USAAF War Stories- Ileen Lois, the love story bomber

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

Ileen Lois has a very interesting story, depicting love and affection even in times of war. During World War II, most young men had to leave their young girlfriends and wives and go to war. During war, there is always the possibility of death and what kept most soldiers alive during that time even when times were hard was the hope of being reunited with their lovers.

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 in Jan 15 1944 when it was sent ton 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 they encountered 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 6 bombs on Lake Trasimeno in order to lighten up and save fuel.

The planes 10-man crew successfully parachuted, leaving it to crash into Lake Bolsena. On reaching the ground, 3 of the crew members were captured by the Germans and locked as Prisoners Of War in Germany. The other 7 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 4 1944.

Sgt. Ralph Truesdale   was captured by the Nazis and taken to a Transit Prison Camp near Rome but managed to escape after a month. He stayed out of trouble for the next 3 months until the Allied forces arrived.

Sgt. Ralph Truesdale `s love story with Lois Eileen has a sad ending, because their relationship lasted only two years after the war. They divorced in 1947.




Sidney Mucheru

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