News from HM Coastguard:
Monday, 22 December 2014
COASTGUARDS COMMEMORATE FALLEN US AIRMEN
Coastguards from Holyhead have this weekend marked the sad occasion of the wartime deaths of US Airmen.
70 years ago on the 22 December 1944 while returning from a mission over Europe a flight of seven B-24 liberator bombers from the 36th Bomber Squadron, based at Chedding near Ayslbury were diverted to RAF Valley on the Isle of Anglesey.
Four of the aircraft from the flight managed to land at RAF Atcham near Shrewsbury before the weather closed in and made landing impossible. The remaining three aircraft nicknamed ‘Miss Behaving’, ‘Ramp Rooster’ and ‘The Jig’s Up’ were told to proceed to RAF Valley in Wales.
Once they were over the airfield they requested a radio range frequency to be able to land. The tower at RAF Valley could not give it to them because the Germans would hear the information being given out. At this point all three aircraft were now very low on fuel.
‘The Jig’s Up’ called the tower at RAF Valley to say that the crew were bailing out and that they had lost two engines. Eight of the ten crewman from the stricken aircraft parachuted into the icy Irish Sea not knowing that the airfield was on an island surrounded by water.
Coastguard Peach who was on duty at South Stack witnessed the crash at the North Stack Fog Station and he immediately contacted Holyhead. Coastguard teams from Holyhead, Rhoscolyn, and Cemaes bay searched for three days and three nights for the crew along with Holyhead Lifeboat, Dutch Naval patrol boats, and RAF Air Sea Rescue launches.
The pilot Harold Boehm who landed in a field at Holyhead and the Co-pilot Don Burch who landed near Treaddur Bay told their rescuers that the crew and bailed out before the bailout order had been given and that they were not wearing lifejackets. They are still listed as missing today.
Those listed as missing are:
2nd Lt William Lehner. Navigator
S/Sgt Arthur Clemens. Gunner
S/Sgt Harvey Nystrom. Gunner
S/Sgt Francis Lynch. Radio Operator
S/Sgt Andrew Zapatocky. Gunner
Sgt Roger Cagne. Gunner
S/Sgt Jamie Fonseca .Gunner
Sgt Charles Dautel . Gunner
23 years ago two propellers were raised from the crash site at North Stack and a memorial set up to honour the crew of ‘The Jig’s Up’ by Coastguard Rescue Officer Brendan Maguire. The memorial stone with a propeller blade has been maintained by Holyhead Coastguard Rescue team for the past twenty years. The Second Propeller blade was also raised and is on display at the Fort Fisher military history museum in North Carolina, USA.
To mark the 70th anniversary the memorial was moved to a new site in the Holyhead Breakwater Park.
Yesterday a wreath was laid by Allan Simms, the Station Officer from Holyhead Coastguard Rescue Team. This was at the request of the sole surviving crewman, Co-Pilot Donald Burch, now in his nineties and living in Virginia. During the service a wreath was also laid by Holyhead Coastguard Controller Graham Clarke.
As well as tributes from other organisations including Holyhead lifeboat crew there was a flypast by Rescue 122 from 22 Squadron RAF Valley search and rescue helicopter.
The guest speaker was Lt Col Travis Willis, the Air Attaché from the US Embassy in London along with the Commanding officer of RAF Valley. He paid tribute to HM Coastguard and the RNLI for their work and their efforts in searching for the crew of ‘The Jig’s Up’ 70 years ago.
Before the memorial service took place, both the Holyhead Coastguard team and Holyhead RNLI were called out to assist with a fishing trawler in difficulty in heavy seas off South Stack Lighthouse. Assisting a vessel in the same area where ‘The Jig’s Up’ crashed in 1944 with similar weather conditions was evocative.