Researchers Find the Remains of 5 WWII-Era U.S. Bombers in the Adriatic Sea

Story by Kyle Mizokami

  • Researchers from the University of Delaware and the U.S. military have discovered 5 B-24 Liberator bombers in the Adriatic Sea.
  • The bombers were lost while returning from missions, plunging into the ocean.
  • The planes are linked to at least 23 airmen declared missing in action.

A joint research team from the University of Delaware and the Pentagon has discovered five B-24 Liberator bombers in the Adriatic Sea. The planes, which went down in the ocean between Italy and Croatia, likely had received battle damage and crashed short of a safe landing. The planes will help resolve the fate of nearly two dozen aircrew listed as MIA for nearly 80 years.

Researchers from the University of Delaware and the U.S. Defence POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) found the bombers during a two-week mission in August. The team also included Croatian archaeologists, scientists, divers, and military personnel assisting in the search. DPAA, which travels the globe to resolve the fate of those declared prisoners of war or missing in action, sponsored the search.

PHOTO: An autonomous underwater vehicle similar to this one used in 2014 to search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, was used to find the five B-24 bombers.© Handout – Getty Images

Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs)—torpedo-shaped robots that combed the bottom of the Adriatic with sonar for possible aircraft wrecks—located the five bombers. The AUVs, using side-scan sonar, generated “massive” amounts of sonar data for analysis. According to Stars and Stripes, the AUVs covered a 24-square-mile area. The search team also used magnetometers to detect buried metals and a high-resolution video camera.

Once a promising lead was discovered, human divers went in to investigate further and verify the existence of the wreck.

Of the five bombers located, three were positively identified from service records. The three planes were collectively associated with 23 aircrew listed as missing in action. The identification of the wrecks likely closes the book on the status of the crew members, allowing them to be re-designated from missing in action to killed in action.

The Consolidated B-24 Liberator was a heavy bomber used during World War II by the U.S. Army Air Forces, the predecessor of the U.S. Air Force. The Liberator was a four-engine bomber with a crew of up to ten, a top speed of 297 miles per hour, and the ability to carry up to 5,000 pounds of bombs on long-range missions. The bombers were likely assigned to the 15th Air Force, based in Foggia, Italy, which carried out bombing missions across southern Europe.


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