B-24 Liberator “Tulsamerican” (Vis, Croatia — 130/170 fsw)

I did two dives on the famous B-24 Liberator “Tulsamerican” wreck during my trip.

The wreck has a very interesting backstory.

In 1944, Allied Forces built an airfield on Vis in order for planes returning from missions to land safely if they couldn’t make it back to their home base after bombing runs in Germany, Austria, etc. Several hundred heavy bombers and crew were saved. However, some bombers didn’t quite make it to the airfield or the airfield was occupied or had other issues so they had to land in the nearby ocean.

In late 2009, a diver accidentally discovered a four-engine bomber. They conducted additional dives to determine the type of aircraft and then started searching for the serial number. The tail wasn’t near the main body so they couldn’t get the serial number from that. They eventually found the serial number plate from the cockpit.

It turns out that this aircraft is indeed very special – it was the very last B-24 manufactured in the Douglas Factory in Tulsa, Oklahoma and was given the nickname “Tulsamerican!” This very special B-24 was paid for by war-bonds bought by factory employees and local citizens and the airplane body included signatures of all the employees and a special logo.

This B-24 belonged to a bomber group stationed in southern Italy. In December 1944, they plane took off for a planned bombing run on some facilities in Odertal which is on the Polish-German border. The raid included over 500 hundred bombers and 93 twin-engined P38s and 207 P-51 Mustangs. That must have been one heck of an armada in the sky.

Over the Czech Republic and on they way to Ordertal, they were attacked by German fighter aircraft. During those attacks, one of the engines of the Tulsamerican was hit and damaged. That engine was shut down and the Germans continued to attack the B-24 as it lagged behind. They escaped the Germans and headed back on a direct course for the base in Torretta, Italy and started looking for Allied airfields. As they flew over Croatia, it became obvious that their only chance was to land in Vis.

The problem was that there were a lot of other aircraft that needed to land and the B-24 couldn’t lower one of the landing gears. Hence, a “belly landing” would be dangerous and could jeopardize the other landings. They circled and tried to manually lower the undercarriage since the hydraulic systems had been damaged.

While they were circling, the engines stopped and they basically were forced to land at sea. It was a hard crash and this caused the tail section to separate from the main fuselage and some of the crew were flung into the sea. Seven of the crew were saved by a British boat based in the nearby Rukavac port. The captain and two others went down with the plane. In 2017, their remains were identified, and sent home.

I haven’t watched it, but there is a documentary produced about this famous airplane and wreck.

The Wreck

Below is a good diagram of the wreck site from the book, Treasures of the Adriatic.

Diagram from the book Treasures of the Adriatic with annotations for photos below

As you can see from the above diagram, the “main” section of the wreck includes the cockpit, wings, and four engines. Also note that the wreck is upside down as evidenced by the landing gear and wheel sticking up. This area of the wreck is on a plateau that is about 130 feet deep so it is approachable for short dives by advanced recreational divers. However, be aware that the downline goes to a concrete block that is a 2-3 minute swim along a permanent line leading to the wreck.

The other section of the wreck contains the tail section and one propeller. It is down below the plateau and is about 170 feet deep and beyond typical recreational dive depths.

On my first dive, I explored the main section and then went in search of the tail section and found it but got lost coming back due to the poor visibility (I had even used strobes and navigation but didn’t lay a line from the downline to the edge of the cliff). I ended up sending up a SMB and the conditions on the surface had got pretty bad and getting back on the boat was a bit of an adventure but all turned out well. I did a second dive on just the main part of the wreck to get some photos I had missed on the first dive.

Photos

Here are numerous photos of the wreck with locations noted on the diagram above for reference.

Photo 1 : Propeller close up with landing gear / tire in background
Photo 2 : Landing gear sticking straight up (remember the plane is upside down)
Photo 3 – Landing gear wheel close-up
Photo 4 : Tail Section
Photo 5 : Tail Section Oval Vertical Stabalizer
Photo 6 : Inside the tail section. Note the gun turret with twin barrels. Also note the oxygen tanks.
Photo 7 : Propeller down near the tail. Note the cliffs in the background.
Photo 8 : Front dome with machine guns (upside down) near the edge of the cliff
Photo 9 : Engine on the outside of the wing
Photo 10 : Cockpit. Note the two steering wheels. Also note that this has collapsed compared to the pictures from when they first found the wreck.
Photo 11 : Starboard side engines (also note the empty round space between them for the landing gear tire)

Becky’s Photogrammetry Model

I had thought about building a photogrammetry model; however, Becky Schott had been to Vis prior to my trip and built a really good model so I didn’t see any need to build my own. It is a great reference though so I’ve included a link below:

References

Treasures of the Adriatic Sea book

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