B-24 Liberator - Tulsamerican - wreck found in sea near Vis, Croatia

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B-24 Liberator - Tulsamerican - wreck found in sea near Vis, Croatia

The wreck of a B-24 Liberator was found near island of Vis, Croatia. Apparently this is the last Liberator that came out from factory in Tulsa, Arizona. Therefore plane was named "Tulsamerican" and all workers had signed on it.

Danijel Frka, the diver who photographed the wreck was in contact with son of one of the KIA crew members of "Tulsamerican". He was interested in exact location of the plane. So, few years later Frka found the wreck and intends to contact surviving members and bring them to Croatia to the site of fallen bomber.

Vis was strategically important island for Allied forces. During WW2 it was under control of Yugoslav Partisans and was important stop for damaged bombers or bombers running out of fuel that were going 'home' to southern Italy from bombing raids in Austria, Germany, Romania etc...

Vis can be called "Fortress of Adriatic" because it was an important military site for Austro-Hungarian fleet and also for the Yugoslav Navy.

Its interesting that the wheels were locked open before crashing. At one point there were 10 or so bombers flying over the airfield and since there was only one airstrip, it wasn't uncommon that bombers waiting for the landing had to crash land in the sea or other rough terrain on the island.


On a cold winter day in December 1944, the Fifteenth Army Air Force ordered every air worthy airplane into the air for a massive assault on the oil refineries of Blechhammer North, Blechhammer South, and Odertal, Germany.

In all, the Fifteenth AAF launched 527 B-17 and B-24 bombers, along with 300 P-38 and P-51 fighter escorts. There was one crucial item the Fifteenth AAF Headquarters was unaware of while planning this mission. The Luftwaffe had placed some of its best fighter groups within striking distance of the oil refineries and the Ardennes to support the German army at the Battle of the Bulge.

German radar, code named Freya, detected large bomber formations approaching the area of the oil refineries, and Luftwaffe fighters were scrambled from four different airfields to fend off the attack.

There were 100 fighters launched at 10:45 a.m. to meet the bomber formations, and as the battle joined, Liberator's from the 49th Bomb Wing were the first to fall. The Luftwaffe claimed 22 B-24's within the first 10 minutes of the battle.

"The Tulsamerican" sustained battle damage, however, was able to release its bomb load and attempted to return to its base in Italy. This particular airplane had been pulled from the ready line and scheduled for replacement prior to this mission to Odertal.

After the attack, Lt. Ford released his bomb load and pointed the nose of "The Tulsamerican" towards home base. His airplane was in bad condition and because of the loss of an engine, and the hydraulic system he was required to fly slower and at a lower altitude on the return leg.

The bomb bay doors were jammed open, and there was no way to transfer fuel from the damaged tank because the hydraulic system was no longer functional.

While on the return leg and over Hungary, they encountered flak batteries and another engine was lost. At this time the B-24 was on her last two engines and losing fuel, air speed, and altitude, and it became evident to Lt. Ford that they could not get the wounded B-24 back to Italy. Sgt. John Toney later wrote:
... Quote:
I don't know how Lt. Ford and Lt. Ecklund managed to keep the plane in the air, but when we reached the coast of Yugoslavia, Ford decided we couldn't make it any further, so decided to try and crash land on the Isle of Vis.

Lt. Ford chose to attempt an emergency landing on Vis; however, there were complications due to the battle damage to "The Tulsamerican". The landing gear needed to be manually extended because of the loss of the hydraulic system.

It was the Flight Engineer's responsibility to extend the landing gear, so Sgt. Charles Priest tended to his duties in an effort to get the wheels down. Priest managed to extend the main gear, and then began work to extend the nose gear. At this time, Lt. Ford opted to do an orbit off the Isle of Vis in order to give Priest the time to extend the nose gear. During this first orbit, the gear would not budge.

Lt. Ford decided to give it one more orbit and then land even if the nose gear was not down and locked. About half way through the second orbit the remaining two engines quit running. They had apparently run out of fuel while attempting to get into the traffic pattern for a landing at Vis, and they had flown over Hvar Island when they were forced to ditch the airplane. Sgt. John Toney wrote:
... Quote:
As we circled the second time, Ford saw we couldn't make it and ordered us to bail out, but before we could get out, the other two engines quit and he yelled 'ditch'.

With the bomb bay doors open, gear down and no power we really hit the water hard and the plane sank immediately. Ford, Landry, and Priest were killed on impact, but the rest of us were picked up by a couple of Yugoslavian fishermen in a small boat and taken to a large building of some kind, where they striped us and wrapped us in blankets and poured down us what I think was Vodka.

We were then moved to the small hospital on Vis. We were then flown to the hospital at Bari, Italy. Only one of the crewmembers was known to return to duty, the tail gunner S/Sgt Jim Hazel.

The other wounded crewmembers were returned to various hospitals in the U.S. for treatment and recovery.

More including images of the plane

B-24-Liberator-wreck.jpg - 122.41kb
By netchicken: posted on 1-4-2010

Here are some images of the Tulsamerican in flight from file images.


Tulsamerican-in-flight.jpg - 14.23kb
By netchicken: posted on 1-4-2010

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