Ball Turret Sheds Light on Wartime Romance

Posted on March 24th, 2016 by:

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A WWII Ball Turret Sheds Light on a Wartime Romance:

Seventy years after World War Two, Italian historians found a Sperry ball turret in the cold depths of the lake. A ball turret alone would be almost impossible to track down information on, but this turret had the name “Ileen Lois” painted on it.



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The name of Sgt. Truesdale’s wife painted on his ball turret

With this small clue, Historian Mario Di Sorte was able to piece together the history of the long lost airplane. The man who had been in the ball turret was Sgt. Ralph Truesdale of the 429th Bomb Squadron, 2nd Bomb Group, flying B-17’s out of Amendola Air Base in Foggia, Italy. Truesdale had a baby, and a wife named Eileen Lois waiting for him in the USA. His B-17 was named “Ethel” after the girlfriend of the right waist gunner. On January 15th, 1944 “Ethel” was one of thirty eight bombers sent to attack a railroad bridge at Certaldo, Italy. Intense flak came at the B-17’s over Perugia and caused a lot of damage to the formation. Two of Ethel’s four engines were blown out and she began to fall. She jettisoned her bombs to try and lighten her load and maintain altitude, but she continued to fall out of control.

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The ball turret at the bottom of lake Bolsena

Sgt. Ralph Truesdale and his wife and child

Sgt. Ralph Truesdale and his wife and child

The ten man crew abandoned their plane and the B-17 crashed into Lake Bolsena. Three of the crew were captured by the Germans and were sent to POW camps in Northern Germany. The remaining seven were able to hide with the help of Italian civilians who risked their lives to defy the Germans. Some of the crew escaped to Rome and hid in the Vatican until the liberation of the city, others were kept in hiding until the arrival of the Allies. Truesdale decided to try and escape separately from his crew members but was captured by the Germans and sent to a transit camp close to Rome. He was able to escape from the camp and remained in hiding until the arrival of friendly forces.

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Sgt. Ralph Truesdale’s ball turret on display

Truesdale’s wife and child did not know of Truesdale’s fate for many months. When the war ended, he went home to them, but their wartime romance did not survive and the couple divorced in 1947. Truesdale’s ball turret was removed from the depths of Lake Bolsena and now hangs in a museum, where it stands as a testament to the war in Italy and to love in wartime.

pictures credit Mario Di Sorte



 

2 thoughts on “Ball Turret Sheds Light on Wartime Romance

  • Lynn Dollar says:

    So, did the crew drop the ball turret from the aircraft to lighten the plane ? Or did the turret detach in the crash ? Was the plane near the turret in the lake ?

    My Dad’s crew dropped his ball turret into the English Channel, when they were trying to make it back on one engine.

    1. admin says:

      The ball turret was found along with the other wreckage of the aircraft about 300 feet under Lake Bolsena. So it seems the turret was not detached before the crash.
      We salute your Dad’s WWII service, he must have had some harrowing stories to tell about his wartime experience.

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