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Anniversary of the Lady Be Good’s demise and her heroic crew

5 April 2012

Anniversary of the Lady Be Good’s demise and her heroic crew

The Lady Be Good’s final landing in the Libyan desert terrain — U.S. Air Force photo

The Consolidated B-24D Liberator known as “Lady Be Good” was lost in the night upon returning to base during a bombing mission over Naples Italy on this date in April 1943. The crew of nine bailed out of the aircraft and likely in good, short order since they landed near each other and eight were able to quickly rendezvous — one perished due to a failed parachute. The Lady Be Good flew on into the night gradually losing altitude until making an unpiloted crash landing in the remote Libyan desert terrain.

The Lady Be Good and most of her crew outlived expectations before succumbing to the desert. The aircraft flew on for another 13 miles (20.8km) and landed, nearly intact after a 2100 foot (~640m) slide with the fuselage breaking in two just forward of the waist gun positions and the number four engine shearing, to hurtle several more yards away — its propeller showing damage as if it were turning when meeting the Libyan sands. The other three engines were found to have their propellers in the feathered position.

Conventional western wisdom of the day anticipated the surviving eight to not last two days without water, but these eight shared a trait with their aircraft — they too would outlive expectations before surrendering to the hostile environment of one of the hottest places on Earth. The octet walked scores of miles before three continued on, after 78 miles (124.8km) while five remained together to eventually perish as a group. Two of the three traveled another score or more miles, one further than the other for a total of 109 miles (174.4km) — each passing away alone. The ninth has not been positively found though there is a prospect which is near the last two, not near the group of five. These eight had a plan, they left blazes marking their route but the search for them was in the wrong direction — attributed to a tragic event of war.

These men were not found until well after the end of WW II but they had much to give. Survival training was enhanced as was survival gear now that it was known that uninjured people could survive more than a week without water. You see, the eight who parachuted successfully lasted eight days without more than a canteen of water in the extreme heat.

Nose and cockpit section of the Lady Be Good — U.S. Air Force photo

The crew of the Lady Be Good: 1Lt. W.J. Hatton, pilot; 2Lt. R.F. Toner, copilot; 2Lt. D.P. Hays, navigator; 2Lt. J.S. Woravka, bombardier; TSgt. H.J. Ripslinger, engineer; TSgt. R.E. LaMotte, radio operator; SSgt. G.E. Shelly, gunner; SSgt. V.L. Moore, gunner; and SSgt. S.E. Adams, gunner — U.S. Air Force photo

Note the feathered propellers of the numbers 1, 2, and 3 engines — U.S. Air Force photo

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Where is the Lady Be Good now?

  • Dr. Fadel Ali Mohamed (Controller of Antiquities, Cyrene), collected what survived of the Lady Be Good in August 1994 and conserved it at a military base in Tobruk, and our thanks to him. He would have collected the wings, tail and fuselage I would think.
  • An engine and propeller are on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, along with other artifacts
  • A propeller is displayed on the former Wheelus Air Base, now Mitiga International Airport, near the coast in Tripoli, Libya
  • Another propeller is exhibited in front of the City Hall of Lake Linden, Michigan — the home town of Lady Be Good crew member Robert LaMotte


Propeller, likely from the number 4 engine, of the Lady Be Good with one of her engines in the background — photo by Joseph May

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. 7 April 2012 00:56

    Very interesting. Thanks

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      7 April 2012 07:50

      You are welcome Deano. A hard story to read, isn’t it? Joe

      • 7 April 2012 11:54

        Sure is. I have seen that propellor but did not realise the full back story to it

  2. Larry Warren permalink
    9 July 2013 20:23

    I Like your tribute to the crew of the “Lady” and to the Lady be good herself. If you don’t mind I would like to make a couple of corrections to your story. First, the Propeller that is in front of City Hall in Lake Linden, Michigan IS the same propeller that was at Wheelus Air Force Base. It was removed from Wheelus when the Air Force left the base. Secondly, the propeller at the Air Force Museun in Dayton, Ohio is NOT the #4 Prop. The #4 Propeller was given to the British oil team that found the “Lady”. The propeller at the museum is made up of blades from the other three propellers. What happened is that when William Rubertus, the pilot of the C-47 that flew in the recovery team to the site, decided to recover the propellers to do a memorial to the men, he took the propellers apart and took the now nine blades back to Wheelus. At Wheelus he pick out the three blades he wanted for the memorial and sent the other six on to the museum. The museum picked three for their display and sent the last three blades to the Air Force Acedemy in Colorado. So the propellers in Michigan, Colorado and Ohio are made up from all three of the original propellers that was on Lady be good.

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      11 July 2013 07:29

      I’ll have to get onto this and a post rewrite looks to be in order. I will get to that work within a week and thanks for the detailed information as well as explanation — it better captures the history that is behind the artifacts we see. I’m especially glad to read about the propeller which had been at Wheelus AFB. Perhaps the remaining portion of the Lady Be Good may also find their way to a museum here someday?

  3. 5 April 2017 10:47

    i saw the tv program in the late 50’s early 60’s about the “Lady be Good” as a child. I have read the book many times. I gave book reports in school and learned a great respect for these men. Years went by and in the late 70s I started each 4 Apr drinking a toast to these men. I have done so each year on the 4th since.

    • Larry Warren permalink
      7 April 2017 23:55

      Steve , I also honor the men of the Lady on the 4th of April, but I also have a moment of silence on the 5th for the death of Woravka, on the 9th for the death of Hatton, on the 10th for the death of Hays, on the 12th for the deaths of Toner & Ripslinger, on the 13th for the deaths of Shelley, Moore, & LaMotte, and finally for Adams on the 14th, the last member of the crew to die. They were great men to have been able to live as long as they did under those conditions.

  4. Richard L Brown permalink
    30 September 2017 20:25

    My father was stationed at Wheelus AB in Tripoli, Libya and we, his family, arrived there in October of 1959. I remember the early reports of finding the Lady Be Good, Mom saved some clippings from base newspaper, for years, but I was unable to find them when I had to deal with her estate. I remember being let out of school the day they placed the propeller as a monument at the flagpole in front of 7272nd ABW, then under the command of Col Stebbins W. Griffith. Later,they installed the famous stained glass window behind the choir loft at the base main chapel. I was baptized under that window. In 2015, I was visiting an old friend in Ohio, who suggested we go to the AF Museum in Dayton. I was so filled with emotion and memories when I caught sight of that window displayed there.

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