B-17 over Hemse

2009 June 1
by Pat DiGeorge

The Liberty Lady flew north and slightly east. Sweden had small outlook towers around the country, each reporting to a central source so they could collect all the facts about any aircraft flying into the county.

As soon as the plane reached the southeast corner of Sweden, the Swedish aircraft warning service began relaying the details of the bomber’s altitude and flight path. If you look at the map, the plane quickly left the mainland and was over the Baltic Sea again.

At this point, according to co-pilot Merle Brown, their navigator Stanley N. “Stan” Buck, without maps, could not tell where they were. Still “hiding” in the clouds, they may not have even known when they were over land, and when they were over water. It was all happening very fast.

As you can see, the plane flew east and was over a small island. It was 4:30 pm in the afternoon.   Click here and you will see a photo of what they may have been seeing from the air.

Lasse Svensson, a little boy who lived in the tiny village of Hemse on the island of Gotland, heard the noise of a plane flying low. Because his Dad owned a photoshop in Hemse, there was always a camera nearby, and it was always loaded with film. Lasse grabbed the camera, ran out on the balcony and took this remarkable picture of our lost Lady.

The Liberty Lady flies over the village of Hemse. March 6, 1944.

The Liberty Lady flies over the village of Hemse. March 6, 1944.

Mattias happened to email me this photograph just hours after I learned of the death of Charles W. Smith, the pilot of the Liberty Lady.  Hard to describe how I felt when it arrived … it was almost supernatural … 65 years ago my Dad and his crew were in that plane … lost in the sky and searching for safety.  I sent it to Smithy’s son Geoff immediately.

Pat: I’ve been wondering what the boys were thinking in that airplane at that moment. They had just come out of the clouds and saw land. However, they thought they might be flying over German occupied territory. So they were frightened for sure. But knew they had to land soon. “Petrol was low.” An engine “was shot out.” Just think about it.

Geoff: I think Dad and Merle were busy flying the plane. Dad said that there was so much drag from the engine that he needed Merle’s help holding left rudder pressure to keep her going straight. I think everyone else was either praying, thinking “Oh s–t,” or “Hope Charlie doesn’t blow this,

… or all three.”



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  1. 2009 June 2
    Barbara Ann permalink

    You had me in tears again!

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