‘Lois Eileen’: History Surfaces at Lake Bolsena

Bernard Scalisi

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.

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5 Responses to ‘Lois Eileen’: History Surfaces at Lake Bolsena

  1. Michelle says:

    I just found your blog post on the WWII turret found marked Lois Eileen. As it turns out, my husband’s grandfather (Horace Mahabirsingh) was aboard that plane and parachuted out before it crashed into Lake Bolsena. In fact, he was of Indian decent yet considered a “white” enlisted man even though he stood our very much amongst his fellow American soldiers. It may have been the color of his skin that led to his capture, as he was among the 5 captured and held as a POW. I would very much look forward to speaking to you more on this topic, as I hope history and the museum will include his quite interesting story amongst the other 9 heroes he flew with on that ill-fated day, January 15, 1944.

    It was a pleasure reading your coverage of such an amazing find. To think, 70yrs later we (including Horace’s great grandsons) are walking in the shoes of one of our family’s most beloved idols!

    Michelle A. Mahabirsingh

    • Amy Gulick says:

      Dear Michelle, Thank you for sharing your family’s fascinating piece of this story. I read in the paper that after the turret is restored it is going to be put on display at the Bolsena Museum. Likely some kind of event will be organized for the 70th anniversary, too. If I learn any more about it I will gladly inform you via your email address. All the best, Amy

  2. Erik Flexner says:

    We are of the Joseph Townsend family, who also was on the plane. He was protected by a kind family in Bolsena. We will visit there next week. Let me know if you want me to photograph or get anything else for you.

    • Amy Gulick says:

      Hello Erik, Thank you for sharing this! I hope the visit goes well. Will you be meeting any of the relatives of the family? Bolsena is really interesting and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. Feel free to get in touch via email should you wish to share anything (any pictures from that era, anecdotes, etc). All the best, Amy

      • Erik Flexner says:

        Hi Amy, we just returned from the visit to Bolsena and the family. It was wonderful. I have tried to upload a photo of the wonderful woman we met who, at 13, had fed Joseph Townsend while he hid in their hazelnut farm barn. Couldn’t do it, but am glad to say that family members are coming to visit in a few months. The saga continues.

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