Facts & Fiction
The Cockpit Dispute

The cockpit of the Lady Be Good as it looked in 1961. A magazine caption of the day said "Cockpit today had broken glass from the crash and scratches from desert sand, but no rust. Missing instruments from the panel have been removed by Air Force technicians for thorough study."
In actuality, they had been stripped for souvenirs.
After the Lady Be Good turned west towards Naples, close to the heel of Italy—around the time she was near Naples—Lt. John Woravka, the bombardier, wrote three questions in a note pad and showed them to Dp Hays.

The two crew members occupied the nose position in the ship, while above them were the pilots in the cockpit.

The questions may not have been written at the same time, but are consecutive and read:


1. "What's he beeching (bitching) about?"
2. "What's going to happen?"
3. "Are we going home?"

Woravka was probably referring to something happening there in the cockpit and he did not want to speak on the intercom.

These questions were probably written at high altitude when the crew were on oxygen. Hays' replies are unknown. Woravka returned the note-pad to the left chest pocket of his shirt, where it was found with his remains in 1960.

The first two questions were probably written before 8.52 p.m.; the last clearly implies that the ship was about to make or had already made its turn for home recorded at 8.52 p.m.

The questions in Woravka's notepad went inexplicably unnoticed for years after his remains were found in August, 1960.



Blame it on the navigator?

From the outset, blame for the loss of the Lady Be Good has been aimed at Lt. Dp Hays.

It has been said that his Log was poorly filled out. This is only partly true—it was only incomplete after 8.52 p.m.

It has been said he was inexperienced. This is true.

It has been said that some of his instruments were unopened and never used. This is also true.

It has been said that the locations he noted in his ship flying up the Ionian Sea are wrong.

It is, however, most likely that the Lady Be Good was over the Ionian Sea. If Hays had been so at odds with events, why did the Lady Be Good fly over or very near Benghazi and Soluch around midnight?

This ill-considered criticism of Hays implies that he was incompetent, that he had no idea where his ship was and that he had no sense of direction. This certainly was not the case.

Hays and crew knew that they were off course to the east, that 360 degrees was towards the north, that 140 degrees was towards the south, and that the latter led back to Soluch.

Evidence of this is that at 8.52 p.m., Hays wrote in his log: "Depart. 140 degrees."

Hays, like any navigator on his first mission, may have had his faults, but he was not a fool.

(The log with Hays' position reports is on view at the Lady Be Good museum in Dayton, Ohio.)

Failure to Acknowledge

Crete, in the Mediterranean, lies 350 miles from Benghazi. The island had been occupied by the Germans in 1943, and German Junkers 88 heavy fighters based in Crete often lurked the night skies to pick off shot-up Liberators returning to the Benghazi area after missions.

(It should be noted that in addition to the Benina and Soluch Radio Stations, there was another radio station in Benghazi).

Over the years it had been alleged—and no one has ever denied it—that at around midnight, April 4-5, 1943, Benghazi Radio heard a voice call from the pilot of the Lady Be Good requesting a position report.

It has been repeatedly reported that Lt. William Hatton said "My ADF has malfunctioned. Please give me a QDM." (In plain English, Hatton was saying that his 'direction finder' was not working, and he was asking for a position report.)

His call was not responded to, the belief being—it has been suggested—that the plane calling might have been a Junkers 88.

It is claimed that this led to heated words between two US officers in the Benghazi Radio Station Tower.

A British officer was also said to be present.

There can be doubt whatsoever that the plane requesting a position report was a Liberator and that it was the Lady Be Good, and here's why:

It could not have been a German plane because the sound of their engines were sharply different from those of Liberators. Flares would never have gone up from Soluch otherwise.


And the two other Liberators from 'Mission 109' that had not returned to Soluch had long since landed in Malta.

Failure to acknowledge this call was probably the reason the Lady Be Good flew on and disappeared.




