News, WW2

Remains of Five B-24 Bombers Found in the Sea

  • The University of Delaware and the U.S. military discovered five B-24 Liberators in the Adriatic Sea. 
  • The Bombers had lost a battle against the Germans and had crashed into the ocean. 
  • According to some estimates, at least 23 airmen were on board.
  •  The researchers identified three of the five bombers using Army service records. 

The Consolidated B-24 Liberator

The Consolidated B-24 Liberator is an American heavy bomber designed by Consolidated Aircraft in San Diego, California. In 1939, the bomber took its first flight.

B-24 Wreck
A diver inspects the wing of a World War II-era B-24 bomber lying in waters off Croatia during a two-week search mission in August 2022. (Project Recover)

The Liberator was a four-engine bomber that housed a crew of up to ten. The plane had a top speed of 297 miles per hour and could carry up to 5,000 pounds of bombs on long-range missions. The 15th Air Force primarily used B-24s for bombing missions across southern Europe. Later on, other military forces started using the plane as well. 

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At the time of its creation, the B-24 was a modern design featuring a highly efficient shoulder-mounted, high aspect ratio Davis wing. The wing allowed the Liberator to move at high speed and long range. In addition, it provided the ability to carry a heavy bomb load. 

Interestingly, Liberators became the first aircraft to fly routinely across the Atlantic Ocean. 

The B-24D was the first Liberator considered battle-worthy by the USAAF. The battle-worthy bomber contained 0.50-1 inch (12.7-mm) machine guns that made it an excellent choice during World War Two. 

The U.S. built more than 18,000 units of B-24s between 1940-1945. In addition, Ford Motor Company manufactured more than 8,000 of them. As a result, the B-24 became the world’s most-produced multi-engine heavy bomber. 

A USAAF B-24 Bomber
United States Army Air Forces Consolidated B-24D Liberator over Maxwell Field, Alabama.

The Search

A team of researchers from the University of Delaware and the Pentagon discovered five B-24 Liberator bombers in the Adriatic Sea. The planes likely received significant damage – and crashed – while fighting against the Germans. Some military records say that at least 23 airmen onboard were later reported missing. 

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Researchers from the University of Delaware and the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) spent two weeks in August conducting their mission. Croatian archaeologists, scientists, divers, and military personnel also put efforts into the search for the wrecks/missing-in-action airmen.

DPAA – responsible for Prisoners of War and MIA personnel – sponsored the investigation. 

The researchers used Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) to locate the wrecks. The AUVs, using side-scan sonar, generated “massive” amounts of sonar data for analysis. Consequently, the team successfully found five bomber wrecks.

Crash site
Photographs taken of the underwater wreck site were used to create this photomosaic of a missing B-24 bomber. (University of Delaware)

According to Stars and Stripes, the AUVs covered a 24-square-mile area during the search. Furthermore, the search team used magnetometers to detect buried metals in the depths of the sea. 

The archaeologists identified three out of the five bombers through service records. All 23 missing airmen were associated with these three identified planes. Therefore, those airmen were re-designated from missing to killed in action.

Unfortunately, the identity of the remaining two bombers remains unknown. 

Comparison of B-24 Bomber and Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress 

Compared to other planes, the B-24 was challenging to fly and had a poor low-speed performance. In addition, the Liberator had a lower ceiling than the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. Between the two, airmen preferred the B-17 over the Liberator because of its versatility. 

Boeing B-17 was relatively easier to fly in group formations. The quad-engined bomber flew high, but at high altitudes, temperature was a decisive element in terms of performance. Worry not! The heavy bomber came equipped with a fix. The B-17 had an excellent heating system – a treat for airmen flying high. 

On the contrary, the B-24 was more spacious than the B-17. The narrower waist of the B-17 gave the crew less room to stand and move. The flight engineers of both aircraft remained in the top turret. The B-17 top gunner had to stand while operating the turret, whereas the B-24 top gunner had the luxury of sitting. 

Early models of the B-24 faced a significant problem since they needed more self-sealing fuel tanks. Thus, the Air Force primarily used bombers to transport high-priority cargo and VIPs. In some rare cases, the USAF used these bombers for anti-submarine patrols./