Portions of a B-17 bomber discovered by Italian scuba divers two years ago in Lake Bolsena in central Italy have been retrieved and identified thanks to a young American’s love for ‘Lois Ileen.’ The name, presumed to be ‘Lois Eileen’ originally and hand-painted on the downed bomber’s turret, led researchers in America to unearth the plane’s history and locate family members of its crew. The one-meter-diameter rotating turret had been occupied by gunner Sgt. Ralph Truesdale. Lois Eileen was his wife.
Establishing the type of plane—a four-engine B-17F ‘Flying Fortress’ bomber—and piecing together its story would not have been possible without Lois. This bit of graffiti data was sufficient to lead researchers at the USA Aeronautical Archives to identify the crew and subsequently contact other family members, such as the son of flight engineer Bernard Scalisi (pictured). Details of the plane, its mission, and the fate of its crew then emerged.
B-17 USAF serial no. 41-24364 left the Amendola Airfield (part of the Foggia airfield complex) on January 15, 1944, along with 37 other B-17s on a mission to Certaldo. Near Perugia, two of the plane’s engines were damaged by German flak fire. The bomber broke away from the group and, losing altitude, attempted a return to the Foggia base. On the shore of Lake Trasimeno, six bombs were released to lighten the plane’s load. Near Radicofani, the 10 crew members parachuted. Five were captured by Germans.
The crew did not see the plane crash, and could not know that it would settle at the bottom of Lake Bolsena that early afternoon of January 15, ’44 until its discovery almost 70 years later. Bringing up the wreckage piece, once located at a depth of 75 meters in Lake Bolsena, entailed a delicate and complicated recovery process, including the construction of a cradle-like structure made of tubes and a tractor tire. After being studied and treated for conservation purposes, the turret will be exhibited in the WWII section of the Museum of Bolsena.