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The Wreck of Flying Fortress ‘Over Exposed’

The Wreck of Flying Fortress ‘Over Exposed’

by Brian Spencer

Pennine Way walkers almost at the southern end of their epic trek from Edale to Kirk Yetholm look on the crossing of Bleaklow as almost the end of the first day’s section of the ‘Way’.  

Grateful to enjoy a spell of comparatively easy walking on a path made from flagstones, the walker, if they know the part of Bleaklow where they are, spare a few minutes to make a diversion.  About a mile west in the direction of Glossop, Shelf Stones, is  a 621 metre high ridge, an unforgiving couple of metres below the moorland crest, the ground is littered with the remains of aircraft wreckage.  Closer investigation by those with keen eyesight will spot items stamped with U.S. military reference data. This is all that remains of a U.S. Flying Fortress, once affectionately known as Over Exposed by those who flew in her.

Built by Boeing and officially known by its manufacturer’s reference as RB-29A-4-44, she weighed 55,000 lbs fully loaded (36lbbs net), and was powered by four massive rotary engines, two on each wing. First flown in July 1946, she entered military service too late for the actual World War 2 fighting, but was converted to carry photographic personnel and their equipment after joining the 16th reconnaissance Group’s 311st Air Division, photographing the first atomic bomb test, on Bikini Athol, and also took part in the Berlin airlift when the city was effectively held to ransom.

Based at Burtonwood American air base near Warrington, Over Exposed ended its working days carrying a team of seven trainee photographers as well as its crew.   Weather as we know only too well is, in late autumn, usually damp and misty with poor visibility.  The navigator was forced to plan a route by instruments alone, but with all the flight crew fully trained and experienced, the crew and passengers were fully confident of their ability to carry out their planned task.

The task they were set was first to fly to Scampton RAF base in Lincolnshire in order to pick up money for the wages of colleagues (and themselves) at their base. This they managed quite easily, leaving Scampton at around 10:15 on 3rd November 1948 in order to give the photographers and navigator’s experience of route finding, probably over hilly country in poor visibility, so a complex cross country flight plan was lodged.  This involved changing the route in order to fly west over the highest  ground in the District, then flying due west, gradually descending over Glossop and south Manchester to Burtonwood airbase.  

The navigational task the crew had to answer first involved descending as low as possible in order to get beneath the low clouds.  Fortunately the navigator and pilots had the help of scientific instruments to help them find the way, but it is at this point that things went wrong.  Was it instrument error?  If so it eventually caused the disaster, or maybe sheer carelessness?  What ever happened will never be known, the instruments were up-to-date and the navigators experienced. All that is known is that Over Exposed though old in years was flying just a metre or so too low in order to clear the summit of Shelf Stones, almost a matter of inches between life and death.


On the fateful morning of 3rd November 1948 an RAF Search & Rescue team operating from their base at Harpur Hill near Buxton happened to be involved in a training exercise on Kinder Scout. The team arrived at the summit of the Snake Pass at around 4:30 p.m, and despite thick mist, they were able to pin-point the position of Over Exposed crashed on Shelf Stones.  Using the summit of the Snake Road as a base they quickly headed for the apparent site of the crash on Shelf Stones.  Despite the fairly quick time it took to reach the accident site, as it was readily marked by burning parts of the fuselage; the easiest recognisable item was the tail fin.  Only badly distorted remains of crew members were found and the macabre job of carrying them to the Snake Road and eventual identification. The aircraft was found to be carrying about $7400, mainly in paper currency which had surprisingly managed to survive the crash and subsequent fire.  All of the money down to the last few dollars was recovered by American Military Police.

Immediately after the accident, a large section of the main fuselage was easily recognisable and in fact for several years became a simple bothy providing accommodation for hardy souls intent on spending the night on Bleaklow.  Unfortunately less careful visitors no longer look after it so well and, together with vandals, and trophy seekers, very little remains of the original wreckage.  However, an attempt has been made to preserve the memory of those who flew on Over Exposed on that fateful day.  They are, commemorated on a named military-style grave stone, the centre piece of an annual service at the site.

Super Fortress Over Exposed crew and passengers commemorated at the crash site on Shelf Stones Moor.

Much of the wreckage of Flying Fortress Over Exposed and items connected to it can still be recognised by those with appropriate training, especially parts of the four turbo-engines, but should be left for future archaeologists to examine.

In total there are seven wrecks dating from 1939 to 1956 scattered around Bleaklow and associated moors and are mostly the final resting place of those who flew over the wild moors.  

Please do not remove any items from the wreck sites without permission.


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