Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Legend of the Ghost Bomber is Born

(If anyone can tell me why blogger dose this weird spacing from time to time I would be grateful)

By early 1959 the wreaked B-24 had been spotted by a second D'Arcy Oil Company aircraft, and the two locations plotted were fairly close to each other. To the GPS generation this sounds sloppy, but these were the days of dead reckoning.

Most of you will know dead reckoning from story problems on a math test. "If a train leaves the station traveling at X MPH how long will it take..."

The crash site was on a featureless gravel plain near the edge of the Sea of Calanscio, north of the Kufra Oasis. Fact is, once she was located, the Lady Be Good was the best fixed navigation point for over 100 miles in any direction.

The US Air Force had been informed, but visiting yet another World War two wreak in the desert wasn't a high priority. D'Arcy Oil personal were interested, but no one was going to make a special trip. Having said that, exploring war time aircraft wreaks is interesting. In late February of 1959 a D'Arcy ground crew found themselves in the area of the crash.

Gordon Bowerman was the first to spot the bomber in the distance. He and his co-workers, John Martin and Don Sheridan, decided it was break time. The above photograph was taken by Gordon Bowerman on February 27, 1959 as they approached the plane. The tracks in the foreground were made by their vehicle.

They were the first people to visit the plane since 1943.

Approaching the plane was like stepping back in time. Other than the fuselage breaking in half just aft of the wings, the plane was in remarkable condition. She looked like the crew had left moments before.

At least one of the radios still worked. There was food and water stored stored on board that was still good, and a thermos of tea still drinkable. Articles of clothing and equipment were still in place and some had crewmen's names. Some of the planes logs were in place. Even the machine guns and ammunition, usually the first things removed by scavengers, were in place. The only things missing were the parachutes and the Mae West life preservers.

The three oilmen left with a haunting mystery. How had this plane gotten so far inland, and what happened to the crew? The Letter Gordon Bowerman wrote to Col. Kolbus (USAF) explains it best.

Private & Confidential

Lt. Col. Kolbus,


Wheelus Air Base,


2-4-59 (in this case read Mar. 2, 59)

Dear Sir,

During a recent survey trip in the desert north of the Kufra Oasis, my friends and I found a United States Liberator bomber that is almost complete and would appear to have crashed without any members of the crew being aboard. As the plane is so far from any operational airfield that was being used during March/April 1943 period, we would be very interested to know whether there are any records to show whether the crew were saved, or not.

From the maintenance inspection records (form 41-B) the details of the plane are: Squadron Airplane No. 64; Organization: 514 Sq. Bomb Gp.; last (indecipherable): 3rd. April 1943; A.C. Airplane No.: R-1830-43; Serial No.: 24301.

Also there are a few of the crew names that were on pieces of personal and other equipment:

Lt. Hatton

Lt. Woravka

Lt. D.P. Hayes (Computer - See Below ###)

M/SGT. Shea

Lt. Toner


I had hoped to see you personally when I was last in Tripoli, but my leave was curtailed and you were not at home on the occasions that I did call.

If any information can be found we would be very interested in it, for this is the most complete plane we saw and the absence of evidence of the crew landing with it makes it very strange that a plane should be that distance from the coast.

If there is any other information you would like, I may be able to assist you, but apart from giving you the Maintenance Log (41-B) and a few of the navigators jottings, I cannot see that I have any useful information to disclose. Should you wish to contact me, please write to the address above, and I will reply as soon as possible; but owing to the post being weekly there may be a long delay. The post for me has to be in D'Arcy Office by Wednesday lunch-time to be put on the aircraft.

I hope you, your wife and daughter are all well, and have a very happy and Blessed Easter.

Yours sincerely,

Gordon Bowerman.

In this day of Cell phones and E-mail it's difficult it imagine people ever depended on mail that came once a week.

### For those readers without gray hair, the computer referred to in Bowermans letter was an Army Aircorp AN-5835-1 like in the picture above. Private Pilots were still using the civilian version of this when I learned to fly in the 1970's. Think of it as a round slide rule. As for what a slide rule is, you'er on your own - try Google.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Please bare with me friends and neighbors. I have some issues to deal with. I will start posting again by the weekend.

I hate it when life interfers with blogging!

Monday, April 4, 2011

68 Years Ago Tonight The Lady Be Good

Shortly after 15:00 ( 3:00 PM) on April 04, 1943 a flight of 25 B-24 bombers took off from the Soluch airfield near the coast of Libya. The target was port of Naples, Italy just across the Mediterranean Sea. This was the first mission for both Bomber #64, the Lady Be Good, and her crew.

The mission went badly from the start. High winds and the sandstorm that resulted caused nine of the thirteen planes in the second formation to abort early on. The remaining planes continued on, arriving over Naples about 1950 (7:50 PM) at an altitude of 25,000 feet. By this point the Lady Be Good may have already turned back.

Due to poor visibility over the target the planes chose not to bomb the port due to civilians in the area. The planes dropped their bombs into the sea to reduce weight and fuel consumption. We know "The Lady" was alone on the return trip.

At 0012 (12:12 AM) "The Lady's" pilot, Lt. William J. Hatton broke radio silence to say his automatic direction finder was not working and asked for a heading to a base. It is unclear if he heard the response. If he transmitted again after that it was not picked up.

I am writing this about 01:00 the morning of April 05, 2011. The Lady Be Good was literally trying to find her way home 68 years ago tonight as I write this. They never made it.

A little while later a plane was heard over Soluce Field. The Air Corps wasn't only ones operating aircraft in the area. Not everyone was friendly, so calling them on the radio to say they were over head wasn't a good idea. Flairs were launched but either they were not seen or were ignored. Was it 'The Lady"? No one knows.

The 376 Bomb Group assumed she went down in the Mediterranean Sea. Air / Sea rescue searched, but as they say, there was a war on. Fighters, Bombers and Transports were shot down, or just failed to return from missions, every day. In time The Lady Be Good became another foot note, remembered only by those who knew, or loved, someone who was on her crew.

That changed, starting in 1958.

On November 09, 1958 a British Oil exploration team conducting an aerial survey spotted aircraft crash site. They shot a couple of pictures and plotted the location on their charts. British Oil contacted Wheelus Air Force Base at Tripoli, Libya with the information.

One must remember that in 1958 there were hundreds of aircraft wreak sites in the North African Desert. It was hard to get excited about another one. All reported crash sites were investigated as soon as possible and logged. By that time most of the calls were about wreaks they had known about for years. Still, the Air Force took down the information and made plans to investigate when they had a crew free.

Things changed in May of 1959 when the Air Force got boots on the ground at the crash site. Overnight the Lady Be Good became the most famous B-24 in history.

Next The Crash Site