12 Abandoned, Wrecked & Recovered Aircraft of World War Two

Brewster-F2A-Buffalo-BW-372-wreck (Image: Ruuhinen)

When World War Two came to an end, thousands of tired fighter, bomber, transport and training aircraft – many of them less than a year old – were stockpiled in massive aircraft graveyards before being recycled. As shattered countries – crippled by more than half a decade of conflict – sought to rebuild, their war-weary populations never raised a protest as decorated aircraft met their ends at the hands of scrap merchants rather than the enemy. Seven decades later, however, and demand is once again high for the all-too-rare survivors of these historic warbirds. Intact versions command high prices, and airworthy examples can run to millions of dollars. This article looks at 12 classic fighters and bombers which crash landed during World War Two. Many weren’t rediscovered for decades, and though some have now been salvaged, others still lie abandoned in isolated corners of the world.

Related: 21 Abandoned Airplane Graveyards (Where Aviation History Goes to Die)

Consolidated B-24D Liberator, Atka Island

b-24-liberator-wreck-40-2367-atka-island-alaska (Image: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, public domain)

Shrouded in mist and visited mainly by herds of reindeer, this wrecked Consolidated B-24D Liberator lies on Atka Island in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, where it was deliberately crash-landed on December 9, 1942. The aircraft – one of only eight surviving D-model Liberators (including Lady Be Good, below) – was flying a weather reconnaissance sortie when inclement weather prevented it from landing at any nearby airfields.

b-24-liberator-wreck-40-2367-atka-island-alaska-2 (Image: via YouTube)

After exhausting all other options, the pilot made a successful belly landing and the crew all walked away. The only casualty was a broken collarbone suffered by Brigadier General William E. Lynd. Today, the contoured terrain and swirling mists which define the 65-mile-long island make for an eerie backdrop to the wreck, reflecting the pilot’s skill in successfully putting the Liberator (serial number 40-2367) down on a stretch of flat ground in poor weather.

The Atka Liberator wreck site is now part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which was created by President George W. Bush on December 5, 2008.

Messerschmitt Bf 109, Russia

bf-109-wreck-russia-lake (Image: Arqueologia Militar)

This Messerschmitt Bf 109, which was built in 1939 and survived both the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain before being delivered to the feared Russian Front, must be one of the most remarkable wrecked warbirds to be recovered from the deep. Flown by German fighter ace Wulf-Dietrich Widowitz, the aircraft was shot down by a Soviet Hurricane on a lend-lease scheme, and forced to make a wheels-up landing on a frozen lake.

bf-109-wreck-russia-lake-2 (Image: Arqueologia Militar)

Widowitz escaped the wreck, which remained intact following his near-perfect emergency landing before sinking to the lakebed. There it remained, untouched, for more than six decades, until it was finally recovered in 2003. Myriad bullet holes were located in the aircraft’s wings and horizontal stabilizers, while a large cannon impact in the right wing root may have been what brought the fighter down. Otherwise, the Messerschmitt Bf 109 remained in amazing condition.

bf-109-wreck-russia-lake-3 (Image: Arqueologia Militar)

In fact, it was in such good condition that the undercarriage was still able to take the aircraft’s weight, after being successfully lowered by salvage teams. The 109’s pilot, Widowitz, was killed the following year. But his memory endures in this fighter wreck, which still exhibits a base layer of desert camouflage behind its yellow-painted forward fuselage.