Mystery Projectile

Years after her discovery, the left inboard engine of the Lady Be Good was in the hands of the McDonnell-Douglas Corporation. Tests were made on the engine. In the 1970s, a small, half-inch fragment of a 20mm projectile was found lodged inside the thin metal rocker-box cover atop the engine's number one cylinder.

The discovery of a cannon projectile was curious, as the bullet fragment could only have found its way into the ship's engine as a result of attack by an enemy fighter plane. This was the obvious conclusion to be drawn. Yet, there is absolutely no evidence to support the belief that the Lady Be Good was attacked during her mission other than the projectile fragment, as there is not a whisper of any such attack on the Lady Be Good at any stage during 'Mission 109', either in the diaries of Ripslinger or Toner or for that matter, in any other diary or official document connected with 'Mission 109'.

Nor, when found and examined, was there a hint that any other projectile had either hit or lodged in any part of the Lady Be Good's body. The answer to the puzzle of the "Mystery Projectile" may never be known.


"Lady's Men" Causes Odd Reactions
— by Mario Martinez —

Lady's Men, my book about the incident, was published in 1995. It differs sharply from other accounts on vital points and for this reason has apparently not been welcomed by some.

After eight years the book has three publishers—two in Britain and one in America. Thousands of copies have been purchased in both countries and some beyond, and copies are even available at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

Despite this, the book is rarely—if ever— referred to in any TV documentary about the Lady Be Good. (However, in an ironic twist, details that could only have come from "Lady's Men" are referred to).

And curiously, never once have the book's central contentions or any of its conclusions been challenged by anyone.

While on the subject of TV documentaries, it must be said that as a former documentary film maker and the author of Lady's Men', I feel more than well equipped to judge the intended aims of a TV documentary by simply reading its shooting script.

On two occasions of late, TV documentary makers working on Lady Be Good projects—one in Britain and one in America—have telephoned and asked me to appear in their productions as an interviewee.

Their likely intention was to film me in isolation, ask well-chosen questions, then edit my replies to fit their predetermined questions.

On each occasion I have asked the caller to first provide me with a copy of the production's shooting script. On one occasion I was told that the shooting script would be sent; on another the caller was non-committal. And in neither occasions did I hear from the caller again.

And when the programs eventually appeared, the old story continued to be told without mention of Lady's Men. The callers in question were from the 'Ray Mears Extreme Survival' program on the BBC and a US production company working on a project for the History Channel called 'Ghost Plane Of The Desert: Lady Be Good'.

GHOST PLANE OF THE DESERT:

Leaving aside the claims about the Liberator's location at 7.45pm April 4th, 1943 and why she overflew Soluch, I'd like to comment on just a few of the claims made in this documentary via its narration or historians.

1. Claim: That the unnamed Lady Be Good arrived in Soluch, Libya on March 23rd.

She actually arrived on March 25th.

2. Claim: That Lt. Robert F. Toner, Lady Be Good's co-pilot was originally turned down as an US Air Force flying cadet because of poor vision.

It's true Toner was rejected by the Air Force, but this took place before America entered the war and it was not due to poor vision but most likely due to average school grades. But he was accepted by the Royal Canadian Air Force and learned to fly with them, accumulating more than 200 flying hours. Once America entered the war Toner successfully reapplied for the US Air Force, but he was made to learn to fly all over again. As a result he was a highly rated pilot with many more flying hours than William Hatton when both men completed their cadet training. Toner had at least 200 more flying hours than Hatton, and the latter was pleased to have Toner—a far more experienced flyer then himself—as his co-pilot.

In fact Hatton could not understand why Toner was made pilot over him. The answer lay in their educational backgrounds. Hatton was a Jesuit educated graduate of Fordham University and Toner could not match this. The claim that Toner was rejected by the Air Force due to poor vision is suspect. Poor vision does not correct itself from one year to another and Toner did not wear eye glasses nor did any American pilot in World War II. In 1943 all American flight personnel had to have 20/20 vision. The only slight relaxation of the rules (May 1943) was for 'first' Radio Operators who seldom left their radios. Their vision had to be at least 20/40 corrected by glasses to 20/20. Robert Toner was not a great scholar but he was a wonderful flyer and there is not the slightest chance that a person with poor vision would ever had been put in command of a bomber in World War II either as pilot or co-pilot.

