Mystery Behind A Missing World War II Submarine And Its Crew Finally Solved

During World War II, in 1944, a United States Navy submarine and it’s crew of 80 members disappeared off of the coast of Japan. During its time in operation, the submarine was in working order with researchers still questioning what may have happened to it. Today, Tim Taylor and his team are on the search for it, utilizing modern technology to aid in the search. However, due to technical difficulties, the expedition had to be cut short. Yet, when he checked the footage, he noticed something interesting about the data that led him to search once more. What Taylor and his team found shocked everyone involved.

The USS Grayback

The United States submarine that went missing in 1944 was the U.S.S. Grayback or the S.S. -208, although that name is not as commonly known.

Picture of the Grayback
Naval History and Heritage Comand
Naval History and Heritage Comand

Currently, searching for the submarine is part of what is known as the Lost 52 Project, which is a project that was dedicated toward finding the 52 submarines that had gone missing over the course of World War II. Unfortunately, the Grayback itself was reported missing in the latter part of March 1944.

The Sounds Of Victory

On January 28, 1944, Grayback was sent out from Pearl Harbor on a combat patrol mission. This would be the submarine’s tenth voyage during the war, and nobody would have guessed that it was going to be the last.

Aerial of Pearl Harbor
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

A few weeks before it went missing off of the radar, it sent several messages of victory to its base, noting its defeat of two rival subs, the Japanese freighters Toshin Maru and Taikei Maru. These messages were received on February 24.

There Was A Second Radio Message

The following day, on February 25, 1944, the crew aboard the Grayback sent another victorious radio message, claiming that they had destroyed Asama Maru, a Japanese submarine that was used primarily as a troop carrier.

Sub on the water
Arkivi/Getty Images
Arkivi/Getty Images

In addition, they also sunk the Napo Maru tanker. However, since this last report, there were no more victorious messages as they had to move to Midway Atoll in the North Pacific to re-supply, as they only had two torpedoes left.

It Was Reported Missing

The message received from Grayback on February 25 would be the last that anyone ever heard from them. Based on the location when they sent their last message, it was estimated that they should have reached the re-supply station by March 7.

Man looking through periscope
Photo 12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Photo 12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The situation became even more alarming when the submarine still didn’t arrive that their expected destination at Midway Atoll an entire three weeks later. Finally, the vessel was reported missing on March 30, 1944.

Building Grayback Was No Easy Feat

On April 3, 1940, the U.S.S. Grayback was laid on the grounds of the Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut. The Electric Boat Company was known for having skilled workers and engineers, so it was clear that the project of building the submarine was in good hands.

Man polishing ship
Berliner Verlag/Archiv/picture alliance via Getty Images
Berliner Verlag/Archiv/picture alliance via Getty Images

The company had been building submarines since 1899, with their first vessel being the U.S.S. Holland, the first US Navy submarine. Furthermore, during World War I, the United States and the United Kingdom greatly benefited from the company’s 85-submarine project.

They Manufactured A Lot Of Subs During World War II

Over the course of World War II, the Electric Boat Company was commissioned to build another 74 submarines, with one of them being the Grayback. The Grayback was what is known as a Tambor-vessel class and was one of 12 built by the company, with seven of them being destroyed previously in World War I.

Man working on submarine
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

The other Tmbor submarines were withdrawn from operation, although the Grayback went missing before it could be recalled like the others.

The Grayback Was An Impressive Vessel

The Grayback was designed to measure at a length of 300 feet from stern to stern, with the ability to submerge to a maximum of 2,410 tons of pressure beneath the waves.

Submarine docking
Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Buyenlarge/Getty Images

Furthermore, the width of the boat measured 27 feet and had a surface speed of 20 knots and an underwater speed of just under nine knots. On top of that, the Grayback could impressively remain submerged underwater for up to 48 hours, covering many miles.

It Ran On Diesel

Four electric motors drove the propellers of the submarine that was also operated by diesel engines that allowed the submarine to go to a diving depth of up to 250 feet.

Submarine in the yard
Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Buyenlarge/Getty Images

Unfortunately, the submarine was over capacity when it was lost at sea. It was designed to fit a crew of 54 enlisted men and six officers. On its final voyage in February 1944, it had a crew of 80 men.

It Was Designed For Warfare

On top of its ability to travel fast and deep beneath the water, it was also equipped for battle. The Grayback was fitted with ten 21-inch torpedo tubes with six located towards the bow and four at the stern.

