​​B-17 Flying Fortress ‘Flack Shack’​

United Kingdom




​​​It was from this spot that the B-17 Flying Fortresses aircraft took off and landed for operations. This site was where one of the three runways of airfield Station 139, Thorpe Abbots was located. The three concrete runways have now gone, and the land has been returned to agriculture. A small part of the concrete runway remains by the museum.

​​​On 16 July 1943, a B-17 Flying Fortress ‘Flack Shack’ aircraft took part in a practice bombing operation. The aircraft serial number was 42-30305 and it was piloted by Lieutenant Woodrow Barnhill with his full crew of nine others.

‘Flack Shack’ was attached to the 349th Bombardment Squadron, 100th Bombardment Group.

On 14 to 15 July, ‘Flack Shack’ had been signed off following a 100-hour inspection. This included mechanical work on engines. The inspection was completed by Master Sargeant Morton and Master Sargeant Park. Following the inspection, they noted that ‘Flack Shack’ ran perfectly.

The following day, 16 July, ‘Flack Shack’ was fired up and engines warmed prior to taking off on the practice operation. No issues were noted by the two pilots or ground crew. The runway used for the take-off ran from east to west, where the road now runs and intersects where it once stood. The B-17 aircrafts took off flying off in a west direction.

‘Flack Shack’ was observed from the ground as it taxied out and then throttled up along the runway. Those who witnessed the take-off reported that it began to gain altitude to around 100 feet high. It banked to the right and flew towards the village of Dickleburgh.

Some of the witness reports on the ground state that their attention was drawn to ‘Flack Shack’ as the sound of spluttering could be heard from the engines. Inside the B-17, the tail gunner reported hearing the noises and looking towards the right wing to see that two of the engines had failed.

On the ground witnesses stated that ‘Flack Shack’ began to lose airspeed and went into a stall with the right-wing engines having failed. It began to fall to the ground, disappearing from the view of those stood on the airfield. Seconds later a large cloud of black smoke was seen rising in the distance about a mile away. Some of those from the airfield quickly got into jeeps and headed to the crash site. The b-17 had come down around Rectory Road.

Of the ten crew, only three survived the crash as they were thrown clear. Pilot 1st Lieutenant Barnhill, 2nd Lieutenant Hudson and Sargeant Opala are buried in the Cambridge American Cemetery. Seven others were repatriated to the US.

‘Flack Shack’ was the airfield’s first crash of a B-17 to result in the loss of aircrew. However, sadly it was not the last.


​​Wood Lane, Dickleburgh​, ​​Diss​, ​​IP21 4PH​