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B-17 42-31581 - Edgeworth

13th January 1944

Updated 01.11.2010

Type Unit Base Duty Crew Passengers
B17 Base Air Depot 2 (BAD 2) BAD 2 (Burtonwood) Test Flight  3 3


D.E. Harris portrait
2nd Lieut. Delbert E. Harris

Yet another crash site to receive the attentions of a number of enthusiasts over the years, yet never actually be identified, despite a feature in the BAD2 journal "BAD News" (June 1979), is that of B-17 Flying Fortress 42-31581, near Edgeworth, Lancs. Following a conversation with David W. Earl - author of "Hell on High Ground", who was researching incidents to include in a second volume of this title. We set about surveying the actual crash site, mapping the path of the B-17 as it careered across two fields demolishing the dry-stone walls in its path, whilst David sought the assistance of Craig Fuller of AAIR in order to try to identify the aircraft & its crew.

Name Position Status
2nd Lt. Delbert E. Harris Pilot I.
Lt. MacDonald (Probably Elmer G.) Co-pilot I.
1st Lt. Laurence E. Tracy Engineer K.
S/Sgt. Thomas Kristin Passenger K.
T/Sgt. L. B. Woodall Passenger K.
Mr. William. H. Killough Passenger (Civilian)


January 13th 1944 was typically dull overcast for the time of year, with the cloud base at approx. 1500 feet, but this should have presented no problems for the routine test flight of a newly delivered B-17 from the USAAF Base Air Depot 1 at Burtonwood. On this day in addition to the usual three crew required for such a flight - Pilot Lieutenant D. E. Harris, Co-pilot Lt. MacDonald and another Lieutenant - a Chief Ground Engineer, there were also three passengers on board "along for the ride"- two enlisted men and a civilian Engineer. After several minutes flying through the cloud, the pilot Delbert E. Harris decided to turn for home and began to descend, expecting at any moment to break free of the cloud over the low-land plain West of Manchester. However during part of the flight the aircraft had been under the control of the Chief Ground Engineer - not an unusual practice - and despite careful observation on the part of the pilot, the aircraft had drifted further to the East than had been anticipated, over the hills near Bolton. At around 1100 feet the plane slammed into the hillside above the village of Edgeworth, the three passengers in the glazed bombardiers compartment and the Chief Ground Engineer in the Co-pilots seat being killed instantly. The disintegrating aircraft was torn apart and the fuel tanks exploded as the momentum carried the remains of the fuselage across the sloping meadow, scattering wreckage over a wide area. Dazed, the pilot managed to free himself and pulled the only other survivor, Lt. MacDonald who was seriously wounded, clear of the shattered and burning cockpit.

Crash site today
The B-17 demolished the wall in the background

Delbert Harris recovered physically, but was deeply affected by this accident & vowed never to fly any aircraft carrying other crew-members. He moved to test flying fighters and volunteered for combat duty, being assigned to the 353rd Fighter Group. He was shot down and captured on the 1st August 1944, though he later escaped during a forced march to Munich in April 1945 and reached Allied Lines. The site of 42-31581's demise shows little sign of the drama, which took place there 55 years before, though a quick sweep with a metal detector soon yielded clues in the form of crumpled and heat-fused pieces of aircraft alloy. Few recognisable fragments were found - most having been affected by the fire, but sections of ignition harness, brass oil line connectors and the cocking handle sheared off a .50 cal. Browning waist gun were recovered after a days detecting.

Note: An account of this incident appears in "Hell on High Ground" Vol.2, by David Earl, published by Airlife 1999. ISBN 1840370823. Unfortunately the report David obtained from the USA failed to name the other crew and passengers. However these details have since appeared in "Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Forces, Volume 2" by Stan Bishop & John A Hey (MBE) published by Bishop Book productions 2007, ISBN 0954768523, an amazing work that brings together casualty information from many sources, allowing them to be matched with individual incidents, often for the first time.


BAD2 Association , David W. Earl, Craig.Fuller (AAIR). Russell Brown. Jeff Carless, Bishop, S.& Hey, J.- Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Forces, Vol.2.


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This page & all articles on this site Copyright Nick Wotherspoon 1999