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
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.