Monday, July 19, 2010

The beach at Argentella

After the most beautiful and frightening three-hour drive I've ever been on, we finally reached the beach where B-24 42-78127 made its final landing July 5, 1944. We only found it because Dan used our Euro-standard cell phone to reach Dominique Taddei and Frank Allegrini, our Corsican guides (this one phone call making the London purchase of the phone and the expedition in Bern to get a France-to-U.K. Power adapter worthwhile).

We called Dominique from a crossroads gas station near Galeria, the village near the beach.

Frank drove there in his little Fiat and led us towards the beach. We stopped on the way from a spot along the country road with a commanding view of the beach.

Dominique and Frank.

We then drove for perhaps another 10 minutes down this narrow road to a parking lot near the beach. Our rental Renault scraped bottom seriously going down to the parking lot, making me glad I got the full damage coverage at the Hertz desk. As difficult as the beach was for us to find and reach - we never would have without our guides - I can only imagine how remote and inaccessable it was in July 1944.

We walked another five or ten minutes in the 90-degree heat to the beach. On the way Frank explained how he came across the wreck. Frank was preparing to go diving at Argentella, and the man who was filling his scuba tanks told him that he had witnessed the crash. He said the plane bounced two or three times on the rough waves and broke in two, with the front of the plane landing on the beach and the back remaining in the water.

Frank, it turns out, is a professional archaeologist. His day job is to oversee a Roman site at Ajaccio, where we are staying. He investigated the site with the care of a professional, and he eventually interviewed three witnesses. He learned the fate of the plane portion that landed on the beach. Around 1950, a man brought his donkey and some hand-operated cutting tools down to the beach and began to cut up the wreck for scrap, which be took up to the road one donkey-load at a time.

The propellers escaped the scrapyard. One had made it up to a local camping area somehow. A French Foreign Legion unit based in nearby Calvi hauled a second blade from the beach, and it too now rests in the camping area. Frank recovered a third propeller from the water, and I believe it is in his private collection. Frank sent me this correction July 30, 2010:
I did not recover the propeller from the bottom, the one I salvaged came from one other camping area near Calvi. That camping area was a military camp occupied by the foreign legion before being a camping area. They recovered that propeller in the 60s or 70s, probably during a training, and used the part as garden ornament. It was the camping owner who gave me that part in 1988.

Frank, thank you!

The fourth propeller remains in the bay somewhere. While Frank was able to photograph pieces of the wreck, he explained that a great storm in (if I recall correctly) 1999 covered or scattered the wreckage, so it is no longer visible to divers.

Frank and Dominique led us to the beach, where they took us to the spot where the front section was beached.

It was amazing to stand at the spot. A scene of terror, pain and death on July 5,1944, the beach today is a beautiful and quiet swimming beach used by campers at the nearby camping park and by locals and tourists savvy and hardy enough to find it. No sign that six men died on that mission, or that my Dad nearly did.

Frank then led us to the vegetation at the edge of the beach,where he said pieces of the plane had been washed up in storms. Sure enough. Absolutely amazing to find pieces of the plane after 66 years.

Then it was up to the camping park to see the propellers, First our guides chatted with the proprietor, who invited us into his little bar and offered us drinks. He seemed disappointed that all we asked for was Coke and water. I sure wanted something stronger, but after our terrifying drive up, I didn't dare. He refused to let me pay for the drinks, with characteristic Corsican hospitality. The Corsicans we met are unbelievably nice.

The camping park proprietor with Frank and Dominique.

Then it was a short walk to the propellers, mounted on a concrete wall along the park entrance:

The family poses with the propellers.

I should emphasize that Frank and Dominique did this on their own, traveling a long way on the crazy Corsican roads, to guide us with no pay. It's a debt I can never repay.


  1. That is amazing. With the family standing next to the propellers you can see how large the plane must have been.

    I am touched by the hospitality of those you met in Corsica.

  2. "filling scuba tanks" Can you give any further information on that?

    I love the photos! It looks to be a beautiful place! Did your dad ever talk about the war and the crash?

  3. My uncle was on that plane that crashed on July 5, 1944. He was Richard N. Duer. I would love to contact you regarding the information you have. I have an aerial photo of the plane over Toulon. I can be reached at