B-24 42-50668 - Black Hameldon

19th February 1945

Updated 02.11.2010

Type Unit Base Duty Crew Passengers

B-24J  

854 Bomb Squadron, 491st Heavy Bombardment Group, US 8th AAF North Pickenham Administrative flight 5 6

 

B-24 Liberator 42-50668 Coded 6X M- before the crash
B-24 Liberator 42-50668 Coded 6X M-

Tail section of B-24 after the crash
Aftermath of the crash

Although a new article to this site, it is in fact many years since I first visited the crash site of B-24 Liberator 42-50668 On Black Hameldon near Burnley, Lancs. This first visit was in fact one of my very first forays into the world of Aviation Archaeology and as I made my way up the moorland slope of the hill, ordnance survey map in hand, marked with a grid reference provided by the late Kevin Mount an enthusiast friend from Burnley, I had little idea what, if anything, I would find. It was visits to this and several other sites suggested by Kevin that made up my mind that this was the hobby for me. This page is in a way a tribute to Kevin, who died some years ago, with the initial information being taken from his book "Wartime Pendle" which contains the results of much of his research and hard work - long before the days of the Internet or even the release of many of the records we consult today.

Remains of two engines
Two engines now removed from the site

Mian u/c leg
One of the massive main undercarriage legs

Assigned to 854 Squadron of the U.S. 8th Air Force, 491st Heavy Bombardment Group, the aircraft (Code 6X M-) was a veteran of some 26 missions by February 1945 and although it had been recently overhauled and fitted with two new engines it was now scheduled to be returned to Base Air Depot 1 at Burtonwood. The pilot for this "milk-run" was First Lieutenant Charles Goeking who had just arrived back at the Squadron’s North Pickenham base following leave, but too late to take part in a forthcoming raid on the Seigan marshalling yards in Germany. Four other members of his crew joined him, including T. Sgt. Howard E. Denham Jr. who apparently volunteered in place of a sick colleague. The aircraft took off on the afternoon of the 19th February with 6 passengers on board for the 150 mile trip, into what turned out to be deteriorating weather conditions as they made their way Northwards. By the time they reached their estimated destination the ground was completely obscured by low cloud, rain and fog. Through a break in the cloud cover Lt. Goeking attempted to descend and glimpsed what he assumed to be Liverpool below, not realising he was in fact looking at the towns of Accrington and Burnley. His mistaken belief apparently confirmed, he then began to climb again and flew a new heading of approx. 90 degrees towards the area he assumed the Burtonwood base would lie.

Below Edward Rawlinson, a junior photographer for the local newspaper and keen aircraft spotter was startled by the sudden noise "During the war with very little traffic noise around, a piston engined aircraft of that size makes a tremendous noise when flying low in dense cloud."

In fact he was in the midst of Lancashire's hill country and as he re-entered the cloud he could not have realised he had in fact set a course for one of the largest hills surrounding the town of Burnley – Black Hameldon. As he became aware of the dark shadow of the hill now confronting him, he would have no doubt pulled back on the control column as hard as he could in order to try and lift the heavy aircraft, but it proved to be a futile gesture and at 16.25 hrs the B-24 slammed into the bleak moorland hillside, tail-first and under full power. The impact ripped the fuselage in two, the tail section breaking away, killing those members of the crew stationed within instantly. The remainder of the aircraft ploughed on some 100 yards up the slope, completely disintegrating and throwing Lt. Goeking through the armoured windscreen. Only the characteristic twin stabilisers of the B-24s tail remained recognisable amongst the tangle of wreckage. The silence that followed the crash saw six seriously injured crew members lying amidst the wreckage, the other five having been killed instantly, awaiting rescue for what must have seemed like hours in the fading light of a cold February evening.

Crew photo belonging to T. Sgt. Howard E. Denham Jr. (standing 3rd from left). From the
legible signatures: T. Sgt. Leslie E. Johnson is standing 1st left. 1st Lt. George H. Smith Jr.
is seated 2nd from left and 1st Lt. Charles A. Goeking seated 3rd from left.

