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.

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