This WWII photo shows B-24 Liberators flying over Porto Santo Stefano, Italy - Project Recover Mission, Italy. Looking for WWII Bombers on the Western Coast of Italy - Project Recover is committed to bringing MIAs home.

Project Recover Searches For WWII Aircraft, MIAs in Italy

Lauren Trecosta MIA Searches, Mission - Europe 17 Comments

Porto Santo Stefano, Italy
16 September – 5 October 2018

Under contract with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), Project Recover headed to Porto Santo Stefano in the Grosseto province of Italy to search for World War II aircraft and MIAs in September 2018. Our primary goal was to locate and positively identify an A-20, a B-24, B-25, and B-26, all associated with MIAs. The WWII aircraft were lost along the coastlines of Marina di Grosseto, Porto Ercole, and Porto Santo Stefano.  

Four Bombers Project Recover searched for in Italy in 2018  - Project Recover is committed to bringing the MIA home.
Project Recover went on a mission to locate four bombers off the coast of Porto Santo Stefano, Italy; an A-20, B-26, B-25, and B-24. There are 18 MIAs associated with the aircraft. Photo credit National Archives (NARA).

Project Recover conducts all its missions in cooperation with local governments. We received approval from the Italian federal, provincial, and local governments in Grosseto region of Italy. We also held an information session for the local public. Italian colleagues, Giulia Napolitano and Aldo Costigliolo, facilitated the meetings and translated on our behalf. With their help, we were able to communicate our intentions in the area. Furthermore, the local population was able to share any information they knew about potential wreck sites. Local papers highlighted our information session and helped facilitate our effort as well.

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Douglas A-20 Havoc

In the case of the A-20, we first surveyed the area with an AUV (autonomous underwater vehicle). Then we deployed diver teams to document and identify the wreck site.

Project Recover conducted paired dives with archaeology and photomosaic teams. The majority of the site was recorded by video and still photos. Archaeologists measured the forward fuselage section and queried some detached pieces of wreckage. They also completed a photogrammetrical map of the site even under poor visibility conditions.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) discovered this wreck site during a previous year’s remote sensing survey, and an A-20 is known to have crashed in the area in 1945. After imaging and documentation, however, Project Recover identified the wreck as that of a German Junkers Ju 88 aircraft. It was missing the cockpit and tail sections. The team was also able to locate documentation confirming that there was a Ju 88 that went down in this same area off Grosseto.

WWII Bombers in Grosseto, Italy

The other three WWII aircraft targeted by Project Recover on this mission were American bomber losses from early 1944. The bombers were a part of an intense campaign to cripple German targets in Italy. They bombed the strategic harbors of Porto Santo Stefano and Marina di Grosseto as well as the infrastructure in the area.

B-25 Mitchell

A B-25 participated in a mission to attack shipping in the area of Porto Santo Stefano. The crew encountered heavy flak. Records suggest the plane received a direct hit. Eyewitnesses last spotted the B-25 in an inverted position with no sign of its crew. Three of the crewmen were later recovered and identified. The other three remain missing.

Project Recover used historical documentation, analysis, and well as information by local fishermen in the planning to search for the B-25. At the loss area, we conducted searches with AUVs. We surveyed more than 11 square miles and conducted repeated dives on suspected targets. We did not, however, locate aviation-related debris in the target area of the B-25.

B-24 Liberator

We were able to locate debris fields in the case of the two other WWII bombers which makes them promising targets. In 1944, a B-24  was on a bombing mission to Port San Stefano, Italy, when it was struck (as a result of flak damage) by another B-24. Two witnesses who saw the collision reported seeing one B-24 losing its tail and going into a steep dive with no observed parachutes. Two crewmen from the B-24 reportedly washed ashore several days later. They were buried in a cemetery in Italy. The US was unable to account for the remaining eight personnel.

B-26 Marauder

A B-26 participated in a bombing mission on the port facilities at Porto Santo Stefano in 1944. The WWII aircraft encountered heavy flak, and according to witness statements, a “burst of flak exploded in the right engine” of the aircraft, resulting in its engine detaching and the aircraft spinning and going down. Three crew members returned to duty. The military was unable to account for the remaining four crew. 

