USAAF B-24J Liberator 42-51232 ‘The Jigs Up’

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USAAF B-24J Liberator 42-51232 ‘The Jigs Up.’

The photo above was taken from the former fog warning station and shows the rock of North Stack. Visible at the upper left edge of the photo is South Stack Lighthouse.

22 December 1944

Returning to base at RAF Cheddington in Buckinghamshire, having taken off from RAF Manston, the B-24J crashed into the Irish Sea with the loss of eight of ten of the crew on board.

Photo below from 36th Bomb Squadron

‘The Jigs Up’ along with 6 other B-24s, had been on an operation over occupied Europe, jamming enemy communications. Upon returning to base, poor weather had caused the flight to divert as part of a contingency plan to RAF Atcham in Shropshire, where four Liberators managed to land. However, with the weather deteriorating further, the remaining three were diverted again to RAF Valley, Anglesey.

Two landed safely but 42-51232 had to go round again. Shortly after 5.30pm, by which time the aircraft was running out of fuel, a report was made to RAF Valley to the effect that engines 2 and 4 had failed and the crew were baling out. However, the B-24J was in dense low cloud and pilot 1st Lt Boehm did not know they were not over land, but over sea. Eight men baled out and were never seen again.

First Lt Boehm and Second Lt Burch – unaware of the fate of their comrades who had bailed out minutes earlier – finally abandoned their aircraft and safely parachuted down, the former being found in a field near Holyhead while 2nd Lt Burch came down at Trearddur Bay, which is south of Holyhead. One report states that upon being found, the pilot and co-pilot said that the other crew members had not been wearing lifejackets and had baled out before the order was given. Other reports say that 1st Lt Boehm had ordered the crew to bale out while he and 2nd Lt Burch held the aircraft for as long as possible.

A large scale search for the crew was initiated after the Coastguard reported an aircraft crashing into the sea off Holyhead Mountain but without success; tragically, the eight remaining crew were lost at sea.

The abandoned Liberator crashed into sea off North Stack, Anglesey. Coflein (see references) has it that the aircraft crashed about 1km north west of North Stack. Other reports suggest the aircraft hit the water and crashed into the rocks. One photo from 36th Bomb Squadron Radar Counter Measures (see link below) shows debris on rocks which one presumes is North Stack.

Photo 36th Bomb Squadron. Taken 23 December 1944

Edit 26 December 2023

The photo below was provided by Antony Roberts and is used with his kind permission. It is of a shell casing from the wreck site and was recovered by Antony’s late father Jeff Roberts who was a scuba diver in the late nineteen sixties and early seventies; Antony would go out with him on his speed boat on some trips but didn’t dive himself.

Antony says, “One day he said he was diving on a crashed American Liberator. I remember him coming up with a handful of these casings, they were all green. He said the bottom, only 40 feet deep, was covered in these casings, probably spent during the mission. About six years ago I was clearing out my mother’s garage as my father has now passed and I found one of these casings. It brought back memories of the day, probably early 1970s.”


Crew

Those listed here as presumed dead were reported as missing, their bodies having never been recovered. There is a lot of variation of the spelling of the crew names, so I have gone with what is recorded on the memorial stone at Breakwater Park, see photo below.

Pilot, First Lieutenant Harold Boehm (survived)
Co-pilot, Second Lieutenant Donald Burch (survived)
Navigator, Second Lieutenant William H Lehner (presumed dead)
Assistant Engineer, Staff Sergeant Arthur R Clemens (presumed dead)
Radio Operator, Staff Sergeant Harvey N Nystrom (presumed dead)
Radio Operator, Staff Sergeant Francis J Lynch (presumed dead)
Air Gunner, Sergeant Andrew Zapotocky (presumed dead)
Air Gunner, Sergeant Roger F Gagne (presumed dead)
Air Gunner, Sergeant Jaime Fonseca (presumed dead)
Air Gunner, Sergeant Charles H Dautel (presumed dead)


The memorial

There is a well maintained memorial to the crew of ‘The Jigs Up’ at The Holyhead Breakwater Country Park. The memorial has a propeller blade from the aircraft. It was recovered in 1992 by diver Brendan Maguire. Another prop blade recovered at the same time was given to the US National Military Museum, Fort Fisher, North Carolina. Other memorials have been added at the park over the years since. These next 5 photos were taken March 2023.

Visiting North Stack

There is a pay & display car park at Breakwater Park, it’s not expensive and the machine accepts card payments. Charges only apply from 8am. Postcode is LL65 1YG

The walk from there to North Stack is not difficult. I took the quarry path and returned via the coast path. The latter is probably easier and prettier. The track marked on the map may once have been suitable for vehicles, but not now.

Below: Another view of North Stack showing the now disused fog signal station

The whitewashed house with its walls and outbuildings was formerly the fog signal station. It was later the home of artist Philippa Jacobs. A BBC news item from 2009 about her has a photo of her blue Land Rover. I spoke briefly with the current occupier while taking these photos. I gestured to the blue Land Rover parked outside and asked how you get a vehicle down that track? “You don’t,” came the reply.

Below: Philippa Jacobs’ Land Rover. Photo BBC

Below: South Stack lighthouse, this view looking across Gogarth Bay, where the B-24J crashed. This photo was taken during a previous visit. North Stack is just out of sight at the right edge of the photo.

References and credits Note some of the old photos copied above are widely available online so the original source is unknown.

Photo of the shell casing courtesy of Antony Roberts.

Coflein

36th Bomb Squadron (RCM)

BBC News item about Philippa Jacobs

North Wales Live News

HM Coastguard

American War Memorials Overseas

8 comments on “USAAF B-24J Liberator 42-51232 ‘The Jigs Up’
  1. Andrew pitt says:

    Thank you for sharing this, living just across the water in trefor and being a keen aircrash site walker I never knew this, I will pay a visit soon.

  2. Kevin E Willmore says:

    Thank you! My mother-in-law is soon to be 92 years old. Her first cousin is captain Boehm. She knew him well and says he suffered his entire life at the loss of his crew. I live in Idaho, USA and my ancestors came here from Birmingham, England in 1870’s. Have a great desire to visit this site.

    • Ian D B says:

      Hi Kevin,

      Thank you for your comment. It must have been a terrible burden for Harold Boehm to carry for the rest of his life.

      I hope you make it to Wales. Anglesey is a lovely place, we visit at least once a year.

      Best wishes for Christmas and the new year.

      Ian

  3. Antony Roberts says:

    I remember my father diving on this wreck in the 70,s. He brought up a handful of bullet casings. I still have one! Never knew the story until I read it here, fascinating. Only live 60 miles away, would love to visit the memorial one day.

    • Ian D B says:

      Hi Antony, I’m glad you found this page! If you would provide a photo of a bullet casing, I’d add it here – with credit to you and your father of course. My email is on the contact page.
      Best wishes,
      Ian

  4. Jayne says:

    Thank you for this information. My grandmother was Lt. William Lehners sister. I only knew him from one picture and discussions were very short because of the pain of losing him was so great so we never had any info other than he passed on. Thank you again!!

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