Man on top of a submarine
Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Buyenlarge/Getty Images

Furthermore, the ship had a 50-caliber gun, Oerlikon 20mm cannons, and Bofors 40mm, which lined the deck. The weapons were designed to provide both defense and attack abilities both beneath the water and when it surfaced.

It Was Ready For Battle In No Time

Just ten months after the vessel’s construction was completed by the Electric Boat Company, Rear Admiral Wilson Brown’s wife personally announced the launching of the Grayback on January 31, 1941.

Ships wrecked
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

The submarine was then commissioned into the United States Navy on June 30 that same year. This was just five months before the United States declared war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor which took place on December 7, 1941.

It Was Put On Patrol

After being brought into the United States Navy, the submarine fell under the command of Lieutenant Willard A. Saunder on Long Island Sound. Its initial voyages were used as a test to see the submarine’s capabilities were and for its crew to get a feel for her and learn all of her technical aspects.

Submarine on the water
Arkivi/Getty Images
Arkivi/Getty Images

Once everyone on board was comfortable running the ship, the Grayback went on patrol, where she covered parts of the Caribbean and the Chesapeake Bay in September 1941.

Preparing For War

After undergoing a series of checks and maintenance at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on the coast of Maine, the vessel made its way back to Pearl Harbor in 1942. By the time the Grayback arrived in Pearl Harbor, the United States was already deep into World War II, and it was clear that the crew of the Grayback would be seeing action sooner rather than later.

Off the coast of Guam
PhotoQuest/Getty Images
PhotoQuest/Getty Images

Its first taste of war was one February 15, 1942, as it sailed along the coasts of the island of Guam, where Japan had invaded in 1941.

Heading Into Enemy Territories

On top of patrolling the coasts of Guam, the submarine also went into close range of Saipan, a Japanese territory. The patrol lasted a total of three weeks, with the submarine becoming involved in a series of “hide and seek” games with one particular Japanese submarine.

Bow of a submarine
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

During that time, the Japanese submarine fired two torpedoes at the Gray, with both of them missing. The Grayback was then able to attack and return fire.

The Taste Of Battle

While still patrolling around enemy territories, the Grayback managed to escape from several other enemy ships, even managing to sink an impressive 3,291-ton submarine.

Explosion in front of submarine
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

However, on her second voyage, the vessel encountered little to no fighting, and she ended up docking at Fremantle. There, for a period of her military career, the Grayback remained docked at this base that was located in Western Australia.

The Grayback Experienced Some Troubles

During its next two missions at sea, the Grayback found itself sailing across South China’s territory and had several issues with enemy patrol, low-lit nights, and waters that were perilous to cross at times.

Submarine docked
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Nevertheless, the Grayback was overall successful, managing to destroy several enemy boats and merchant ships. Then, on December 7, 1942, the Grayback set sail for the port of Australia once more in preparation to complete its fifth mission.

A Christmas The Crew Would Never Forget

On Christmas day, 1942, the Grayback experienced what might have been their most dangerous day yet. They were faced with four enemy landing barges when surfacing from the depths. Luckily, the Grayback managed to sink them, using their deck guns.

Drawing of ship sinking
DEA / A. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini via Getty Images
DEA / A. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini via Getty Images

Just four days later, the submarine was attacked again by a fighter boat that shot at the Grayback with torpedoes, although the submarine was able to evade them. In 1943, the Grayback was caught in a cat and mouse game with the Japanese Vessel I-18, eventually destroying the ship and killing all on board.

They Were Sent On A Rescue Mission

On the submarine’s fifth tour, the Grayback was involved in a rescue mission that many consider being one of their most daring. In Japanese territory, a Martin B-26 Marauder crash-landed, leaving six Americans stranded.

Bomber in flight
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

At dusk, two crew members of the Grayback launched a search-and-rescue mission that resulted in the finding and the saving of the Americans that were shot down. By dawn, the Grayback was beneath the waves, successfully evading Japanese aircraft.

The Grayback Was Eventually Damaged

The following evening, after the men had been found and the submarine was safe underneath the water, the two crewmen carefully guided the stranded men to the location of the submarine.

Submarine in the water
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

For his efforts, Commander Edward C. Stephan, who took command in September 1942, was awarded the Navy Cross for his bravery as well as the U.S. Army Silver Star. Nevertheless, as their mission continued, the submarine continued to damage enemy ships but was eventually damaged herself by depth charges from an enemy destroyer.

