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