Consolidated B-24 Liberator s/n.41-23659 'Blonde Bomber II',[N 2] was operated by the 343rd BS, 98th BG 'The Pyramiders' 9th AF. Flown by the crew of Lt.Dan Story, Blonde Bomber II took port in the 24th February 1943 Naples raid. 23659 was damaged by flak, making it unlikely that the machine should make it back to its base in Libya. The pilot decided to divert to Malta, but due to appalling weather and consequent navigation error, the 'Blonde Bomber II' landed at Pachino, Sicily. Realizing their mistake the pilots attempted to take off, but the pouring rain has turned the runway into a bog, and the plane and crew were captured by the Regia Aeronautica.[N 3] On 4th March 1943, using the remaining fuel, Captain Giovanni Raino took off to Catania to refuel the airplane with German petrol, as Italian fuels were of too poor quality. For that flight the airplane was given Regia Aeronautica markings in place of the US stars, but this proved of little use as during its subsequent flight to the test centre at Guidonia, Italian AAA gunners have fired accurately at the unmistakable Liberator which, however, made it to its destination, if only on two engines.
The plane was repaired and transferred to Centro Sperimentale at Guidonia, where it was extensively tested by Italian personnel as I-RAIN,[N 4] before being passed to Germany on 19 June 1943 and to KG200. [N 5] During one flight by German personnel the undercarriage collapsed and the plane was damaged. Allied personnel found the aircraft in heavily damaged condition at Rechlin.
- The St Michael Book Aircraft of World War 2 lists the serial number as 41-23859
- The name was also used by B-17G-90-BO 43-37869. Completed in the Seattle plant on August 12, 1944, and assigned to the 710th Bomb Squadron, 447th Bomb Group, on September 17. After the loss of 43-37869 Blonde Bomber, this aircraft assumed the name Blonde Bomber II.
- This made it the first B-24 to be captured by the Axis.
- The aircraft received a white fuselage band and white tail fin crosses at some point during it's time in Italian hands.
- The aircraft is believed to have gained full German insignia over it's original 'Desert Pink' colour scheme.
- Gunston, Bill. Aircraft of World War 2. Published by St. Michael/Octopus Books, 1982. ISBN 0862730147 Page 45