Returning To Australia

The enemy weapons had severely damaged a hatch on the Grayback’s hull, resulting in a leakage that forced them to dock at the Brisbane port in Australia.

Submarine being hit by charges
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

After some repairs as well as improvements, the submarine’s next mission was a patrol in February 1943. However, it saw no attacks due to manufacturing radar and other newly installed technologies. Nevertheless, the Grayback managed to push through to see its seventh tour, which began in April of 1943.

Back In Action

The submarine’s seventh tour proved much more eventful than its sixth, and she went on to sink the Yodogawa Maru, a Japanese merchant ship. Then, just a few days later, the Grayback managed to sink another Japanese boat with only one torpedo, and the following day an incredible three more.

Painting of American submarine
Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

After this string of victories, the Grayback set sail back to Pearl Harbor and eventually San Francisco, California, where she would undergo a refitting process.

In Comes Commander Moore And The Creation Of The “Wolfpack”

On September 12, 1943, the Grayback found itself in Pearl Harbor, preparing for more missions on the Pacific. Being the ship’s eighth mission, the submarine was now under the command of Commander John Anderson Moore.

Submarine on the water
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Just two weeks after docking in Pearl Harbor, the ship set out once more to Midway Atoll, but this time with the U.S.S. Shad. While at Midway Atoll, the U.S.S. Cero joined the Grayback and Shad, forming what is known as the “Wolfpack.” Submarines teaming up had proven to be successful and was a tactic used by German U-boats.

The Wolfpack Was Fierce

Implemented by the United States Navy, the Wolfpack proved to be as successful as anyone had hoped. Together, these three submarines managed to sink over 38,000 tons of Japanese shipping.

Multiple submarines
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

By November 10, 1943, the three boats had returned to Midway Atoll after they had run out of all of their ammunition. By the end of this tour, Commander Moore was the second officer to receive a Navy Cross while being in command of the Grayback.

The Submarine’s Ninth Tour Was Short Yet Effective

On December 2, 1943, the Grayback was commissioned to set sail once again, but this time to the East China Sea. This ninth patrol saw the Grayback incredibly firing all of their torpedoes in just five days in which four Japanese warships were destroyed.

Explosion in the water
Fox Photos/Getty Images
Fox Photos/Getty Images

Out of ammunition, the Grayback was forced to return to Pearl Harbor, where commander John Anderson Moore was awarded yet again with another Navy Cross.

The Last Time Setting Sail

After nine incredibly successful mission, the Grayback found itself back at the port of Pearl Harbor before going on her tenth, and unknowingly, final mission. The submarine set off onto the ocean open for its last time on January 28, 1944, and as mentioned earlier, its final message to base was on February 25, 1944.

Submarine on the water
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

By March 30, the legendary submarine had been officially declared as missing, with no contact being able to be sent or received to the submarine.

The Final Task

Upon leaving Pearl Harbor, the Grayback’s final mission was a dangerous one, which was to sink a significant 21,594 tons of Japanese shipping. At this point, this was the third time that Moore would be the commander of the vessel.

Men standing on the deck
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

And, when the ship was never seen on land again, Commander Moore was posthumously awarded his third Navy Cross. Grayback was also awarded her eighth battle star for her service during World War II.

An Attempt At Research And Investigation

After the Grayback had disappeared, it would be decades before the truth was eventually revealed as to what had happened to the submarine. Not only did the Navy lose the vessel, but most likely all of the 80 souls on board.

Ship taking fire
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

At first, the US Navy assumed that the submarine had been sunk around 100 miles southeast of the Japanese island of Okinawa. However, after several investigation attempts, it turned out that the information provided was based on data that had an error.

There Was A Single-Digit Error

The information that the Navy was using to try and pinpoint where the Grayback may have sunk came from Japanese war records. However, as it turns out, there was a single-digit in a map that had been transcribed that was wrong.

Map of the Pacific Ocean
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

This meant that where the Navy originally thought the submarine might have been was nowhere close to where it actually was. Knowing that investigators had been looking in the wrong place for years, they had a whole new set of problems.

A New Investigation In 2018

In 2018, researchers Tim Taylor started up the investigation once again to re-examine the disappearance of the submarine and see where the Navy went wrong in the first place.