Search Results

In the case of the B-24 and B-26, we located debris fields which makes them promising targets. The wreckage found is consistent in size and shape with WWII aircraft parts. One of the debris fields was, in fact, only 100 meters from the location reported by one of the fishermen. The local fishermen in Grosseto are well-familiar with the aircraft wreckage scattered across the seafloor of these ports. The debris fields of both sites are located more than 200 feet deep, 70 meters and 90 meters respectively. As a result, Project Recover dive teams could not conduct further investigations. There was also a thick layer of suspended sediments extending three to five meters off the seafloor which masked the debris. AUV cameras, therefore, were also not useful. Both sites are promising, however, and warrant further investigation. Project Recover plans to return to do so at a later date.

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Comments 17

  1. I invite you to view fold3.com/image/#28607574 and MACR #1102 dated 27 October 43. My cousin, Captain Frederick H. Dillon was on board that B-25C. The crew and 3 passengers are still listed as MIA. I don’t know what the territorial limits are for Algeria and Tunis are. Is there a possibility for a search between Algiers and Tunis<
    Hope to hear from you soon.
    Keep up the good work.
    Sincerely
    Edward B. Dillon, Major USAF Retired

    Are you a 501 c3?

  2. Excellent work. My Uncle was a B 24 pilot shot down trying to return to Italy and had his crew bail out over Albania. They all survived but he nor his plane were never locacted

  3. Really enjoying the current series on this project in Italy. I have two great uncles (brothers) who were P38 pilots–one went down in the Mediterranean off Tunisia (Lt. Lloyd F. Luddington) and the other was based in Papua New Guinea and was one of the planes lost on “Black Friday” (Lt. Jack F. Luddington). Both are listed as MIAs still today. So as a fellow diver, MIA/POW family, marine GIS/remote sensing professional, and military historian I really admire what your team is doing. Like Edward, I’d be thrilled to see a search off Algeria and Tunis as well.

    I’ve been brainstorming a way to use GIS/remote sensing and neural networks to locate war bird crash sites or to predict potential crash sites to narrow down search areas for crews. I’d love to talk to a member of your team about my proposed method and some high resolution LiDAR data being collected in the Pacific that I recently came across.

    1. Hi! My name is Jesse Luddington. I share your great uncles, Jack and Lloyd Luddington. I have been trying to find any additional information about them, and have only read about them in little snips from some books. If you have any information to share I would be very grateful. I have tried to find all of there pictures and letters, and anything else would be great to have. I am very interested in any information you might have.

  4. Have you looked into recovering the remains of US POWs that were sealed in several cavern/tunnel systems in the Philippines in which the Japanese hid the gold, silver, platinum and jewels looted from all the countries they conquered? The Japanese Army often used US POWs to dig the tunnels and caverns, filled them with loot and then blew the entrances to trap the POWs inside so they could not report the locations.

  5. My father saw an RAF pilot shoot down a German transport plane some time in April of 1943 near the coast of Cefalu, in Sicily, Italy. He was 13 years old when he saw this. He is wondering if they ever recovered this plane because he feels that he could give supply some information as to where it went down. Have they recovered any planes near the waters of Cefalu, Sicily, Italy?

    1. Hello Doreen, thank you for the information from your father! Someone from our team will contact you at the email you provided.
      Does your father have any information written down about what he witnessed?
      Blue Skies.

  6. My father, Harry G. Joyner, was a crew member on a B-24 Liberator that was attacked over Klagenfurt, Austria, on March 27, 1944. Four crew members were injured and the plane was fatally damaged but the crew was able to get it out of enemy territory and about a quarter way across the Adriatic Sea before the last engine failed and they had to ditch the plane. All crew members made it to life rafts before the plane went down. They were spied by friendly aircraft and after several hours, they were picked up an an RAF sea plane. I have this written in detail by him plus some news clippings for other crew members. While I have the names of some of the crew members, I don’t have all of them, including the pilot(s), who pulled off an amazing feat. I also have lots of pictures of B-24s and crew members, but can’t identify them. Would love to close the loop on this part of my father’s story and maybe get the names of the full crew and the name of the plane. One of the pictures I have shows a B-24 named “Bucket of Bolts. Not sure if that was his. I have so many photos from this era and would happily share if I only knew with whom! And somewhere that plane is lying on the sea floor with my dad’s leather bomber’s jacket hanging from a hook — he always regretted losing it!