 

Name Position Status
1st Lt. Charles A. Goeking Pilot Major Injury
1st Lt. George H. Smith Jr. Co-pilot Died of Injuries
T. Sgt. Howard E. Denham Jr. Engineer Died of Injuries
T. Sgt. Leslie E. Johnson Radio operator Major Injury
1st Lt. Frank E. Bock Navigator Died of Injuries
Sgt. Robert E. Hyett Passenger Major Injury
2nd Lt. Joseph B. Walker III Passenger Killed
F/O David A. Robinson Jr. Passenger Killed
F/O Gerald Procita Passenger Killed
2nd Lt. Elmer R. Brater Passenger Killed
Sgt. Randolph R. Mohlenrich Jr. Passenger Killed

Edward Rawlinson continues: "On the Monday we had no idea at the Burnley Express, our weekly newspaper, that the aircraft had come down and it was not until the Wednesday did it start to filter through about the crash. During the war everything was top secret and the emergency services were governed by strict security rules, our information came via Burnley's Victoria Hospital. It was then that the chief reporter and the rest of the staff remembered a low flying aircraft being in the vicinity."

"On the Saturday following the crash I traveled to Cant Clough reservoir and followed the crowd on to the moors to visit the site. The flow of people was like an army of ants moving towards the aircraft and everyone seemed to be coming back with a wartime trophy from this tragic accident. I remember a load of yellow roundish objects coming towards me in that parade of collectors. On "guard" was an American serviceman ensconced with a tent and a local girl sitting inside it. He was carrying a revolver which was a great attraction to the local kids and he allowed them to climb all over the wings where the fuel tanks still contained aviation fuel - it was a very dangerous situation. His interests it seemed were elsewhere! The aircraft's guns were lying about and live shells were scattered all around and being picked up as trophies. I spotted part of a radio receiver and asked the American guard if I could have it as a memento, he told me that it was no use then went back inside the tent. It looked good to me, a going on 16 year old, with its dials and knobs. The Saturday was a crisp Winter's day far different from the previous Monday and I cursed myself for not taking a camera, but with the war time restrictions I never thought I could get near enough the site to take photographs. The aircraft hadn't been demolished by fire and I remember the engines and propellers being quite intact although not together and the wings still either side of the cockpit."

1st Lt. Charles A. Goeking

T. Sgt. Howard E. Denham Jr.

Over the next few days three more of the crew succumbed to their wounds and it would be some two years before the most seriously injured, Lt. Goeking, finally left hospital, though he would show the scars of his ordeal and walk with a limp for the rest of his life. Some two weeks after the crash much of the aircraft was destroyed when the remaining fuel was deliberately set alight, probably after the area had been examined by crash investigators and the smoke from the burning fuel was seen for miles around. What remained of the wreck of 42-50668 was left on the moor and became a magnet for local schoolboys after the war and many souvenirs from the aircraft probably still lie forgotten at the back of sheds and garages around Burnley! Sometime during the 1950s further wreckage was removed, presumably for scrap, though the heavier items such as the remains of the engines, the pilot's and co-pilot's armoured seats and huge main undercarriage legs were left, forming an unofficial memorial at the crash site. However no engines are now visible at the crash site, and at least three have been either removed altogether or moved from the crash site itself, though one has now found its way to the Newark Air Museum where it has apparently been placed on loan by an unnamed "private individual" and may be found resting on the floor in their "Engine Hall".


Remains of one of 42-50668's engines
now at Newark 

Today only the two main undercarriage legs remain on an area of bare peat littered with tiny fragments. No engines now remain or the seats, the recovery of which was apparently requested by the pilot, Charles A. Goeking, on his return to the crash site in the early 1970s, a visit organised by Kevin Mount. However, as Kevin tried to make arrangements to assist with this request, it seems someone locally got word of the plan and the seats suddenly disappeared and despite extensive local enquiries over the years they have never re-surfaced. It seems though that today there are those locally who appreciate the significance of the site and a loose stone cairn has appeared, topped by the broken lower section from one of the undercarriage legs.

Crash site of B-24 Liberator 42-50668 in 2009 (Mark Sheldon)

Postscript: Though the fate of the lost seats has never been explained, we have traced a number of artifacts recovered by a local enthusiast from the site in the 1970s and which have now been donated to the LAIT collection, the largest being; the front turret armour, a four foot section of tail fin structure and a complete reduction gear assembly, these items finally completed their journey to Burtonwood a few years ago, when they went on display at the Heritage Centre there for a time.


Acknowledgements:

Kevin Mount. Dennis Sexton, Dave Blake, Howard Heeley (Newark Air Museum). Family of the late Lt.Charles Goeking (photo), Family of the late T. Sgt. Howard E. Denham Jr. (photos). Edward Rawlinson. Mark Sheldon (photo).

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This page & all articles on this site Copyright Nick Wotherspoon 2000