Monday, January 11, 2010

World War II Archeology in England

July 1942. Melrose Park, Illinois. "Production of aircraft engines. Buick plant. Foreman F.I. Bowman shows Marietta Morgan how to operate this bomb-test machine used to test reconditioned spark plugs.

July 1942. 'Production of aircraft engines at Melrose Park Buick plant near Chicago. Hundreds of gears pass through the expert hands of Dorothy Miller and Sylvia Dreiser during their eight-hour working day in a large Midwest aircraft plant. Inspection of these vital cogs in America's war machine is a delicate task and one which requires infinite patience and precision'.

July 1942. Back at the Melrose Park Buick plant near Chicago. "Production of aircraft engines. Reconditioning used spark plugs for use in testing airplane motors, Mighnon Gunn operates this small testing machine with speed and precision although she was new to the job two months ago. from Shorpy

North-west view of the Chicago plant.

Main entrance during construction.

Main office of the Chicago plant during construction. View is north-east across North Avenue.

Excavation under way in England, where a group of WW II historians is unearthing parts of aircraft, that were buried after the end of WW II. Many of these parts were manufactured in Flint, Michigan. Clive Stevens is the secretary for M.V.T. Military Vehicle Trust in Suffolk, England.

Excavation underway in England, October of 2009.

Here we can see the exhaust collector installed on an engine. Also an original Buick data plate

Exhaust manifold data plate. 

If anyone can help with the identification of the data plate that clive mentions in his letter, please respond. Here is the letter in it's entirety. 
My name is Clive Stevens and I am 35 and live in Suffolk, East Anglia, England. I have a great interest in WWII and in particular the US Manufacturing companies that produced many of the aircraft and military vehicles that saw combat service.

Back in October, I got word of a local farmers field that had been used as a dump at the end of WWII by the United States Army Air Force, shortly before they returned back home at the end of WWII in the summer of 1945. With this knowledge, a group of us hired a digger for the weekend and went digging! We unearthed a mountain of old scrap from under ground, down to a depth of about 4 meters that had been dumped in 1945 and hadn't been touched since. It was primary all WWII aircraft parts, mainly Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber parts, all primarily in poor condition.

However, what will interest you is that the pit consisted of quite a number of old aircraft parts made by Fisher Body Division of General Motors! It turns out that because Boeing could simply not cope with the output required by the war effort, they farmed out much of the work to other companies. One such company was Fisher Body, particularly for the engine nacell and exhaust systems.

Have recovered a couple of inlet manifolds for B-17 Flying Fortresses and a couple of engine nacell inspection panels, I got them home and cleaned them up. In fact, I took the exhaust sections to a shot/sand blaster to have him clean them up. The end results are magnificent and as you will see from the photographs, you would not believe they have been under the ground for 65 years!

More interestingly, the inspectors stamp states FBFW 24 amd SW31. After a bit of research, it now appears that FBFW means FISHER BODY FLINT WEST and the number 24 I just don't known. The part number is 55-6184 which when cross-referenced with the Boeing parts list is Left Hand Inboard Exhaust Manifold.

The reason I am contacting you, other than for your interest in all things Flint related, is to ask you whether any of the WW II factories that produced these military related manufactured machines and parts are still in existence and whether the Flint West factory where the bits I have unearthed were made still exists?

I would also be very interested in hearing from anyone male or female who may be still alive who worked in the factories that produced the military war materials and machines.

I hope you enjoy the pictures. One shows the digging underway and the others show some of the parts once cleaned up.

Exhaust manifold collector after cleaning.


Anonymous said...

Wow! This is amazing. I am the granddaughter of a WWII US Air Forces tail-gunner who flew missions out of Eye, Suffolk, England and he flew in B-17s and B-24s!! I am SO excited by these finds. Plus, I'm an anthropologist who has been on many excavations! Please send me any more information you have. If there is any way whatsoever I could obtain even the smallest piece of a plane that has been recovered, it would mean everything to me. I am fascinated by all things WWII, but also by the missions flown by my grandfather (who survived 30 missions over Germany!).

Jerome M. O'Connor said...

In Chicago, two of the largest engine plants,one operated by Dodge Division, Chrysler Corp for B-29 engines, and Buick for B-24 engines continue to function, although differently purposed. The one-time Buick-Chicago plant, now Navistar, exists in its original form, except for the power house. Even better, Dodge-Chicago, the massive plant that made so many Wright Cyclone engines, it could equip every B-29 made with five engines, continues to exist in part and now known as Ford City, a shopping center on Chicago's SW side, near Midway International Airport. Amazingly, many of the original engine test cells are very much in evidence, and partially contain the Tootsie Roll factory. The enormous Douglas plant that made entire C-54 Skymaster transport planes was completely taken down, and the area converted into what is now O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. The airport ID for O'Hare is ORD and based on ORcharD field, the same tiny airport that became Douglas-Chicago and from where,on 3 concrete runways the finished aircraft flew directly to US bases for overseas assignments. For more go to