Sunken boat
Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Luckily, this time, there was a key to the mystery that was discovered about the truth of what happened. Taylor then spearheaded the Lost 52 Project, a private investigation designed to find the various remains of the 52 submarines that went missing during the conflict of World War II.

A Japanese And United States Collaboration

Ironically, Taylor ended up teaming up with Yutaka Iwasaki, a Japanese researcher, to help decipher the files that were found on the Sasebo base.

GettyImages-549037525
Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images

The Japnese used this base during the Second World War that housed much of the Japanese Imperial Navy at times. This location was the site of daily radio contacts from both Naha and Okinawa and was also the location for Japanese naval air.

Figuring Out The Mistake

Iwasaki got to work immediately on the project, and before long, discovered the error that was in the transcription on the report that was collected on February 27, 1944, at Sasebo from Naha.

Men on the phone
Picture Post /Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Picture Post /Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Incredibly, the data that was collected was only a few days before Grayback had docked on the base. Furthermore, there was also a detailed report of an attack by a Nakajima B5N bomber collected from an aircraft carrier.

It Was The Bomber

On February 27, the Nakajima B5N Japanese bomber reported that they had released a 500-pound explosive on a submarine that had surfaced. The report detailed that the explosive was dropped to the rear of the conning tower, which caused an explosion that supposedly killed all on board and sank the submarine.

Japanese bombers
Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

In 2019, Iwasaki told the New York Times that “In that radio record, the longitude and latitude of the attack were outlined clearly.” He then admitted that previous investigations were over 100 miles off.

The Search Was On

With this new information revealed, Taylor was now confident that he would be able to find the wreckage site of Grayback.

Diver investigating submarine
IBRAHIM CHALHOUB/AFP via Getty Images
IBRAHIM CHALHOUB/AFP via Getty Images

So, during the spring of 2019, Taylor and his team set out to find the truth. Miraculously, it was a success, and the Lost 52 team managed to locate the once lost submarine’s hull that had remained on the ocean floor after so many years.

They Also Found The Bodies

Although it was exciting to finally find the lost submarine, the team came to the painful realization that they would most likely also discover the bodies.

Diver underwater
IBRAHIM CHALHOUB/AFP via Getty Images
IBRAHIM CHALHOUB/AFP via Getty Images

In an interview with the New York Times, Taylor explained, It was a great feeling but also sad as we found the 80 men.” This made the discovery not hard for the team, but also those who had lost loved ones aboard the Grayback.

Personal Stories

Gloria Hurney was one of the living individuals that was personally affected by the discovery of the Grayback, 75 years after it had gone missing. Her Uncle, Raymond Parks, was a member of the submarine as an electrician’s mate, first class.

Man underwater with submarine
Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images

In her past, Gloria recounts that she had read a book that claimed only God could tell you where the lost ships were, which left her without any closure. Luckily, the team’s findings proved different. Of course, she was not the only person that was impacted by the discovery.

More Discoveries To Come

While the discovery of the Grayback was an incredible find, it’s important to remember that this is just one out of the many ships that were lost during World War II. Plenty of these still haven’t been found with researchers still unsure where to look.

Submarine plaque
YouTube/Ocean Outreach
YouTube/Ocean Outreach

Not only are they a crucial part of history, but they are also the vessels that countless lives were lost on. We owe it to those who died on them to honor their memory.

A Crew Vanished Into Thin Air

On April 4th, 1943, a WWII bomber flew to Italy on her first and final mission. On their way back home, the crew reported aircraft damage and a blinding sandstorm. Then, without explanation, they vanished. The plane wouldn’t be found for over 15 years.

crash-site-of-Lady-Be-Good-36256
Reddit/u/Kilyan265
Reddit/u/Kilyan265

The story of the aircraft Lady Be Good has raised eyebrows for over 70 years. One reason is that a plane disappearing for so long is eerie, to say the least. Another reason is that, after people found the plane, they saw no signs of the pilots. You’ll want to know all about this jaw-dropping historical mystery.

How Lady Be Good Entered World War II

In 1943, the Allied forces turned their attention toward Italy. During that year, Italian citizens had rallied against the war and their dictator, Benito Mussolini. The American Army aimed to take advantage of this unrest, and by doing so, gradually regain the rest of Europe.

