The USAF B29 Superfortress wreckage on Bleaklow

This video walk tells a brief story of the Boeing RB-29A [F13-A] Superfortress 44-61999 ‘Over Exposed’ 16th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, 91st Reconnaissance Wing, 311 Air Division, Strategic Air Command, found  at Higher Shelf Stones in the Peak District on Bleaklow, near Glossop  in 1948 whilst on a routine flight to the American airbase at Burtonwood, Warrington.

The flight was carrying the payload of $7,400 dollars for the buttonwood base employees which incredibly escaped the inferno unharmed. Tragically, the All 13 crew members were killed – just  3 days before they were due to return home having survived WWII.

There are over 180 plane wreckages in the Peak District but none more prolific in terms of remains, than this super fortress –  an incredible engineering masterpiece of the day and one which is the forerunner of modern jets of today. 

Starting at Birchin Clough car park on the A57, this walk takes you through the fantastic Snake Woodlands Plantation and Lady Clough, then up via Doctors Gate to just over 2000 feet to the site of the 1948 American Superfortress wreckage.

The return journey has me hopping & scrambling over 66 peat groughs -yes I know, I did count them haha! – stopping by at a Bothy – aka shooting cabin on the map – in Oyster Clough before descending back down above the Snake Inn to the Birchin Clough car park.

I have been up to this crash site 4 times in 2015  – this first trip started back in February in the snow – and that day turned out to be quite an ordeal for a novice like me. I had never hiked in snow before nor even seen a peat grough – I was quite stupid to continue into the unknown across Bleaklow as darkness fell on that winters day. Overtaken by the fantastic blue sky and the vistas of snow, I was completely unprepared for the further 6 hours of darkness, fog, snow sometimes up to my arm pits in deep groughs and sub-zero temperatures with only a fading torch a dead GPS PLUS no phone signal! you can check here for more on that.

I returned again in June, August and October to get more footage as well as to see those peat groughs in the daytime in fine weather. Well – I must say, those groughs are not so easy to get over in fine weather and glad no one was looking at my pathetic scrambles to get out of them! Actually however, I do not know how I survived that trek back in February. But a lesson must be to be prepared before you head out – make sure someone knows your intended rout. You must also know when to turn back and that the short days soon come to a close and those crispy blue skies can turn to darkness and fog. Essential is to learn the compass and map too! you can read about this mini survival adventure here and hopefully some other novice like me will find it, take head and think twice before heading out unprepared.

Rout Map

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You can download a basic gpx file for your gps can be downloaded from here here.. follow the directions but across the moors you will have to negotiate the peat groughs!

As you will see from the video this is a great walk via Lady Clough & the Snake Plantation, Bleaklow and back via a Bothy. I have been fortunate enough to see it in several seasons and captured a little in stills and on film, which can also be seen in the video..

The crash site as seen on Google Maps is quite widespread.

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The wreckage of the Super-fortress “OverExposed”

Arriving at the scene takes on a rather sombre tone and even whilst almost 70 years on there is considerable wreckage still here  – although much has been removed by souvenir hunters as well as the elements has also had it’s part having rusted and oxidised much of the fabric. Still, you will find some shiny alloys present but the most prolific parts present are that of the 4 x 2,200 hp Wright 3350 cyclone engines as well as the main undercarriage. There is a turret dome that was removed from the moors legitimately under an MoD licence and, following the closure of a display originally put together by the Glossop Heritage Trust, this now resides in the Newark Air Museum with the permission of the MoD.

The wreckage site at higher Shelf Stones, temperatures and fog & darkness falling fast..

This was an incredible aircraft of its day  – an electro mechanical masterpiece indeed. it had pressurised cabins for high altitudes together  with 5 remote control gun turrets, the rear also housing a cannon – would have made it a very difficult plane to attack from any direction. Almost 4,000 of these planes were built and many like this one was converted into a reconnaissance aircraft fitted with 25 cameras and thereafter designated an R-B29.

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Above, the remains of the huge cyclone engine, 18 cylinders and 2,200+ horse power and below the wright 3350 as it would look in working order. What an incredible machine.

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Undercarriage Struts & Wheels

One of the huge undercarriage wheels and struts, the wheel still with part of the rubber tyre. The Russians reverse engineered and cloned the B29 (Tupolev TU-4) virtually to the last rivet, but the tyres they had a little difficulty with.

“Overexposed” was based at RAF Scampton and on a routine flight to American airbase Burtonwood, Warrington. Scamton was also the home of the Dambusters 617 squadron formed in 1943, and today Scamton is home to the Red Arrows.

