T42D: Lady Be Good

When I worked in Post Office Telephones from 1966 to 1974, the Christians in Telephone House in Southampton formed a branch of the Post Office Christian Association. We regularly held ‘open’ meetings when colleagues were invited to come at lunchtime to hear a guest speaker or watch a ‘Fact and Faith’ film.

One film in particular sticks in my memory and that was of the ‘Lady Be Good’. This film was about a USA Air Force B-24D Liberator that disappeared without a trace on its first combat mission during World War II.

On the afternoon of April 4, 1943, the B-24 bomber ‘Lady Be Good’ took off from Soluch Airstrip in Libya, along with 24 other planes, on a mission to bomb the port at Naples, Italy.

The estimated time for the mission was nine hours round trip, and the planes had enough fuel for twelve hours of flight time. Due to strong winds and sandstorms, the planes were forced to take off in small groups.

The ‘Lady Be Good’ was one of the last to leave, in a group with two other planes. Unfortunately, these two planes got sand in their engines while taking off and had to turn back, leaving the ‘Lady Be Good’ alone and well behind the other planes.

The crew had to make constant course corrections along the route, due to strong winds, and fell even further behind the other planes. The planes could not communicate with each other by radio, for fear of attracting Nazi fighter planes.

By the time the ‘Lady Be Good’ reached the vicinity of the target, the other planes had already dropped their bombs and were on their way back home. Rather than drop its bombs alone, the ‘Lady Be Good’ headed for home ditching its bombs into the sea along the way.

On its way back, the aircraft sent a coded message asking for a directional bearing to Soluch, and was sent one, but after that the plane was not heard from again.

An extensive sea search and limited land search were undertaken, but the plane and its crew of nine could not be found. It had been assumed the aircraft had probably crashed at sea, a subsequent search and rescue mission from the Air Base failing to find any trace of the aircraft or its crew.

The disappearance of the Lady Be Good became a mystery.

However, the wreck was accidentally discovered 440 miles inland in the Libyan Desert by an oil exploration team from British Petroleum on November 9, 1958.

The mostly intact wreckage was discovered and evidence showed that one engine was still operating at the time of impact, suggesting the aircraft gradually lost altitude in a very shallow descent, reached the flat, open desert floor, and landed on its belly.

Although the plane was broken into two pieces, it was immaculately preserved, with functioning machine guns, a working radio, and some supplies of food and water. A thermos of tea was also found to be drinkable.

No human remains were found on board the aircraft nor in the surrounding crash site, neither were any parachutes found. Later when some of the bodies were eventually found, the investigating team found a diary. The entries in the diary for April 5 through 12, 1943, told a story of true courage and heroism.

According to the diary, the crew bailed out of the aircraft at 2 AM on April 5. Eight of the crew members assembled in the darkness after reaching the ground, locating each other by firing their revolvers and signal flares into the air; but there was no sign of the ninth crewman who did not rendezvous with the others. The configuration of the parachute found with his body suggested that it did not fully open and that he died as a result of an overly rapid descent, which was probably fortunate in the light of the fate of his comrades.

The eight men, with only half a canteen of water to share between them, continued walking, despite temperatures that would have reached up to 130 degrees F [54 C].

At that point of discovery, five of the crewmen could not continue due to exhaustion and remained behind. The investigating team concluded that the other bodies were likely buried beneath sand dunes after finding evidence that at least three of the surviving crew members had continued walking northward. Two of the remaining three were eventually found.

Incredibly, the first remains of a crewman was found an additional 26 miles north of the second crewman. He was found in an area dotted with sand dunes up to 600 feet high, and at an amazing distance of 132 miles from the original crash site. The remains of the ninth airman, an air gunner, has never been found.

This tragic event could have been so different if the navigator had trusted the plane’s instruments. The rookie crew failed to realise they had overflown their air base, failing to see the flares fired to attract their attention. But they kept going, which ultimately led to their death.

The crew might have survived if they had known their actual location and had tried to find their abandoned plane, which had survival provisions and a working radio. Or if they had headed south the same distance they walked north, the group might have reached a known oasis.

I have never forgotten the spiritual lessons from this tragedy. The navigator failed to see the flares because he didn’t believe his instruments, thinking they could not be approaching their destination.

We read in Proverbs chapter 16 and verse 25 ‘There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death’.

We each have a moral compass that points towards God but many ignore at their peril, if they think like Frank Sinatra’s song, “I’ll do it my way”!

So the Thought for Today is also a verse found in the Book of Proverbs where it says ‘Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take’. [Proverbs 3 verses 5–6]

Rodders

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