Missing-American-Bomber-of-WWII-Sad-story-of-the-Lady-Be-Good-2-8-screenshot-24625
YouTube/Wartime Wrecks
YouTube/Wartime Wrecks

Before the ground troupes could invade Italy, the Army sent pilots to destroy some of the nation’s strongholds. They gathered several squadrons of pilots for these missions. One of these was the USAAF B-24D Liberator named Lady Be Good.

Her Mission

According to the plan, Lady Be Good would fly out from the United States’ airforce base in Libya. She would soar over the Mediterranean to attack Naples on April 4th, 1943. Then, Lady Be Good and her crew would return to Libya for their next mission.

flying-B-175-43178
YouTube/Wartime Wrecks
YouTube/Wartime Wrecks

Of course, if this mission had played out smoothly, you wouldn’t be reading this article. Lady Be Good departed at the scheduled time and joined the squadron, but her journey would be plagued by bad weather and an inexperienced crew.

The Inexperienced Crew

Lady Be Good received a nine-person crew, the 376th Bomber Group. They included pilots William Hatton and Robert Toner; navigator D.P. Hays; artillery soldiers Guy Shelley, Vernon Moore, and Samuel Adams; radio operator Robert LaMotte; and flight engineer Harold Ripslinger. All of them were new, having just arrived in Libya that March.

crew-of-Lady-Be-Good-42700
U.S. Air Force photo
U.S. Air Force photo

Although the nine men were new to the squadron, they weren’t new to flying. They had substantial military training to pull off the feat. But it was the first combat mission for many members, including the head pilot, Lieutenant Hatton.

Falling Behind From The Start

On March 25th, Lady Be Good had been assigned to the 514th Bomber Squadron. She would fly with 24 other B-24s to attack Naples’ harbor. The mission was arranged in waves. Twelve planes left first, followed by the additional 13. Lady Be Good was the last plane in the second wave.

The-Story-of-the-Lady-Be-Good-by-Dick-Campbell-14-17-screenshot-52229
YouTube/Oshkosh Media
YouTube/Oshkosh Media

At 2:15 p.m., Lady Be Good left her base at Soluch Field. The crew was already behind the rest of the formation, but their luck would only drop when a sandstorm hit the squadron of B-24s.

And A Terrible Start It Was

During the trip, an intense sandstorm obscured everyone’s vision. In the second squadron, nine B-24s decided to return to Soluch. The sand had gotten into their propellers and made the mission dangerous. Because Lady Be Good’s propellers were still going strong, Lieutenant Hatton decided to continue forward.

exploring-the-plane-35561
YouTube/Wartime Wrecks
YouTube/Wartime Wrecks

But their flight was far from easy. Bombarded by harsh winds, Lady Be Good drifted farther away from the rest of the squadron. The crew located Naples through their automatic direction finder. It’s a miracle that they even made it there.

One Of The Few That Continued Flying

Lady Be Good reached Naples around 7:50 p.m. However, she was far away from the rest of the squadron, which had already begun the attack. Plus, the visibly didn’t clear over Naples. The crew couldn’t locate their primary or secondary targets.

Missing-American-Bomber-of-WWII-Sad-story-of-the-Lady-Be-Good-0-34-screenshot-97868
YouTube/Wartime Wrecks
YouTube/Wartime Wrecks

Meanwhile, the rest of the B-24s didn’t have an easier time. All reported limited visibility. However, the mission went moderately well; two bombers attacked their secondary targets on the return trip, dumping the rest of their explosives in the Mediterranean sea. But Lady Be Good wasn’t one of those planes.

Before They Even Fought, They Turned Back

Although some of the B-24s carried out their mission in Naples, Lady Be Good never did. With their limited vision, the crew decided to return to Soluch. As the rest of the planes ambushed Naples, the crew of Lady Be Good turned around to begin their solitary journey.

The-Story-of-the-Lady-Be-Good-by-Dick-Campbell-13-54-screenshot-31747
YouTube/Oshkosh Media
YouTube/Oshkosh Media

Although the lonely flight sounds daunting, the pilots were equipped to handle it. Like other B-24s, they dumped their bombs into the sea to lighten the plane’s weight and reserve fuel. They would fly for five hours with no trouble until the pilot Lieutenant Hatton radioed in.

Calling For Help

At 12:12 a.m., pilot Hatton sent a radio message to the base. “My ADF has malfunctioned,” he sent. “Please give me a QDM.” To translate, Hatton said that the plane’s automatic direction finder had broken. He requested the base’s coordinates to return home.

