Ok, sorry for the time it has taken me to complete this article however I believe it has been worth the time and effort. So on the 2nd of April me and my dad ventured out it utterly glorious weather to search on the Derbyshire Moors for a crash site…
On Bleaklow Moor there is scattered the remains of an American WW2 Superfortress bomber, it is indeed a poignant place to visit as much of the wreckage is still visible. This Superfortress was not your standard B29 bomber but instead was an B-29 photographic reconnaissance aircraft. Not long at all after the end of WW2 the Soviet Union blockaded off the Allies road, rail and canal access to Western Berlin (one of the first major instances of the Cold War), with the proviso that the blockades would be lifted if the newly introduced Deutschmark was withdrawn from Western Berlin. In response to this it was necessary for the allies to air drop supplies to the citizens of Western Berlin hence the now famous Berlin Airdrop which continued from June 1948 until the 12th May 1949 and which our aforementioned Superfortress was involved.
During WW2 many nations took to naming their aircraft, this B-29 which was a part of USAF’s 16th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron was no exception, and was aptly named ‘Overexposed’. At the time of her tragic crash, she and her squadron were based at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, however she had already flown many miles and had an eventful life by this point in her service. This B-29 was one of three which ordered to accompany, the B29 Superfortress that had been tasked with the deployment of the ‘Able’ atomic bomb at Bikini Atoll (in the Pacific) in 1946.
Due to the diminutive American presence at American Logistics base Burtonwood, all the mail and pay packets destined for these squadrons was delivered to RAF Scampton, this meant there had to be regular collection and resupply flights between these military bases. Also sacks of mail bound for the states were loaded in. The Superfortress ‘Overexposed’ was on the 3rd November 1948 tasked with just such a flight, for such a mission only minimum flight crew was required however some American personnel chose to go, as the American base at Burtonwood provided the opportunity for the acquiring of some creature comforts, this brought the number of crew members up to 13. It was only a 25 minute flight away which the pilot may have made before, so to the personnel aboard the flight must have seemed to have little risk attached to it.
At about 10.15 on the morning of the 3rd of November, the pilot of B-29 Superfortress ‘Overexposed’ filed his Visual Flight Record with Flight Control for what was supposed to be a simple routine flight.
The November weather the day of the flight was not good and the cloud level was lower than 2000 feet with visibility being four to six miles. It was 11.15 am when the B-29 Superfortress flew across the moor not far from Burtonwood final approach basically at ground level. It is unclear why Captain Landon Tanner flew into the ground a couple of hundred yards from the highest point of Bleaklow (approximately 2077 feet).
It should be noted that Captain Tanner had no notable reason for being below 2000 feet, as he was still just a few minutes under ten minutes away from Burtonwood. The facts remain his maps would clearly show him the high ground he was flying over, he had been informed of how low the cloud base was (from his pre-flight meteorological reports at Scampton and from communications via radio from Burtonwood). It was just a 25 minute trip from Scampton to Burtonwood in a B-29.
It is perfectly acceptable to believe that the adverse weather conditions effected the navigator’s calculations on the aircrafts position significantly, resulting in them thinking they were a lot closer to Burtonwood than they were in reality.
Captain Tanner’s crew for the trip consisted of co-pilot – Captain Harry Stroud, engineer – Technical Sergeant Ralph Fields, radio operator – Staff Sergeant Gene A Gartner, navigator – Sergeant Charles Wilbanks, radar operator – David D Moore, camera crew – Technical sergeant Saul R Banks, Sergeant Donald R Abrogast, Sergeant Robert I Doyle and Private First Class William M Burrows. Two more crew members were Corporal George Ingram, Corporal M Franssen and acting photographic advisor Captain Howard Keel of the 4201st Motion Picture Unit.
When ‘Over Exposed’ failed to arrive at Burtonwood an air search was initiated, and the Superfortress’s blazing wreckage was spotted that afternoon. By chance Members of the Harpur Hill RAF Mountain Rescue Unit had just completed an exercise two and a half miles away, on their radio they picked up the messages that were being broadcast by the search aircraft. They checked the map reference and Flight Sergeant George Thompson and Corporal William Duthie both noted their proximity to the crash site and ordered their men approach the site and search from one side, whilst they started the search from Doctor’s Gate. Poor visibility prevented them from seeing the aircraft at first, but after 20 minutes they spotted the Superfortress’s tailfin and the fires blazing around it. Several bodies were scattered around the remains of the plain, Harpur Hill RAF Mountain Rescue could do nothing for them so they went back to their vehicle, so they could guide the Glossop firemen to the wreckage which was spread for a quarter of a mile across the moor. An extensive search was made for survivors, none were found and only eight bodies were located. The next morning around fifty men set off across the moor towards the downed aircraft, it was two hours before they saw the tailfin. They scoured the moor for the missing personnel, eventually all the bodies were discovered, scrambling about the wreckage an American Officer found a satchel containing £7000, part of the payroll.
Ted Ward a member of the RAF Mountain Rescue Team for Harpur Hill recalled: –
The first piece of wreckage that I came across was the nose wheel, followed after some 200 hundred yards by the tail unit.
Ted Ward was also close by when the remaining four bodies were found:-
I was within two or three yards when the remaining four were found, unfortunately they were burned beyond recognition.
The crew of ‘Over Exposed’ had completed their required service in Britain and were due to return home to the states in 3 days.
One visitor to this incredible site found a wedding ring belonging to one of the crew members and endeavoured to find its rightful owner, needless to say he succeeded and a local paper wanted to report on it. So he and the papers photographer ventured onto the moors and he stood in front of the wreckage for a photograph. The next thing this visitor knew the photographer was ‘legging it’ across the moor, when he finally caught up he asked the photographer why he had run. The photographer told him that when he had looked through the cameras lens to take a photograph, all of the Superfortress’s crew were stood around him.
I will state here that neither I nor my dad experienced anything like this whilst at the site, however it is certainly a sombre place and we left thoughtful.
If you want to know more about Superfortress ‘Over Exposed’ and other crash sites on Dark Peak. I whole heartedly recommend Dark Peak Aircraft Wrecks 1 by Ron Collier and Roni Wilkinson. If you do visit please do not disturb the wreckage as it stands testament and in memorial to the men that lost their lives there.
I may do another post on this subject, however now it really is exam season and so there may not be any posts for awhile.