This is how the story of the Boeing B17 Flying Fortress wreck and Ernest Vienneau begins. “…We tried to head for Switzerland, but we were losing altitude too fast. As we couldn’t cross the Alps, the pilot requested the heading for the secret airstrip on Vis Island, off the coast of ex-Yugoslavia. We were told to lighten the plane, so everything went that could be pulled, pried, or jerked loose. This meant guns, ammo, flak vests – everything but the radios.
Location: Vis Island; Coordinates: 43.017°; 16.2171°
Vis came into view, and as we were lining up for the runway, the number four engine stopped, out of fuel.
As soon as we had lined up, a red flare came arcing up – a go around the signal. I felt the nose of the plane pull up sharply. Lt Emerson yelled: Sieling, get back to your position, prepare for ditching!
As we were making a left turn over the Adriatic, the final engine quit, out of fuel. I went on the catwalk again, and all I could hear was the wind noise coming through the bomb-bay area. As I gazed down into the water passing rapidly below me, my parachute harness snapped into the bomb wires, holding me captive to the bomb racks.
I hit the release button, jumped out of the harness and had just opened the radio-room door when we hit a wall of water. It pushed me into the radio-room and slammed me against the wall. I stood up and we all managed to climb out of the plane.
USAAF B-17G Flying Fortress crash-landed
This USAAF B-17G Flying Fortress crash-landed on approach to the island of Vis, Croatia after being hit by anti-aircraft fire during a bombing raid over Europe in 1944, which killed the co-pilot Ernest Vienneau. One life raft was usable; the other had been shredded by flak. Some of our crew went into the raft, while the others were swimming towards the shore. Standing on the wing, I quickly decided to get back to the plane to get the body of the co-pilot out.
But before I reached the fuselage, the nose suddenly tilted down and I dived into the water. The plane stayed afloat for about 10 minutes, before finally going down nose-first, taking the co-pilots body with it. We were about 500ft from the shore but fortunately, we were soon picked up by a local fisherman and British soldiers from the radar unit stationed on the island…
The surviving crew escaped in dinghies. This spectacular wreck of a famous World War 2 bomber is in remarkable condition and lies at 72 meters.
The wreck is only 150 meters from the coast.
During World War Two, the Adriatic Sea was a battlefield for the Italian and German navies confronting oncoming Allied forces. The Croatian islands were held by Titos partisans, while the mainland was dominated by Germans. Partisans had fought the Germans and Italians since their uprising in 1941, and from 1943 they were aided by the Allies in many ways.
Food, arms, and ammunition from Allied bases on the Italian coast were transported by sea to the Croatian mainland via Vis island, where a garrison of partisan and British troops was preparing to fight off a threatened German invasion.
In the spring of 1944, a US engineering team built an auxiliary landing strip for damaged US bombers to use in an emergency. Landing on this small airfield became the last chance for many USAF bomber crews who couldn’t make it back to their southern Italian bases, but they weren’t all so lucky. The aircraft you see in this video had been one that nearly made it.
The wreck lies in 72m deep and only about 100-150m from the shore of Vis island, Croatia.
An intact B-17 is lying on the sand as if it had just landed, and it seems as if it was still standing on its wheels! Divers have reported that it is resting on the sand, while the port wingtip is several meters above the sandy bottom.