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Old 29th December 2004, 22:20
melaniejane melaniejane is offline
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melaniejane
SAAF Liberator lost in Italy March '45

Having had some very useful feedback from Nick Beale (thanks, Nick!) on the old site, I am posting this appeal again so that it (and Nick’s replies) continue to get exposure here as well.

I am researching the disappearance of SAAF Liberator EW207 "K" on the night of 2/3 March 1945. Take-off was from Celone Airfield at Foggia at 21H30, part of a 24-strong force of 31 and 34 Squadron SAAF aircraft (205 Group) on a mission to bomb the marshalling yards at Porto Vescova in Verona East together with 178 Sqn RAF. 23 aircraft returned safely. OC's circumstantial report records no contact with the aircraft after take-off, but there are (oral) reports from airmen that the plane was last seen climbing off target. AA fire at the target was noted as being "slight inaccurate". Airmen reported sighting "single-engined hostiles" en route, but no contact was seen to be made.

No trace has ever been found of the Lib or any of her crew which included my uncle, Air Gunner W/O Harland Benn.

Persistent rumours on the base maintain that some or all crew were seen to bale out, were captured and executed by locals, possibly Black Brigades or other Fascisti unit. No documentary evidence of this has come to light.

Can anyone tell me where I could look for records of any Axis nightfighter action on this date?
OR
Can anyone suggest any Italian resources I might consult? (partisans? aviation archaeologists? archives in Comacchio area?)

With thanks in advance

Melanie Herman

Nick Beale replied:
Can't solve this one for you, I'm afraid. The information I have comes from the operations Record Book of No. 205 Group. Returning aircraft reported seeing an Fw 190, two Bf 109 and a Ju 88. There was only one inconclusive encounter, however: The "Ju 88" closed to 1,000 yards at 00.38 hours, fired a brief burst at the bomber and was lost by evasive action.

I've researched this series of "night fighter" encounters. It's interesting because the Germans had no night fighters in Italy in 1945. The only Ju 88s were reconnaissance machines with no forward-firing armament. The Bf 109 units do not seem ever to have flown by night.

The Fw 190s of 1./NSG 9 did fly a few night fighting missions (it wasn't their intended role) and maybe shot down a Liberator in April but none of the veterans I've met remembers any success at all.

From Mel:
Thanks for your very informative reply! As you probably realise, I am really just trying to explore possible explanations for the plane's disappearance (other than the official assumption that it crashed at sea owing to some - unknown and unknowable - reason) Surely SOMEONE must have seen SOMETHING that night? The SAAF eventually recorded "no known grave" for the crew, but a later entry on the death register has "Lake Comacchio" written in pencil against all crew names. Whether this was as a result of some new information that came to light, or simply a geographic reference point for the presumed crash site, I have not been able to establish. (Lake Comacchio is a marshy "wetland" area on the Adriatic Coast at the mouth of the Po).

May I ask what your interest is in 205 Group? Are you researching it from a RAF perspective? Which ORB's do you have? Do you have access to any RAF or SAAF Sortie Reports for that mission?

The "inconclusive encounter" you mention at 00h38 - was that on a RAF a/c? And the "veterans" you've met - are they RAF? or Luftwaffe? or both? You seem to have consulted Luftwaffe records re the nightfighters; do you know whether Anti-Aircraft batteries would have kept records of possible "hits"?

Thanks for sharing your expertise - much appreciated!

Nick replied again:
It’s a sad fact that very many planes did just crash or disappear for all kinds of reasons (weather, technical problems, navigational error). An A-20 failed to return from operations on the same night as the Liberator you asked about.

I researched 205 Group ops in relation to two books I've co-written and written respectively: "Air War Italy 1944-45" (1996) and "Ghost Bombers: the Moonlight War of NSG 9" (2001), more details of both at http://www.ghostbombers.com/nickbeale.html

My perspective is the Luftwaffe and the veterans I mentioned were former Luftwaffe airmen. All the sortie reports and Operations Record Books I’ve looked at are in the UK National Archives, Kew, London. Anyone has access to them (check their website for more: http://www.national archives.gov.uk.

The only ones I got copies of related to two incidents in April 1945 where Liberators of No. 31 Squadron SAAF were very badly shot up in a night fighter attack but made it back.

I’m not very well up on Flak records but the Luftwaffe burnt most of its paperwork in the last days of the war, so the survival of what you want would be sheer luck. I seem to recall seeing at the Bundesarchiv in Freiburg a couple of situation summaries for months in Autumn 1944 which mentioned aggregate claims by the Flak but that’s all.

The “inconclusive encounter” was presumably with a 205 Group aircraft since it’s recorded in the Group’s Operations Record Book.
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Old 4th May 2011, 14:55
NUPPOL NUPPOL is offline
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Re: SAAF Liberator lost in Italy March '45

Internet links

http://search.yahoo.com/search;_ylt=...8&fr=yfp-t-701
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Old 4th May 2011, 15:18
NUPPOL NUPPOL is offline
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Re: SAAF Liberator lost in Italy March '45

Came across related thread of reported RAF Crash near Lake Comacchio:
Sorry _Spitfire-not bomber:
http://www.rafcommands.com/forum/sho...rl%28-%29-1945
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Old 5th May 2011, 13:17
DB601E DB601E is offline
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Re: SAAF Liberator lost in Italy March '45

Hi Mel,

together with a friend of mine we are doing currently some research about some sunken B-24 in the adriatic sea. You may contact me via PM.

Greetings from bavaria

Lino
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