B-24-Liberator-Lady-Be-Good-4-0-screenshot-24876
YouTube/Randy Skinner
YouTube/Randy Skinner

Soldiers at the Soluch base sent the crew their coordinates. But for an unknown reason, Lt. Hatton never received their response. People have suggested that a German soldier interfered with their radio signal, but this has never been confirmed.

So Close To Home…

At the base, soldiers heard the distant droning of a B-24. Assuming that it was Lady Be Good, they sent up flares so that the crew could see them. Reportedly, at least one soldier heard an engine sound pass overhead. But Lady Be Good never landed there.

Lady-Be-Good-1-55-screenshot-64657
YouTube/Nassault
YouTube/Nassault

The crew had overshot the base. Because of the cloud coverage, they did not see the flares that the base fired. After passing over Soluch, Lady Be Good and her crew would continue to fly in a random direction for over two hours.

The Crash, And Then…Nothing

Soldiers at Soluch never heard from Lady Be Good after that. When the weather cleared, a search rescue team dispatched to find the plane. They found nothing. With no clues or visible traces, the soldiers at Soluch assumed that she had crashed into the Mediterranean Sea.

close-up-Lady-Be-Good-86617
Twitter/@WWIIpix
Twitter/@WWIIpix

Lady Be Good wasn’t the only plane to disappear during World War II. However, she was one of the few aircraft to eventually be found. Thirteen years after the end of World War II, Lady Be Good would accidentally be discovered, and this would only heighten the mystery.

An Accidental Discovery

In 1958, oil explorers scavenged the deserts of Libya. The D’Arcy Oil Company–later renamed to British Petroleum–was one of the businesses involved. On November 9th, an oil exploration team flew over the northeastern Kufra Distract.

flying-over-the-crash-sideways-76911
Twitter/@DeividNagan
Twitter/@DeividNagan

During their flight, the crew noticed a crashed plane in the desert. They shared their findings with Wheelus Air Base. However, the authorities didn’t react. They had no records of a lost plane and therefore had no reason to pursue a supposed wreck. Still, the oil team marked the plane’s location on their map.

Approaching Lady Be Good

Although Lady Be Good had been found, she wouldn’t be investigated until the next year. In that year, two other pilots had spotted the crash–the crew of a Silver City Airways Dakota and another anonymous pilot. When British oil surveyors and geologists spotted Lady Be Good on February 27th, 1959, Wheelus Air Base finally took action.

The-Story-of-the-Lady-Be-Good-by-Dick-Campbell-3-6-screenshot-91224
YouTube/Oshkosh Media
YouTube/Oshkosh Media

On March 26th, 1959, a recovery team reached the remains of Lady Be Good. She had landed 440 miles (710 km) southeast of Soluch. No one expected to find what Lady Be Good contained.

Like The Crew Had Suddenly Vanished

Although Lady Be Good had split in two, she was remarkably intact. Despite the crew’s lack of contact during the night they disappeared, the radio still worked. The 50-caliber guns were still functioning and fully loaded. But other details suggested that the crew had vanished into thin air.

in-the-Libyan-desert-72983
Reddit/u/KapitanKurt
Reddit/u/KapitanKurt

To start, no bodies were in the cabin. There was still some food and water that, for some reason, the crew didn’t bring with them. Even a thermos filled with tea was still drinkable. If the soldiers weren’t there, and they hadn’t taken supplies with them, where did they go?

The Mystery Continues

The crash site raised more questions than answers. If the crew members weren’t in the Lady Be Good, where could they be? Why didn’t they take any supplies with them? And if the radio was still working, why didn’t they contact the Soluch base?

B-24-Lady-Be-Good-Lost-bomber-of-World-War-II-2-56-screenshot-49866
YouTube/Randy Skinner
YouTube/Randy Skinner

The search lasted from May to the end of August in 1959. During this time, the American Army conducted both ground and air investigations. They searched for so long that their equipment began to deteriorate from the sand and wind. But beyond locating some boots and parachutes, they found no trace of the Lady Be Good crew.

Launching The Second Search

During the initial search, a D’Arcy Oil Company surveyor, Gordon Bowerman, accompanied the rescuers from Wheelus Air Base. After he explored the plane, he sent the details in a letter to Lieutenant Colonel Walter B. Kolbus. Neither man had an answer for what had occurred.