Focke-Wulf Fw 190 ‘Yellow 16’, Norway

fw-190-yellow-16-wreck-recovery (Image: SIG Luftwaffe)

Designed by German aeronautical engineer Kurt Tank, the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Würger was one of the most successful fighter aircraft of World War Two. Introduced in August 1941, it was popular with the pilots who flew it, including several of the Luftwaffe’s most decorated fighter aces. And of more than 20,000 produced during the war years, around 23 complete examples are known to survive in collections worldwide. So it was an exciting moment when this remarkably complete Fw 190 wreck was salvaged from the chilly waters off the coast of Sotra, a Norwegian island west of the city of Bergen. (Below: a similar Würger which has been preserved.)

fw-190-preserved (Image: Kogo)

Recovered from a depth of around 60 metres on November 1, 2006, the wartime fighter’s canopy was missing and its fabric-covered control surfaces had deteriorated over time. But the aircraft, coded ‘Yellow 16’ during its service life, was otherwise structurally sound, its Luftwaffe markings still visible on its wings and tail fin.

fw-190-yellow-16-wreck-recovery-2 (Image: Sindre Skrede, cc-sa-3.0)

Yellow 16 had been forced to make an emergency water landing off Sotra in December 1943. The pilot, whose identity is unknown, survived the ditching and scrambled to safety. But the aircraft soon sank to its watery grave, where it was destined to remain for the next 63 years.

Wrecked Junkers Ju 88, Svalbard

crashed-world-war-two-aircraft-recovered-3 (Image: via YouTube)

Early versions of the German Luftwaffe’s Junkers Ju 88, which entered service in 1939, suffered a variety of technical problems during their development. But once these had been ironed out, the twin-engined Ju 88 became one of the most versatile combat aircraft of World War Two, fulfilling a variety of roles from torpedo bomber and reconnaissance to heavy fighter.

crashed-world-war-two-aircraft-recovered-4 (Image: via YouTube)

But this example didn’t remain in service long, crash-landing in 1942 in Svalbard, a distant archipelago in the Arctic Ocean half way between mainland Norwary and the North Pole. Its isolated location, however, has protected the wrecked warbird from scrappers, souvenir hunters and vandals, and made it a welcome addition to the few surviving Ju 88s in the world today.

B-24 Liberator ‘Lady Be Good’, Libya

b-24-liberator-lady-be-good (Image: via YouTube)

When the American heavy bomber known as Lady Be Good -a B-24 Liberator of the United States Army Air Force – went missing on April 4, 1943 during a raid on Naples, it was presumed that the ill-fated aircraft had become just one more among countless wartime planes to crash into the sea, its crew never to be heard from again. That was until 1958, when the hauntingly-preserved Liberator was discovered by a BP oil exploration team some 440 miles inland, deep in the inhospitable Libyan Desert.

b-24-liberator-lady-be-good-2 (Image: via YouTube)

Evidence at the crash site suggests the crew bailed out of the B-24D. It then continued flying on one functioning engine, descending slowly until finally impacting the desert floor at a shallow attitude. The crew then reunited but died of thirst some eight days later in a tragic effort to find help. Five bodies were found together, 80 miles from the wreck.

b-24-liberator-lady-be-good-4 (Image: US Air Force, public domain)

Broken into two large pieces but otherwise well preserved, Lady Be Good still had functioning components, including machine guns and radio, and a thermos of tea was reportely still drinkable. Had the crew headed south instead of north, there’s a chance they may have found the B-24 wreck, with its radio and water supply, and survived the incident.

b-24-liberator-lady-be-good-3 (Image: via YouTube)

The bodies of eight of the original nine crew members were identified and returned to the United States. The ninth man remains officially unaccounted for, though it’s now believed his unidentified remains may have been buried by a British patrol in 1953, which had no knowledge of an Allied plane lost in the desert. One of numerous aircraft that never made it back to base in North Africa, Lady Be Good has now been recovered and stored to protect her from souvenir hunters.

Brewster F2A Buffalo ‘BW-372’, Russia

Brewster-F2A-Buffalo-BW-372-wreck-2 (Image: via YouTube)

When this downed Brewster F2A Buffalo was pulled from the waters of a chilly Arctic lake near Murmansk, Russia, it became the world’s only surviving (intact) example of its kind. The odd-looking aircraft, serial number BW-372, had been forced to make an emergency landing on a frozen lake after being hit by enemy fire.

