Ileen Lois: The name on a ball turret that identified an entire B-17 crew

Ileen Lois was the name given to a B-17 bomber which was recovered in 2013, 69 years after it crashed in Lake Bolsena, the biggest volcanic lake in Europe.

The plane, Ileen Lois has a very interesting story, involving love and affection in times of war. During World War II, most young men had to leave their girlfriends and wives when they went to fight.

Ileen Lois was discovered by divers from the Scuba School of Lake Bolsena after components from the plane were spotted lying at the bottom of the lake. The most visible part of the plane was the turret, which had the words Ileen Lois, which hand-painted on its sides. Selected Historians and researchers from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) were thus able to unravel the planes history due to the words Ileen Lois.

They discovered that the words were written by Sgt. Ralph Truesdale as a special dedication to his pregnant wife Lois Eileen, who was home in America. It was a gesture of love and the hope of being reunited again after the war.

The B-17 also had another hand-painted name, referring to `Ethel` who was right waist gunner Anthony Brodniak`s girlfriend. Since the plane had a 10-man crew, writing the name of a spouse on the plane had to be agreed unanimously by all the members.

The last mission for B-17 Ileen Lois was on January 15th, 1944, when it was sent on a mission to bomb the railroad bridge in the town of Certaldo, South of Florence. It was part of 38 B-17 planes whose primary targets were Certaldo and Poggibonsi, near Siena.

Most of the B-17`s were not successful in this mission because, encountering heavy German anti-aircraft and most of them had to abort the mission while others were hit and damaged. B-17 Ileen Lois suffered engine failure due to the heavy fire from the German anti-aircraft guns, and it was forced to release her six bombs on Lake Trasimeno in order to lighten up and save fuel.

The 10-man crew successfully parachuted, leaving the bomber to crash into Lake Bolsena. On reaching the ground, three of the crew members were captured by the Germans and locked up as Prisoners Of War in Germany. The other seven were lucky not to get apprehended by the Germans and were hidden by Italian families.

Sgt. Ralph Truesdale and Brodniak stuck together but later on decided to go separate ways in search of safety. Brodniak and another colleague known as Bernard Scalisi who would later find their way to Rome, where they were hidden by Italian families until the Allied Forces arrived on June 4th, 1944.

Soon afterwards Truesdale was captured by the Nazis and taken to a Transit Prison Camp near Rome, but he managed to escape after a month. He stayed out of trouble for the next three months until the Allied forces arrived.


Sidney Mucheru

Sidney Mucheru is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE