The wreck of a Flying Fortress bomber shot down by Messerschmitt fighters during the Second World War has been found lying on the seabed off the coast of Sicily.
The B-17, nicknamed Devils from Hell by its nine-man crew, was discovered by divers at a depth of 245ft (75 metres), around four miles from the port of Palermo in southern Italy.
The discovery was the result of months of detective work, with historians and amateur divers matching official wartime records with the accounts of elderly Sicilians who still remember the raid.
The aircraft was located by a group of amateur divers who are part of a project called “Shadows of the Deep”, which aims to locate the wrecks of planes and boats off Sicily.
Described by one Italian newspaper as the “Indiana Jones’s of the sea”, they were helped by a sonar scan carried out by a diving unit of the Italian fire brigade.
“The wreck was found a few months ago thanks to the help of the fire service. Our job was to dive down and try to identify it,” said Riccardo Cingillo, one of the divers.
It took several attempts, when they first dived down to the wreck, visibility was poor. Eventually they were able to find and photograph serial numbers on the engines and in the cockpit which enabled a positive identification.
“With the help of a historian, we were able to identify both the aircraft and its crew,” said Sebastiano Tusa, a maritime official.
There are no plans to raise the wreck – it lies in deep water and is classed as a military war grave.
The cockpit was mangled as a result of the impact of plunging into the sea, but other parts of the aircraft are in good condition, including the upper gun turret and a still-intact machine gun.
After identifying the aircraft’s serial number, the diving team was able to trace US War Department records.
The B-17’s captain was First Lieutenant Bobby M Godwin, while his co-pilot was First Lieutenant Virgil E Hope, from Oklahoma.
The other crew members were: John W Houck, John H Person, Robert B Imler, Robert S Littrell, Arthur Nilges, Frank Spatafore and William M Hawkins.
As yet the diving team has not yet found any human remains inside the wreck.
A report by the War Department detailed how the plane went down. “Lt Godwin’s ship was attacked 20 miles from target by ME-110s and was shot down. “There were no chutes seen to open and the gunners from the other planes were having a pretty busy time taking care of themselves,” it said.
The reported ended: “Status for the above crew – Dead.”
The Flying Fortress took part in a raid on Palermo on April 18 1943, a time when Italy under Mussolini was fighting the Allies. It was attacked by several ME-110 fighters that knocked out one of its engines.
The aircraft, part of the 353rd Bomber Squadron of the American air force, crashed into the sea, with the loss of all nine crew.
Just six months later, in September 1943, Italy signed an armistice and switched sides, although a hard core of Fascists continued to fight alongside the Germans.
During the raid, US aircraft dropped 84 tonnes of bombs on the port and city of Palermo and around 60 tonnes on its airfield, resulting in the death of 38 people and the wounding of 99 others, according to Italian wartime records.
Among the principal targets were the railway station, anti-aircraft batteries, ammunition dumps and an aqueduct that supplied the city with water.
All Photos from: ombredalfondo.it
Article source: The Telegraph