3. Claim: That Geologists working for British Petroleum while on an aerial reconnaissance over the Libyan desert spotted the Lady Be Good on the 17th of April 1958.

In fact the sighting took place on the 16 of May, 1958. The documentary fails to mention another aerial sighting of Lady Be Good the following month on the 15th of June by BP personnel, and the fact that 14 months elapsed from the first sighting of the Liberator until the American military took the sightings—both of which were reported—seriously and action was taken.

4. Claim: That the British made aerial searches off the coastal waters of Libya for Lady Be Good on April 5 after she failed to return to base the night before. Also, that 2nd Lt. William McCain, who flew Mission 109, took it upon himself, without going through the chain of command, to make—totally on his own—the one and only aerial ground search south of Soluch and into the desert looking for Lady Be Good. In addition, the documentary makes no mention of a plane being heard nearby or overhead in the Benghazi/Soluch area.

These claims and omission are sharply in conflict with the recollections of two men who were there. In a letter to me from William McCain dated August 30th 1985, he says:

"Later, back at base after we had all returned, (from Mission 109) we heard a plane passing nearby and fired flares to attract its attention. We believe that it was LBG. I also recall a search mission but cannot be sure until I look at my records."

These words are hardly those of a former young, 2nd Lt. who took it upon himself to search for Lady Be Good without asking permission from a superior. Mr. McCain's succinct, two page hand-written letter did not leave me with the impression of a man detached from his memory.

Also, in a letter dated September 24,1985, from Dr. Dean Christie, who also flew mission 109, he says:

"Lady Be Good disappeared on her way back but we heard her radio and tried to contact her." (Christie was flying in his own Liberator at the time returning to Soluch.) "She was apparently lost and was seeking a heading. Afterwards it was determined that she flew right over Soluch and headed south. We flew grid patterns for 2-3 days and did go into Africa about 380 miles. Had we gone just a little further we may have spotted her. We also flew water grids and did not spot debris."

The documentary says nothing about a plane heard over Soluch, nothing about flares going up, and neither McCain or Christie say a thing in their letters about the British conducting a search—though the search may well have taken place.

On the question of a plane being heard overhead I quote from page 237 of "The Liberandos,"* a 1994 historical publication of the 376th Heavy Bombardment Group Veteran's Association, Inc.:

"On hand on the flight line as the crews returned from Naples were several ground personnel who fifty years after the event recalled hearing a B-24 passing near Soluch after the last section B plane landed."

5. Claim: That, at 12.12am, April 5th, 1943, while returning to Soluch and near Benghazi, the Benina Direction Finder Radio Station received a coded message from Lady Be Good asking for an inbound bearing to Soluch; that Benina responded with the bearing and that Lady Be Good made no further calls and was not heard from again.

The fact is that Lady Be Good made at least two further calls that night. The first was before 11.30pm. This was the call heard and responded to by Dr. Christie's Liberator while over the Mediterranean not far from the Libyan coast. The call was before 11.30 because Christie's ship landed in Soluch at about that time. The other call—this one a voice call—at around midnight—is the call heard in the Benghazi Radio Tower; the call not responded to; the call in which Lt. Hatton asks for a position report—a QDM. It is most likely that, for whatever the reason, Lady Be Good never received Benina's response. It would never have continued to fly straight on, deep into the desert for an additional 2 hours otherwise.

From all this readers may draw their own conclusions.

*The Liberandos offers an interesting view of the 376th BG's proud and illustrious history—indeed, they were the most decorated bomb group in World War II. They were part of the striking force that took part in the famous mission to Ploesti, Romania, Sunday, August 1st, 1943.





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