was clearly the one ripped off when the pilot-less Lady Be Good crashed. Yet in my photos and in a photo of the wreck attributed in Walker to the RAF in 1968, there is an engine in the No.4 relative position.

Martinez quotes from the RAF DRG report by Flight Lieutenant B. Sellers that, “The four engines were found lying in their correct relative positions but separated from the wings. Little was left of the starboard inner engine, but the other three were more or less complete.”

The only possible answer is that someone in the intervening years had moved them for some reason known only to themselves as the initial photos of the wreck clearly show the starboard inner engine to have been in relatively good shape in 1959, and in the right place.

Thus, the engine below is actually the beat up remains of the No.4 engine, even though it is in the relative position of the No.3 engine.

Lady Be Good #4 Engine 1990-91Below is a shot of the underside of the starboard wing. The looped wires on the trailing edge of the wing are the control surface wires that ran aound various pulleys and move the flaps and ailerons as the pilot moved the levers in the cockpit.

Lady Be Good - 1990-91 Under the Starboard WingBelow, one o my colleagues gets down off the fuselage. To the right are the two hatches where Sheriden and Martin found sea survival kits including four pints of water and sea survival gear, including a radio and aerial. I can’t help but wonder how the story would have ran had the crew taken a chance at landing rather than baling out. They would have had everything they would have needed to call in a rescue aircraft or help those who searched for them in the days following but who turned back what appears to have been 40 miles too soon.

Lady Be Good Starbord Wing Trailing Edge 1990-91Below, one of my colleagues contemplates the ‘office’ of tail gunner Staff Sergeant Samuel R. Adams. In the base of the gun turret are the guides for feeding ammunition to the machine guns. In the ceiling another of those circular electrical components similar to the one shown in the cockpit photo above which leads me to think it was part of the internal communication system. While it’s possible the damage to the fuselage above the gun turret was caused in the crash, I think it more likely that someone tried (and failed) to separate the gun turret as a souvenir.

Lady Be Good - 1990-91 Tail Gun Turret 2Inside the tail gun turret were some labels, below. The top one informs of some form of release mechanism or process for the seat while the lower one seems to be machine gun loading instructions.

Tail Gun Turret Warning labelsThe label below was on the horizontal bar partially obscuring my colleague’s face in the image above.

(Unreadable) OPERA (missing) IN POWER




I don’t know about you but I’m asking, “Why not? What if I did turn off the switches immediately after turning?” If anyone knows, please comment.

Lady Be Good Tail Gun Turret LabelsBelow is one of my favorite photos of the Lady Be Good – the starboard tail. The fabric control surface was still partially intact when found in 1959 but had been stripped off by man and nature by the time of the RAF DRG team visit in 1968. This is possibly the clearest view of the different paint layers – the Olive Drab over the aluminum and the Desert Pink over the Olive Drab. The yellow serial number would have been the original painted on the Olive Drab. This is because the Desert Pink is clearly painted over the yellow numbers. Slightly above the yellow numbers you can see faint outlines of the serial number that would have been painted over the top of the Desert Pink.

Lady Be Good - 1990-91 Starboard Tail 1

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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

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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.

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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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