Crash Landing! The Pilots where rescued more than 70 years ago. Now the Airplanes are being recovered.
Mid-summer 1942, and it seemed to the world that the armies of the Third Reich would continue their unbroken series of victories on all fronts. Desperate for war materiel , in particular aircraft, London appealed to the United States for help.
But the route for US fighters across the Atlantic was both long and dangerous, U-boat activity being one of the primary hazards. Most of the American fighters had to be dismantled, loaded aboard ship, and reassembled in Britain. A process that cost both time and work.
For large bombers the flight across the Atlantic was possible. But the width of the ocean made the indispensable fighter protection for the Flying Fortresses’ impossible.
The new Lockheed P-38 ,Lightning’ changed that situation. The largest and fastest fighter developed at that time also had the longest range of its class.The US military was sure that, equipped with extra fuel tanks, the P-38 could make the journey from factory to Britain.
Operation Bolero began on 7th. July, 1942. Two B-17 ,flying fortresses’, accompanied by six Lockheeed – Lighnings’ took off from an airstrip in Maine and set course for England over Newfoundland, Greenland and Iceland. This was to be the first echelon of many more that had been planned.
Flying conditions on that day were not good, but the operation went well until the squadron reached the Denmark Straits. It was here, between Greenland and Iceland, that weather conditions deteriorated rapidly. Radio messages reported air-strips in Iceland fog-bound and the crews had no alternative but to turn back. Later, it turned out that the meteorological reports were false and had probably been broadcast from a German U-boat.
At this period, navigation depended to a large extent on sextant, chronometer and compass. But in northern latitudes, the compass is notoriously unreliable. The aircraft lost their course and, dangerously low on fuel, an emergency landing in Greenland became inevitable.
All the planes landed on an even stretch of ice in the eastern part of
Greenland. Only one craft was damaged, no one was injured. It took only a few days for a US navy cutter to rescue the crews.
To this day, all but one of the aircraft are lying where they landed; covered, and protected by a thick layer of close-packed snow.