ARLINGTON, Va. –
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and the U.S. State Department recognized members of the Royal Danish Navy for their efforts to support an underwater survey of a U.S. B-24 Liberator aircraft wreckage, which might help to account for missing World War II Airmen and provide information to their families.
On June 20, 1944, two U.S. B-24 bombers collided and crashed in the sea southeast of the island of Langeland. The aircraft were from U.S. Army Air Force’s 565th Bomb Squadron on their way to strike targets in Kiel, Germany. Between the two aircraft, there were 21 Airmen involved in the incident, 14 of whom are still missing.
In an award ceremony on the bridge of Her Danish Majesty’s Ship Søløven, the U.S. State Department presented awards and certificates of appreciation to the captain and crew of the HMS Søløven, and divers with the Danish Navy Fleet Diving Unit on behalf of DPAA, August 24,2021.
“We have had strong military and security ties with the Kingdom of Denmark since World War II,” said Chargé d’Affaires Stuart Dwyer, who presented the awards to the Danish Navy personnel. “They are the backbone of our bilateral relationship, and it is moments like this one today that are a testament to this longstanding and close relationship shared between our two countries, including the men and women who have served and sacrificed like those we have come here today to recognize.”
After locating the wreckage in September 2019 and conducting a site survey, a Danish hazardous explosive ordnance disposal team removed nine 500-pound bombs and safely detonated them away from the site to ensure any possible human remains were left undisturbed.
"It is fantastic,” said Royal Danish Navy Commander Lars Møller Pedersen, who was first alerted to the “interesting” find by a colleague and has gone on to serve as the Danish lead in the joint mission between the two NATO nations. “It is moving to see what you are doing to get your Airmen back.”
DPAA historians and archaeologists identified the aircraft type and model working with photos, video and physical evidence collected from the wreckage by the Danish Navy. In August 2021, a joint U.S. and Demark survey mission began using multiple Royal Danish Navy ships and dive equipment, as well as Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV)s from the DPAA partner organization, the University of Delaware.
“We have a lot of good photographs that can tell the story,” Pedersen said.
The mission of DPAA is to provide the fullest possible accounting of missing personnel to their families and the nation. With more than 38,000 Americans still missing from WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf War and other conflicts and estimated to be recoverable, the work of DPAA would not be possible without the assistance of allies like Denmark, according to DPAA leaders.
“We at DPAA wanted to tangibly extend our gratitude to the Royal Danish Navy, and by extension, the people of Denmark for helping us fulfill America’s commitment to our missing service members who paid the supreme sacrifice, and to their families,” said Kelly McKeague, DPAA’s Director. “
Currently, team members from the University of Delaware, part of the non-profit organization, Project Recover, are creating a detailed site map of the wreckage and surrounding debris field for DPAA using sonar and magnetometer data. Scuba divers from the university and the Royal Danish Navy are mapping and documenting the wreckage while trying to identify specific features of the crashed plane. The goal is to identify promising areas of the plane where future teams may pursue recovery efforts regarding the site.
The sailors and divers from the Danish Navy have been benefiting from working with DPAA’s partners on this mission, said Pedersen.
"We have a military approach, and the university has an archeological approach,” he said. “It is very beneficial for both of us."
The sentiment was echoed by one of the members of the University of Delaware team.
“It’s been an extraordinary privilege working with the Royal Danish Navy, both the crew of the Søløven, and the Royal Danish Navy’s Fleet Dive Unit,” said Dan Davis, Lead Archeologist with the project. “They are consummate professionals, whether we’re surveying with the autonomous vehicles offshore in small boats or diving with them side by side during our investigation. And they respect our mission. They understand the need to fulfill the U.S. Government’s commitment to account for the missing service members who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
In 2017, the University of Delaware formally partnered with DPAA under the Project Recover umbrella to support DPAA’s mission of locating and repatriating service members still missing from past conflicts. Project Recover is a collaborative effort to enlist 21st-century science and technology in a quest to find and repatriate Americans missing in action (MIA) since World War II. This collaboration allows for exchange of historical records, technical expertise, and field methodologies, which has significantly grown in coordination and scope, and is now the basis for a number of partner activities.
“Project Recover and the University of Delaware are some of the many talented partners that serve as force multipliers for our worldwide humanitarian efforts,” McKeague said. “We appreciate these partnerships and the capabilities they add to our pursuit of those still missing from our nation’s past wars.”