History

WWII Wreck Reveals Wartime Romance: Photos

Crewmen aboard a World War II bomber etched their lovers' names on board. But that didn't save the plane from a grim fate.

A World War II wreck, which has been laying on the bottom of an Italian lake for 70 years, has revealed a forgotten story of love during wartime. The wreck, a B-17 "Flying Fortress" bomber, crashed in Lake Bolsena on Jan. 15, 1944.

Divers from the Research Center of the Scuba School of Lake Bolsena and the Fire Department of Viterbo identified several pieces of the plane scattered on the bottom of the lake. From a depth of 300 feet, they recovered the largest piece, the Sperry ball turret -- an enclosed capsule that protected the bomber at the belly of the craft.

The recovered turret featured the intriguing hand-painted words: "Ileen Lois." "The words were still visible after 70 years underwater on the right and left side of the turret," said Mario Di Sorte, a historian who pieced together the plane's history.

It turned out the words referred to Lois Eileen, the young wife of gunner Sgt. Ralph Truesdale. He was one of the 10-man crew aboard the four-engine aircraft B-17 USAF serial no. 4124364. Ralph Truesdale (R) and his wife, Lois Eileen, are shown here. Lois is holding their five-month-old child.

Writing a lover's name on the plane wasn't just Truesdale's idea. When it came to name their plane, the entire crew agreed to call it "Ethel," after the girlfriend of right waist gunner, Anthony Brodniak. The B-17 plane is shown at left. At right Antony Brodniak poses with his girlfriend, Ethel.

"Ethel" flew for the last time on Jan. 15, 1944. The final flight was part of a mission which involved the use of 38 B-17 Flying Fortresses divided into two waves. The primary target was the railroad bridge in the town of Certaldo, south of Florence. The alternate target was a marshalling yards at Poggibonsi, near Siena.

Once near Perugia, the group encountered heavy fire from German anti-aircraft. Seven B-17s in the first wave and 18 in the second suffered serious damage. "Ethel's" two engines were struck and damaged and the bomber spun out of control.

The plane crashed into Lake Bolsena, the largest volcanic lake in Europe. All 10 men parachuted to the ground.

Of the wrecked bomber's 10 men, three were captured by the Germans and finished out the war in a POW Camp. The remaining seven were saved and hidden from the Germans by Italian families. Truesdale also left his turret and let the name of his wife plunge in the water with the plane. Truesdale was among the crewmen captured by the Germans and taken in a POW camp. He managed to escape and remained hidden for three months until the arrival of the Allies.

Despite the romantic wartime tale, love did not last for Ralph and Lois. The couple divorced in 1947. All that remains is the wreck of the turret, now on display at a local museum in Bolsena, Italy.