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Blog topic: The Memphis Bell

January 1, 2015

Memphis Belle and crew

B-17 bomber Memphis Bell with crew. Note artwork on side of aircraft denoting 25 bombing missions. Public Domain photo.

The B-17 bomber, Memphis Belle, is widely reported to be the first bomber from the 8th Air Force, to successfully complete twenty-five bombing missions. But the article points out that it was actually the third bomber to accomplish this.

According to the article, the first bomber was a B-24 called Hot Stuff, which crashed with General Andrews on board in Iceland, about three weeks after it had completed its twenty-fifth mission. There were fourteen people on board, of which thirteen died in the crash, including General Andrews. So that plane could not be sent back to the States to promote war bond sales. The next bomber to complete twenty-five missions was the B-17, Hell's Angels. The War Department declined that aircraft for use in promotional war bond tour because of its name, which was thought to be inappropriate for this purpose.

The third plane to complete the twenty-five bombing missions was the B-17, Memphis Belle. The name, as well as the more conservative nose art, were deemed more appropriate for a national war bond tour. So the Memphis Belle and crew became elected as the premiere plane to be shipped back to the United States, for the promotional tour.

I would like to add that the Memphis Bell arrived back into the United States, two hours late because of head winds. Pilot Robert Morgan points out in his book, The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle: Memoir of a WWII Bomber Pilot, that the press and the generals were impatiently waiting the plane's arrival at a New York airport, when Morgan audaciously flew in low and buzzed the tower, which blew all the notebooks, papers, and hats, from the reporters. After he landed, Morgan saw General Arnold striding out to meet him.

At this point, Morgan thought it was all over for him because of this brazen display. However, General Arnold was impressed with Morgan's showmanship and now all the impatient and grumbling reporters had something to report. In fact, General Arnold gave Captain Morgan permission to buzz any airport tower he felt like buzzing. The Memphis Bell and her crew went on to a successful bond tour.



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