A standard flat facet approximation for finite element analysis of general thin shells has been sought after for many years, but fundamental difficulties hindered the development of a definitive solution. Recent advances in the finite element method, however, have provided more rational resolutions of some of these difficulties than the kind of artifices which were employed formerly. This paper completes the theory of a basic triangular flat shell element which incorporates modern developments and meets practical criteria of mathematical simplicity and general applicability. The flat facet shell element is also, potentially, an appropriate basis for constructing a better curved approximation to a shell surface in order to achieve improved accuracy. Numerical results are given for a variety of shell test problems to provide comparisons with accepted benchmark solutions and to assess the available accuracy relative to other finite element formulations.