    1. Hello Harriet, thank you for sharing your Dad’s story! Our main mission is searching for MIAs. As time allows, our historical team will reach out to you with some suggestions on pursuing your research.
      Do you have the bomb group and squadron number that your Dad was assigned to?

      Here are suggestions we provide to MIA families to do their own research:
      How To Research Your Family’s MIA includes the first three steps you can take to get started. It includes DPAA resources, family meetings, and casualty office phone numbers.
      Click here: https://www.projectrecover.org/research-your-familys-mia/

      Finding Heaven Can Wait; Kelly Family Shares MIA Research – The Kelly Family Shares Research reveals the steps the Kelly Family Research team took to research the possible location of the downed B-24, Heaven Can Wait. After five years of research, they turned their findings over to Project Recover which located the B-24 in October 2017.
      Click here: https://www.projectrecover.org/family-shares-mia-research/

      Another site that has a lot of intel is http://www.Fold3.com
      Good luck with your research.
      Blue Skies,
      dan

  7. Hello, I was wondering if you would possibly have any more information on the B-24s that crashed over Porto Santo Stefano on April 28th 1944. I’m asking because my Great Great Uncle was the bombardier on one of those planes. His name was Kels Laws and his hometown was Speedwell Tennessee. I did find out that he was able to parachute out of the plane and land safely. Sadly he was captured by the Italian Facists where he was beaten and shot. Im trying to figure out which plane he was on (either Howling Wolf or Arkansas Joe) and where the wreckage is located. My main problem is conflicting information from the military and eyewitness accounts. This was supposed to be his last mission before coming home and have been told by family that he volunteered for the mission so the military would send him back sooner. Sadly that never came to pass. I recently found a letter that he sent on April 10th 1944, just days before his fateful mission, where he describes his promotion to 2nd Lieutenant. Since then I’ve tried to find as much information about him as possible. I know your project is for MIAs, but any information pertaining to Kels and his plane will be greatly appreciated.

    1. Hello Tyler, Our MIA Family Outreach team will contact you via email shortly. On behalf of all Project Recover members, we wish to express our sympathies and gratitude as Americans for the ongoing loss of your Great Great Uncle Kels. We gratefully acknowledge his sacrifice in defense of our country, as well as the consequent sacrifices made by you and your family to this day.

      We also have two articles on our website that include steps you can take to learn what is known about your family’s missing relative as well as provide your own information to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA):

      How To Research Your Family’s MIA includes the first three steps you can take to get started. It includes DPAA resources, family meetings, and casualty office phone numbers.
      Click here: https://www.projectrecover.org/research-your-familys-mia/

      Finding Heaven Can Wait; Kelly Family Shares MIA Research – The Kelly Family Shares Research reveals the steps the Kelly Family Research team took to research the possible location of the downed B-24, Heaven Can Wait. After five years of research, they turned their findings over to Project Recover which located the B-24 in October 2017.
      Click here: https://www.projectrecover.org/family-shares-mia-research/

      Blue Skies,
      dan

  8. Hello, I was wondering if you would have any more information regarding the B-24s downed over Porto Santo Stefano in April of 1944. I ask because my Great Great Uncle was the bombardier on one of the two planes that went down. His name was Kels Laws who was born in Speedwell Tennessee. I’m trying to figure out which plane he was on (either Howling Wolf or Arkansaw Joe) and where the crash site is located. What I have come to gather from eyewitness accounts from the military and civilians in the area, was that he was able to parachute out of the falling plane and land safely. Sadly though he was captured by the Italian Facists where he was beaten and shot. It was supposed to be his last flight before coming home and it is said through family that he volunteered for the mission to make the process speedier. He had also recently been promoted to 2nd Lieutenant and had sent a letter home stating his promotion shortly before his fateful mission. Recently this letter came into my possession. Since then Im highly interested in finding any information regarding my Uncle Kels, his plane, and his missions. Any info will be greatly appreciated.
    P.S. I tried sending an email prior to this but was unsure if it got through, just in case you got two of them.

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