France / Monument

The Belle Barbe pass monument




In May 1944, in preparation for the forthcoming landings, the Allies increased their aerial missions from partially reconquered Italy, to hinder the German army's movements and prevent it from reaching the south of France.

On Thursday 25 May 1944, two groups of B-24 Liberator heavy bombers from the 55th Bomber-Wing of the 15th U.S. Air Force, the 464th and 465th Bomber-Group, took off from their base at Gioia del Colle, in the recently liberated Puglia region of Italy. Their mission was to decommission the major railway junction at Givors, some twenty kilometres south of Lyon in the Rhône valley.

During this mission, four aircraft were seriously damaged, and three did not return to their base. The American bombers were badly battered on their return route, both by Flak (German anti-aircraft defence), and by Luftwaffe fighters based at Istres, Salon-de-Provence and Arles.

Aircraft ‘The Lucky Lady’ had its main fuel tanks hit. The aircraft crashed in the Estérel massif, on the Belle Barbe pass, less than 2km south of a German fighter shot down a few seconds earlier by the B-24's gunners.

Only four crew members were able to eject from the flying wreckage, which had turned into a fireball, according to several eyewitnesses in the vicinity.

Of these four airmen, only the pilot, Second Lieutenant William O. Trotter, landed alive near the Anthéor viaduct. Treated and evacuated by the Germans, he died of his wounds on 25 August 1944. He is buried in the American cemetery at Épinal.

Of the three other paratroopers who disappeared, only one was found. In April 1947 his skeleton was discovered, still wrapped in his parachute, which had gone up in flames.

A stele in memory of these men has been erected here at the site of the crash, on the Belle Barbe pass in the Esterel mountains. A path leads to the stele, which marks the spot where the crew members were temporariliy buried after being extracted from the wreckage, a few dozen metres higher up in the forest.

Seven of the crew are buried in the United States and two in the American cemetery in Draguignan.

A commemoration is held there every year at the end of May.

The stele mistakenly mentions the serial number 4129582. The aircraft's real number is 4129382.

Col de Belle Barbe, 83530 Estérel