B-24D-crash-26817
Twitter/@WWIIpix
Twitter/@WWIIpix

With Kolbus’s help, Wheelus Air Force Base launched another investigation with the Army Quartermaster Mortuary from Frankfurt, Germany. But by the beginning of 1960, the Quartermaster Mortuary crew left the search. The remaining search party stayed behind, hunting for answers.

Finding Five Of The Crew Members

In February 1960–two years after Lady Be Good was found–rescuers uncovered the crew. The five men were found on February 11th, buried beneath Saharan dunes. They were identified as Lt. Hatton, Lt. Hays, Lt. Toner, Sgt. La Motte, and Sgt. Adams. After this discovery, the Army Quartermaster Mortuary returned to aid the workers.

covering-a-skeleton.jpg-42567
YouTube/Randy Skinner
YouTube/Randy Skinner

Several items accompanied the men. These included flashlights, pieces of parachutes, flight jackets, and one canteen. But the most noteworthy was a diary kept by Lieutenant Robert Toner, Lady Be Good‘s co-pilot.

Operation Climax

With the first five men discovered, the U.S. Army joined the investigation. They named the final stretch “Operation Climax” and set out to uncover the other four crew members. The mission stretched from February through May.

The-Story-of-the-Lady-Be-Good-by-Dick-Campbell-6-10-screenshot-52632
YouTube/Oshkosh Media
YouTube/Oshkosh Media

Soon, they located Sgt. Shelley, 21 miles northeast of the other five men. Sgt. Ripslinger was found 26 miles north of Sgt. Shelley. How did they end up so far apart from each other? And why were two men separated from the rest? With fewer answers than before, Operation Climax ended.

The Final Find, And Connecting The Pieces

Although the American Army left after Operation Climax, the D’Arcy Oil Company continued the search. In August, they finally discovered Lt. Woravka, the crew’s Bombardier. To this day, though, there is one man still missing. That is Starr Sergeant Moore, one of Lady Be Good‘s gunners and radio operators.

Toners-diary.jpg-38858
YouTube/Oshkosh Media
YouTube/Oshkosh Media

With most of the crew found, rescuers began collecting the data. They examined the information from Lt. Toner’s diary. From there, they came up with a theory for what happened to the Lady Be Good crew.

What Likely Happened

Although we can never know for sure what happened to Lady Be Good‘s crew, experts have pieced together an answer from the remains. A notepad from bombardier Woravka indicated some of the crew’s conversation: “What’s going to happen? Are we going home?”

Toners-diary-86005
YouTube/Oshkosh Media
YouTube/Oshkosh Media

As Lady Be Good ran out of fuel, the crew had no choice but to abandon the plane. They had likely expected to parachute into the Mediterranean Sea. Instead, they landed in the Calanshino Sand Sea, an area of endless sand dunes in the middle of the Sahara desert.

Why They Abandoned All Their Supplies

Meanwhile, Lady Be Good flew an extra 16 miles (26 km) south before it crashed. That explains how the crew left their supplies in the aircraft. Believing that they were close to civilization, they likely planned to find help instead of sticking with the plane.

another-angle-of-Lady-Be-Good.jpg-20521
Flickr/@Insomnia Cured Here
Flickr/@Insomnia Cured Here

The crew had no idea that they were within walking distance of their plane, which contained all of their water, rations, shade, and a working radio. Had they run into Lady Be Good, they might have survived and been rescued. Unfortunately, they traveled in the opposite direction.

Regrouping With One Less Person

After the crew parachuted to safety, they located each other by firing flares and revolvers. Eight of the nine crew members reunited this way. The final member, Lt. Woravka, struggled with his parachute and died in the fall. But his fellow soldiers didn’t know that.

B-24-Liberator-Lady-Be-Good-2-51-screenshot-16929
YouTube/Randy Skinner
YouTube/Randy Skinner

The rest of the story was pieced together through Toner’s diary. According to him, the crew assumed that they were close to the Mediterranean coast, but they were actually 400 miles (640 km) inland. Experts suggest that, from the plane, the desert floor looked like the sea at night.

In The Desert With One Canteen Of Water

According to Toner’s diary, the remaining crew chose to head northwest. They set out through the Sahara Desert with a few rations and only one canteen of water to share. They each drank one capful per day.

crewmans-shoes-21916
Twitter/@MokraniHasna
Twitter/@MokraniHasna

As the group walked, they left behind some items such as flight vests, pieces of parachutes, and shoes. Experts believe that they left those as markers so they could return to their crash site. Toner wrote that they walked at night and rested during the day.

