B-24 bomber ‘Lady Be Good’ takes off on first operation

The ill-fated 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 ill-fated 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)

Accidents made up a high proportion of the casualties of war, particularly in the air forces. Large numbers of men were inducted through training programmes and then immediately put on hazardous operations with little room for error, long before they encountered enemy fire. Some learnt quickly, others never had the time to find out. Often the reasons for accidents were never clearly established. Pilot and crew fatigue, exacerbated by the stress of combat played a major part. In such circumstances minor miscalculations became fatal mistakes:

At 2:50 PM on April 4,1943, 25 B-24’s of the 376th Bomb Group took off from their base at Soluch, Libya for a high altitude bombing mission against harbor facilities at Naples,Italy. All planes but one returned safely to Allied territory that night – the one missing plane was the “Lady Be Good”, on the crews first mission.

Almost 16 years later on November 9, 1958, several British geologists were flying over the desolate, sun-baked Libyan Desert. At approximately 400 miles south of Soluch, they spotted an aircraft on the sand. A ground party that reached the site in March 1959 discovered the plane to be a B-24D. The “Lady Be Good” had been found.

Evidence at the site indicated that the crew had become lost in the dark on return from Naples and had flown over their base and southward into the desert. As their fuel supply became depleted, the nine men aboard had bailed out but disappeared while attempting to walk northward to civilization.

Intensive searches were made for clues as to the fate of the crew, and in 1960 the remains of eight were found, one (Lt. Woravka,chute failure) near the plane and the other seven far to the north. Five (Hatton, Toner, Hays, Adams and LaMotte) had trekked 78 miles across the tortuous sand before perishing, and one (Ripslinger) had gone an amazing 109 miles. In addition, they had lived eight days rather than the two expected of men in this area with little or no water. The body of the ninth man (Moore) was never found.

National Museum of the USAAF

The aircraft flew on a 150 degree course toward Benina Airfield. The craft radioed for a directional reading from the HF/DF station at Benina and recieved a reading of 330 degrees from Benina. The actions of the pilot in flying 440 miles into the desert, however, indicated the navigator probably took a reciprocal reading off the back of the radio directional loop antenna from a position beyond and south of Benina but ‘on course’. The pilot flew into the desert, thinking he was still over the Mediterranean and on his way to Benina.

Official Graves Registration Report

The Lady Be Good as it appeared when discovered from the air. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Lady Be Good as it appeared when discovered from the air. (U.S. Air Force photo)

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)

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)

Side view of the crashed Consolidated B-24D "Lady Be Good." (U.S. Air Force photo)

Side view of the crashed Consolidated B-24D “Lady Be Good.” (U.S. Air Force photo)

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

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

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

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

Nose view of Consolidated B-24D "Lady Be Good" crash site. (U.S. Air Force photo)

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

Since first posting this story I have been sent those following pictures of the Lady Be Good as she currently is, July 2014. Solaiman Gawda says the plane wreckage was moved to Tobruk to be put on public display, although things are a bit disorganised in the town at present, following recent events in Libya. Solaiman works as a tour guide in Tobruk, see comments below.

Part of the Lady be Good wreckage on public display in the Libyan town of Tobruk. Saolaiman Gawda.

Part of the Lady be Good wreckage on public display in the Libyan town of Tobruk. Saolaiman Gawda.

Part of the Lady be Good wreckage on public display in the Libyan town of Tobruk. Saolaiman Gawda.

Part of the Lady be Good wreckage on public display in the Libyan town of Tobruk. Saolaiman Gawda.

Part of the Lady be Good wreckage on public display in the Libyan town of Tobruk. Saolaiman Gawda.

Part of the Lady be Good wreckage on public display in the Libyan town of Tobruk. Saolaiman Gawda.

Part of the Lady be Good wreckage on public display in the Libyan town of Tobruk. Saolaiman Gawda.

Part of the Lady be Good wreckage on public display in the Libyan town of Tobruk. Saolaiman Gawda.

Part of the Lady be Good wreckage on public display in the Libyan town of Tobruk. Saolaiman Gawda.

Part of the Lady be Good wreckage on public display in the Libyan town of Tobruk. Saolaiman Gawda.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

solaimangawda July 16, 2014 at 11:18 am

Hello sir, my name is solaiman Gawda , from Tobruk -Libya , Lady be good B-24 have been transferred from Libyan desert to Tobruk city located at east part of Libya at Mediterranean sea , the idea and the method for transfered from desert to Tobruk was completely wrong , the plane here in my city Tobruk divided to several parts and severing from careless , Any information or images modern contact me at my email
صهفا ةغ قثلشقيس
سخمشهةشى

Santiago April 4, 2014 at 7:37 pm

In 1966-1967 I was associated with the US Army Mortuary System in Frankfurt Germany. Among the duties was recovery of war remains and central identification laboratory. The CI Lab was run by a guy named Wes Neep who had remained in Europe after WWII when he had worked for Graves Registration during the war. We were still recovering remains from WWII and even a few from WWI. Wes had gone to Libya when the Lady Be Good was found, and he had the complete file — original flight briefings, weather data, damage assessment, operational reports, plus the data from the recovery. Very interesting reading. One thing I remember was that the oxygen valves for the crew repeatedly froze up and had to be cleared by hand; a number of the crew got frostbite. Wes also found a sealed thermos bottle in the wreck and the coffee was still potable after 25 years.

Mike October 9, 2013 at 9:27 am

This incident was used as inspiration for the film ‘Sole Survivor’ from 1970, and a 1960 episode of The Twilight Zone, ‘King Nine Will Not Return’.

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