Brewster-F2A-Buffalo-BW-372-wreck-3 (Image: via YouTube)

Its pilot, Finnish fighter ace Lauri Pekuri had been involved in an aerial dogfight over the Soviet airfield at Sekehe near Murmansk when his aircraft was hit. Pekuri had already downed two Russian-operated Hawker Hurricane fighters before he was forced to crash land. The axis pilot climbed from the stricken Brewster and made it back to his own lines.

Brewster-F2A-Buffalo-BW-372-wreck-4 (Image: via YouTube)

The aircraft, which had broken through the ice and quickly sunk to the bottom of Big Kolejärvi Lake, was finally recovered in 1998 after a four year search of the lakebed. The remarkably intact hulk of BW-372 was initially displayed at the Aviation Museum of Central Finland before moving to the Naval Air Museum in Pensacola, Florida.

B-17 Flying Fortress ‘Swamp Ghost’, Papua New Guinea

b-17-flying-fortress-41-2446 (Image: Fred Hagen of Aero Archaeology)

In 1972, when the RAAF discovered the hauntingly intact B-17 Flying Fortress 41-2446 in the Agaiambo wetlands of Oro Province during an helicopter exercise, the service personnel must have known that they’d stumbled across arguably one of World War Two’s best preserved aircraft wrecks. Aptly christened the Swamp Ghost, the discovery fueled a salvage effort that would ultimately see the old warbird return home to the United States.

b-17-flying-fortress-41-2446-2 (Image: Pacific Aviation Museum (website), cc-4.0)

Flying Fortress 41-2446 had lain half sunken into the Agaiambo swamp since 1942, where its captain Frederick ‘Fred’ Eaton, Jr made an emergency landing after his aircraft had been damaged by enemy fighters over Rabaul in East New Britain. Despite a few bullet holes, broken perspex and bent propellers, the B-17E was found to be minimally corroded and, 70 years after it crashed, it was finally salvaged. The Swamp Ghost is now being restored at the Pacific Aviation Museum in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Douglas SBD Dauntless, Lake Michigan

douglas-dauntless-sbd-2-2106 (Image: US Navy)

One need not travel deep into the isolated regions of former European and Pacific theatre combat zones to uncover the long lost wrecks of World War Two aircraft. This Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless, a veteran of the Battle of Midway, was pulled out of Lake Michigan in 1994. Build number 2106, the vintage fighter bomber left the El Segundo, CA factory in December 1940 for the Far East, where it would primarily be employed against the mighty ships of the Japanese Imperial Navy.

douglas-dauntless-sbd-2-2106-2 (Image: US Navy)

In June 1942, during a raid on Japanese carriers west of Midway Atoll, the Dauntless was riddled with 219 bullets and was one of only eight out of an original 16 aircraft launched to make it back to base. The aircraft returned to the USA for repairs and was ultimately assigned to the Carrier Qualification Training Unit at NAS Glenview, Illinois. It was with that unit, one morning in June 1943, that a student pilot was forced to ditch Dauntless 2106 after straying from an approach to the training carrier USS Sable. The battered wreck remained in the murky depths of Lake Michigan until 1994, when it was recovered and sent to the U.S. National Museum of Naval Aviation at Pensacola, Florida for restoration. (Read more.)

Bell P-39 Airacobra, Russia

bell-p-39-wreck-russia (Image: via YouTube)

One of almost 10,000 P-39 Airacobra fighters built by Bell Aircraft during World War Two, this example was part of a lend-lease agreement which saw it shipped to Russia in a bid by the United States to supply the country with arms to fight back the Nazi scourge. But when 22-year-old pilot Lieutenant Ivan Baranovsky, a combat veteran with seven kills to his name, was forced to crash land the aircraft on a frozen lake inside the Arctic circle on November 19, 1944., its short wartime career was over.

bell-p-39-wreck-russia-2 (Image: via YouTube)

Fast-forward 60 years and, in 2004, a Russian fisherman peered into the shallows of a lake near Murmansk, and found himself staring at the outline of the Bell P-39 – a silt-covered wreck, but an unmistakable one. The Airacobra, serial number 44-2911, was later returned to the United States for restoration at Niagara Aerospace Museum in Buffalo, New York, inside the very hangar that it was built in all those years ago.