Their Miserable Journey

By Wednesday, April 7th, Toner wrote that his crew was having a hard time. “Can’t sleep,” he jotted in his brief entries. “Everyone sore from ground.” Three days of little water and food were beginning to weigh on the crew, but it was about to get worse.

finding-a-harness.jpg-93931
YouTube/Randy Skinner
YouTube/Randy Skinner

The next day, sandstorms hindered their eyesight. “La Motte eyes are gone,” Toner wrote, likely indicating that he had gone blind from the sand. “Everyone else’s eyes are bad.” Despite the storms, they continued to travel northwest.

The Group Separates

After four days, the crew had walked 81 miles (130 km) from their original crash site. Five men felt too exhausted to continue. Against all odds, three of the crew–Shelly, Ripslinger, and Moore–moved forward to find help.

five-crew-members.jpg-81031
YouTube/Randy Skinner
YouTube/Randy Skinner

Toner stayed behind, and he recorded their final days in his diary. For four nights, he wrote that all men were praying for help. “Nites very cold,” he recorded. “No sleep.” We have no lasting accounts of what happened to the three to continued to search for someone–anyone–to help them.

Their Final Days

Toner’s final entry on Monday, April 12th, read in thick pencil lines: “No help yet, very cold nite.” That was the last account of the group before all five perished in the desert. Sadly, they had no idea that they had walked the opposite direction from Lady Be Good.

B-24-Liberator-Lady-Be-Good-3-49-screenshot-80012
YouTube/Randy Skinner
YouTube/Randy Skinner

Shelley was found 20 miles (32 km) away from the rest, while Ripslinger managed to walk 27 miles (43) farther. Moore has never been found. In total, they survived eight days in the Saharan desert.

Honoring The Fallen Soldiers

When the remains of the eight men were found, soldiers covered them in American flags. The search team gave them a proper military sendoff in the middle of the Saharan desert. Then, they sent the crew’s bodies to their families in the United States and buried.

saluting-the-fallen-18911
YouTube/Randy Skinner
YouTube/Randy Skinner

Today, the Wheelus Airbase displays a memorial to the crew of Lady Be Good. The stained-glass memorial stands in the base’s chapel. Lady Be Good’s propeller also stands as a memorial in Lake Linden, Michigan.

But What Happened To The Plane?

During its 17 years in the desert, Lady Be Good fell victim to souvenir scavengers. As a result, pieces of the B-24D have popped up in several locations. Other parts are held by the March Field Air Museum in California.

Missing-American-Bomber-of-WWII-Sad-story-of-the-Lady-Be-Good-5-57-screenshot-23452
YouTube/Wartime Wrecks
YouTube/Wartime Wrecks

But the bulk of the plane is stored at Jamal Abdelnasser Air Force Base in Libya. Some of the parts were sent to the United States Army after Lady Be Good was identified. After they were evaluated, the parts were reused for future aircraft.

A Seventeen-Year-Old Mystery, Finally Solved

The discovery of the soldiers became a media sensation. In particular, the release of Toner’s diary disturbed, saddened, and captivated people at the same time. The entire nation mourned for both the fallen soldiers and their families.

Lady-Be-Good-8-58-screenshot-26830
YouTube/Nassault
YouTube/Nassault

Despite the evidence, there were always skeptics who didn’t buy the story. They argued that the crew had actually been sold as Bedouin slaves. Since they never presented evidence for this theory, these skeptics remained few and far in between. Most people acknowledge the story of Lady Be Good through the photo evidence and Toner’s diary.

How Their Story Influenced The World

Over the years, the sudden disappearance of Lady Be Good and the heart-wrenching struggle of the passengers has piqued peoples’ imaginations. The crew’s story inspired many fictional stories.

book-about-lady-be-good.jpg-41504
Flickr/@readthebook2
Flickr/@readthebook2

In 1964, Elleston Trevor wrote The Flight of the Phoenix which displays many similarities to Lady Be Good. The novel was turned into a 1965 film and a 2004 film. During the episode of The Twilight Zone called “King Nine Will Not Return,” a grave marker in the desert says “5 April 1943.” This is the date when Lady Be Good was lost.