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Article: The Disappearance of the "Lady Be Good"

The B-24D, Liberator, Serial Number 41-11819, named "Raunchy", landing at Benghazi, Libya 1943
Aircraft

The Disappearance of the "Lady Be Good"

When the US entered World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7th, 1941, the United States began preparing it's military for war.

The United States Army Air Forces (USAAF or AAF) was the major land-based aerial warfare service component of the United States Army and de facto aerial warfare service branch of the United States during and immediately after World War II (1941–1947).

One of the units was the 9th Air Force which was sent to Egypt and Libya to begin operations to bomb the Axis powers in Italy and Southern Europe.

Air crews were trained in the US at various bases before being sent to military airfileds which were built throughout the North African continent in preparation for operations in Southern Europe.

One of such facilities was Soluch Field in Benghazi, Libya, from which bombers were launched to attach Italy across the Mediterranean. 

As aircrews were sent to these fields they were assigned the aircraft in which they would fly missions over Southern Europe. 

Slouch Field was such as base, and one of the types of aircraft flown from the airfiled were Consolidated B24D Liberator bombers.

The B24D Liberator


B-24D Liberator Forward Fuselage on Static Display in the US Freedom Pavilion in The Boeing Center

Over 18,000 B-24D Liberator aircraft would be built at the Willow Run Airport in Detroit, MI by the end of WW II.  

Technical Specifications:

  • Armament: 10 each .50 caliber machine guns;
  • Payload: 8,000 lbs. of bombs;
  • Engines: Four Pratt & Whitney R-1830 1,200 hp engines;
  • Cruise Speed: 175 mph;
  • Maximum Speed: 303 mph;
  • Range: 2,850 miles;
  • Ceiling: 28,000 feet;
  • Wingspan: 110 feet;
  • Length: 66 feet 4 inches;
  • Height: 17 feet 11 inches;
  • Takeoff Weight: 56,000 pounds;
  • Cost: $ 336,000 for the 6,000 aircraft, serial number: 42-72843

The B-24 Liberator was designed to be a replacement for the Boeing B-17 bomber.

Soluch Field, Benghazi, Libya 

The Soluch Field was located at 31 40 20 N – 20 14 35 E, which was 52 kilometers SSE of Benghazi, Libya and built by the Nazis and later captured by the Americans in WW II.

The Allies had plans to develop this into a major base but later abandoned them due to inaccessibility.

Surface and Dimensions: level sand surface in good condition measuring approx. 1200 x 1400 meters (1310 x 1530 yards). No paved runway.

Infrastructure: It had 2 aircraft sheds on the SE boundary. Barracks were reportedly on the E side of the village of Soluch with aircraft parked along the perimeter. 

On January 24, 1941 the field was bombed by the British and destroyed 2 x S.M.79 bombers on the ground.

On February 1, 1941 it was bombed again by British Blenheims damaging one Ca.309 Ghibli transport on the ground.

By April of 1943 the airfield was taken over and upgraded by the Americans in preparation to bombing the Axis powers in Southern Europe including Italy.

"Lady Be Good" Runs Out Of Luck

It's April 4th, 1943, and a brand new crew with a brand new B-24D Liberator are assigned their first combat flight.

The mission will take them from Soluch Field near Benghazi, Libya, over the Mediterranean for a night attack on Naples, Italy.

The "Lady Be Good" Crew


A photo of the "Lady Be Good" crew in front of their aircraft.

In the picture above the crew from left to right are as follows:

1st Lieutenant William Joseph Hatton, pilot; 2nd Lieutenant Robert F. Toner, copilot; 2nd Lieutenant Dp Hays, navigator; 2nd Lieutenant John S. Woravka, bombardier; Technical Sergeant Harold J. Ripslinger, engineer; Technical Sergeant Robert E. LaMotte, radio operator; Staff Sergeant Guy E. Shelly, gunner; Staff Sergeant Vernon L. Moore, gunner; and Staff Sergeant Samuel E. Adams, gunner.

First Lieutenant William J. Hatton is the aircraft commander and, along with his 8 crew members, departs Soluch Field at 2:50 pm April 4, 1943 and begins the long climb to rendezvous with the 25 aircraft formation.

However, high winds combined with poor visibility broke up the formation resulting in only two B-24s arriving over Naples at about 7:50 pm.

Inclement weather made it impossible to see and bomb the target, so the B-24s dropped their bombs into the Mediterranean Sea.

By this time the "Lady Be Good" and her crew were alone over the Mediterranean and never heard from again.

Prologue

Its November 9th, 1958, and as a group of British geologists in search of oil were flying over the desolate, sun baked, and empty Libyan Desert.

Approximately 400 miles south of the Soluch Airfiled they came across and aircraft on the sand.

A ground pary went to the site in March of 1959 and discovered that the aircraft was the "Lady Be Good". The B-24D Liberator had been found!


The wreckage of the "Lady Be Good" in the Libyan Desert.

Apparently, when the aircraft ran out of fuel the crew bailed out of the aircraft but disappeared while attempting to walk out of the desert and find civilization.

Intensive searches for the crew began, and sometime in 1960 the remains of eight members of the crew were found.

One was near the aircraft while the other seven were found far to the North of the crash site. Five had made it 78 miles North before perishing, while one had gone an amazing 109 miles!

The body of the ninth crew member was never found.

More Bad Luck

In time parts from the "Lady Be Good" made their way back to the United States for technical evaluation, while some of the other parts were installed in other aircraft.

A Douglas C-54 Skymaster had several transmitters from the "Lady Be Good" installed and experienced propeller troubel but landed safely only after jettisoning it's cargo.

A Douglas C-47 Skytrain had a radio receiver from the "Lady Be Good" installed in it had to ditch in the Mediterranean, and a U.S. Army DeHaviland U-1A "Otter" in which a "Lady Be Good" armrest was installed crashed in the Gulf of Sidra with 10 men aboard.

No trace was ever found of the men, but the armrest of the "Lady Be Good" washed ashore.

Postscript

"Lady Be Good" was a 1941 movie musical which featured a George and Ira Gershwin song from their 1924 Broadway musical "Oh, Lady Be Good."

I hope you enjoyed this trip through some of the history of aviation. If you enjoyed this trip, and are new to this newsletter, sign up to receive your own weekly newsletter here: Subscribe here!

Until next time, keep your eyes safe and focused on what's ahead of you, Hersch!

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