Use of the machine, owned by French rental company and civil engineering contractor Christophe Beaussire, of Catz in Normandy, was donated along with a JS220 and a JS240, a Loadall telescopic handler and a JCB Fastrac tractor to complete the delicate excavation work.
The site of the plane crash, which has lain undiscovered for almost 70 years, was found by British aviation archaeologist and historian Tony Graves. He had searched the area after reading of the crash of an American fighter. However when he found the site two and a half years ago, he discovered around 300 rounds of British ammunition by the crater. He also found a ring near the site that belonged to Flight Lieutenant Albert Chambers DFC, of Normanton in Derbyshire, who had been a member of the crew of Lancaster ND739.
The Bomber, piloted by Wing Commander Jimmy Carter, had taken off from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire early on D-Day, to carry out a raid on gun emplacements at Pointe du Hoc, on the Normandy coast, prior to the invasion landings. The plane was returning to England following a successful mission when it was shot down near Carentan, but the exact location has remained undiscovered until now.
Mr Graves obtained permission to excavate the site from the farmer and from the French Government and tried to find remains of the plane last year, using a 25 tonne excavator hired in from a local firm. However the ground conditions were so bad that the machine itself had to be recovered from the site, before the plane could be found.
By using the extended digging depth of Beaussire’s JS360LR long reach machine, the company has been able to carefully excavate the site, without having to track the heavy excavators into the soft ground in the excavation area. “We simply couldn’t have done it without the long reach JCB,” says Mr Graves. “It was essential to the success of this excavation and allowed us to get down to a depth of around 30 feet.”
The dig revealed hundreds of twisted parts that have been identified as coming from the Mk II Lancaster Bomber, along with its Merlin engines, the 300 rounds of ammunition, propeller blades and wheel hubs. However the most poignant discoveries have been personal effects, including a scrap of an RAF tunic with medal ribbons, a crumpled Bomber Command whistle, a silver cigarette case and two torn RAF woollen jumpers.
“The object of the dig was always to recover remains of the crew,” says Mr Graves. “They have always been listed as missing, lost without trace, so we wanted to give them a final named resting place. We did not find any human remains and only four good parachutes at the site, so we can only assume that they must have been buried among the unknown.”
The remains of the plane will be taken to a museum near Utah beach, where they will be displayed along with other WWII memorabilia. Mr Graves however is continuing his search for the airmen, who included Wing Commander Carter DFC, Squadron Leader Martin Bryan-Smith DFC, Flight Lieutenant Albert Chambers DFC, Flight Lieutenant Henry Jeffery DFM, Acting Flight Sergeant Guy Dunning DFM, Acting Flight Sergeant Frank Watson DFM, Australian Flight Lieutenant Ronald Conley DFC and Canadian Flight Lieutenant Herbert Reiger.
Christophe Beaussire runs a fleet of more than 60 JCB excavators, which are used on the company’s own civil engineering projects as well as being available for hire with or without an operator. Established in 1994, the company has more than 80 employees and works throughout France. The JS360LR is the latest addition to the firm’s growing fleet.
Weighing 42 tonnes, the machine is powered by a Stage IIIB/Tier 4 Interim compliant Isuzu diesel engine. Boasting a boom length of 12.23m, the long reach excavator has a maximum reach of 21,103mm and a maximum digging depth of 17,039mm. The JS360 is one of a 17-model range of JS crawler excavators produced by JCB.