Abandoned Mitsubishi Zero Hulk, Marianas

pagan-island-zero-wreck (Image: Taro, cc-sa-4.0)

Half buried on an abandoned wartime airfield in the shadow of the mighty stratovolcano Mount Pagan, the skeletal hulk of this Mitsubishi A6M5 Zero fighter is one of two wrecked Japanese planes on the west side of Pagan Island in the Marianas. Today, an American flag flies alongside the former 3,000 ft grass runway, which was laid out in 1935. Once a 2,150-strong garrison of the Japanese Imperial Navy, Pagan Island is a picturesque place today, but one where the scars of war are never far away. (Read more here.)

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress ‘Gray Ghost’, Papua New Guinea

Crashed B-17 Bomber in Papua New Guinea (Image: Alf Gillman)

Resting on a hillside near Black Cat Pass in Papua New Guinea, where pilot Raymond S. Dau from Arlington, VA had expertly crash landed it in 1943, is a B-17 Flying Fortress that has become known – in more recent years – as the Gray Ghost. The Boeing-manufactured aircraft, had taken off from Port Moresby to attack a Japanese convoy off Lae. But when the B-17 was severely damaged by anti-aircraft fire, Dau was left with no choice but to attempt an emergency landing on the lonely hillside. The crew survived but wireless operator Robert Albright died later from wounds sustained during the raid. The Gray Ghost had initially been intended for the Royal Air Force under a lend-lease agreement, but was diverted to the Pacific Theatre due to the escalating conflict in the far east. The aircraft’s faded British roundels – which were subsequently replaced by American markings – have reappeared over time.

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk, Sahara Desert

p40-kittyhawk-wreck-dennis-copping-sahara-2 (Image: via Rami Siag/YouTube)

In May 2012, oil workers stumbled across the hauntingly intact wreck of a P-40 Kittyhawk fighter whose disappearance – and that of its pilot, 24-year-old Flt Sgt Dennis Copping – had remained a mystery for 70 years. On June 28, 1942, tasked to ferry the damaged 260 Squadron aircraft from one RAF base in Egypt to another for repairs, Copping and his aircraft disappeared.

p40-kittyhawk-wreck-dennis-copping-sahara-3 (Image: via Rami Siag/YouTube)

When the Polish team stumbled across the wrecked aircraft, exposed beneath the fierce sun of the Sahara Desert, they discovered a scene eerily frozen in time, in what historians would soon refer to as the ‘aviation equivalent of Tutankhamun’s Tomb’. But despite the American-built Kittyhawk’s amazing condition, the remains of Flt Sgt Copping were nowhere to be found.

p40-kittyhawk-wreck-dennis-copping-sahara (Image: via Rami Siag/YouTube)

One month later, an Italian team stumbled across human remains three miles from the crash site, along with a piece of torn parachute, a key chain fob adored with the number 61, and a metal button dated 1939. But Copping’s relatives hopes were dashed when it proved impossible to extract DNA from the bones – an explanation his family rejected.

p40-kittyhawk-wreck-dennis-copping-sahara-18 (Image: via Rami Siag/YouTube)

Though the RAF Museum at Hendon is reported to be interested in the aircraft, the UK government has been criticised for its handling of the case. The P-40 is understood to be in the possession of Egyptian authorities in a storage crate at El Alemain. Meanwhile, it was reported earlier this year that, in an apparently ill-conceived move, the RAF Museum may have promised one of its rare Spitfires to the salvage team as “payment” for the Kittyhawk – which it may never get its hands on. (More photos of Flt Sgt Copping’s P-40 here.)

Hat tip: Ilya Ivanov

Related – 30 Crashed, Derelict and Destroyed Aircraft of the World

 

About the author: Tom

 

Website: https://www.urbanghostsmedia.com

 
 
 


 
 

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