I believe the Superfortress to have crashed due to instrumentation failure and there would have been no reason to be flying at that low altitude and the pre flights check reveals the pilot, Landon Tanner, was briefed on the low cloud and having flown this rout several times, the Capt. Tanner would have known the terrain. The pilot, Capt. Landon Tanner would have touched the nose down a tad to get a bearing, but the very low cloud and fog that day, together with instrumentation failure, would have sealed the fate of the Superfort. Just 15 feet higher and it would have cleared higher shelf stones @ 621m / 2037ft.

Crash Scene 1948

Crash Scene 1948

When the aircraft failed to arrive at the airbase an air search was called and the burning wreckage was seen. At the time the members of RAF Harpur Hill Mountain Rescue team were completing an exercise just two and a half miles away and picked up the messages of the search aircraft. Realising that they were in the area, in two parties, they moved towards the crash site through conditions of mist and drizzle until they could see the remains of the aircraft with its high tailfin above the fires. The first arrivals from the RAF team, Flight Sergeant George Thompson and Corporal William Duthie realised there were no survivors of the crash and as night fell firemen and other men from the RAF arrived and made a further search. Very early the following day a much larger party made their way to Higher Shelf Stones and the 200 yard long debris trail was searched until all the bodies of the crew were found, as was the pay satchel.

Members of the RAF MRT after the search for the Super Fortress - Corp. W Duthie and Flight-Sergeant G. Thompson tell of their search.

Members of the RAF MRT after the search for the Super Fortress – Corp. W Duthie and Flight-Sergeant G. Thompson tell of their search.

Mountain Rescue at Doctors Gate

Mountain Rescuers at Doctors Gate

B29 Cockpit

On the inside,  the B29 Cockpit

B29 Overexposed mock up

B29 Overexposed mock up

 

The Superfort  44-61999 ‘Over Exposed’ was built at Renton Washington and entered service just before the Second World War ended. In 1946 it was one of seven F-13s that were fitted with extra cameras, including cine cameras in the five gun turrets, and assigned to a special unit created to test the effects of atomic bombs against ships under what was known as ‘Operation Crossroads’. For this operation the planes were based at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands and also played a key roll in the Berlin Airlift in 1948.

Overexposed Crew at Atoll

Above: A photo of ‘Over Exposed’ while serving with Task Force 351 at Kwajalein Atoll during the 1946 Atom bomb tests. The names of the men in the photo are unknown.

 

The Crew 3rd November 1948

Capt. Landon Tanner

Pilot Capt. Landon Tanner

 

Incredibly, a Gerry Scarratt of Hadfield found a wedding ring at the crash site in the 70’s which turned out to be Capt Tanner’s ring.  Gerry tracked down his daughter Jean and duly returned it.

The crew were due to return home just 3 days later following completion of service based at RAF Scampton the UK. In those post was days, rationing was still prevalent and the comforts of the Scampton base would have been sparse but the crew would have been looking forward to a hearty meal in the mess at RAF Burtonwood – a USA home from home, just minutes away.

I am sure that at least 2 of the crew did not need to me on board – probably jumping to the opportunity of that glimpse of home from home – a world of difference from the sparsity of the Scampton base.

 

 

 

40 years later, memorial was erected at the site in 1988.

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Today there are many poppies and wreaths found at the site and I am sure there is quite a gathering on November memorial days where  would expect a typical cold fog – very much like the fog present on that day back in 1948.

The crew members – 

Pilot Captain Landon P. Tanner
Co-Pilot; Captain Harry Stroud Engineer
Technical Sergeant Ralph Fields Navigator
Sergeant Charles Wilbanks Radio Operator
Sergeant Gene A Gartner, Radar Operator
Sergeant David Devere Moore, Radio Operator
Technical Sergeant Saul R. Banks
Sergeant Donald R. Abrogast
Sergeant Robert I. Doyle Private
First Class William M. Burrows

Additional Crew
Corporal M. Franssen
Corporal George Ingram Photographic Advisor
Captain Howard Keel of the 4201st Motion Picture Unit

Reading up on the aftermath you can only imagine the tough work the MRT did from RAF Harpur Hill and brings home the terrific work being done to this day by all mountain rescue services throughout the world.

Hope you like the video below and thanks for watching it to the end if you made it that far! I have used some publicly available footage of the last remaining superfortress “fifi” . Would be great to hitch a ride on that one day! in the wreckage sequence i also use the actual sound of a Wright 3350 Cyclone engine start up and the music creation for this is called PeakBeatz29.

 

 

 

Related sites :

Superfortress 44-61999 “Over Exposed!” – Recovery Party Account 

RAF Harpur Hill MRT Flkr 

Learn how to be a flight Engineer on a Superfortress!  – do you recognise the actor in this 1944 training film?

 

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