Memphis Belle (B-17)

Memphis Belle (B-17)

"Memphis Belle" was the nickname of a B-17F Flying Fortress during the Second World War that inspired the making of two motion pictures: a 1944 documentary film: "" and a 1990 Hollywood feature film: "Memphis Belle". In May 1943 it became one of the first U.S. Army Air Forces heavy bombers to complete 25 combat missions and return to the United States to sell war bonds. [cite web
title=B-17 Flying Fortress
publisher=United States Air Force
] .The original airplane is undergoing extensive restoration at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, OH. [Baruda, Bob. "Memphis Belle" moves to National Museum of the U.S. Air Force." August 31, 2005. July 19, 2007. ]

Combat history

The "Memphis Belle", a Boeing-built B-17F-10-BO, serial 41-24485, was added to the USAAF inventory on July 15, 1942, [Havelaar, Marion H. (1995). "The Ragged Irregulars of Bassingbourn: The 91st Bomb group in World War II". Schiffer Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-88740-810-9, p.211.] and delivered in September 1942 to the 91st Bomb Group at Dow Field, Bangor, Maine. [Bishop, Cliff T. (1986). "Fortresses of the Big Triangle First", East Anglia Books. ISBN 1-869987-00-4, pp.133.] It deployed to Prestwick, Scotland, on September 30, 1942, to a temporary base at RAF Kimbolton on October 1, and then to its permanent base at Bassingbourn, England, on October 14. [Bishop, p.133.] It bore the unit identification markings of the 324th Bomb Squadron (Heavy) - DF: A - on its fuselage sides. [Havelaar, p.211; Bishop, p.233.]

Captain Robert Morgan's crew flew 25 combat missions with the 324th Bomb Squadron, all but four in the "Memphis Belle". The 25 missions of the "Memphis Belle" were:

*November 7, 1942 - Brest, France cite web | last =USAAF Publication | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = | url =| title = 25 Missions: The Story of the Memphis Belle| format = | work = | publisher = Air Fronts| accessdate = 12 August| accessyear = 2008 AAF training aids publication (July 1943) list of "the ship's" 25 missions. Mission list is crew's, however, not the aircraft's, as it lists missions of 4 Feb, 26 Feb, 5 Apr, and May 4 which crew flew in other aircraft, and omits missions when others flew it.]
*November 9, 1942 - St. Nazaire, France
*November 17, 1942 - St. Nazaire
*December 6, 1942 - Lille, France
*December 20, 1942* - Romilly-sur-Seine, France [Morgan, Col. Robert; Powers, Ron (2001). "The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle", Penguin Putnam, ISBN 0-451-20594-4, Mission list p.384, and p.127.]
*December 30, 1942 - Lorient (flown by Lt. James A. Verinis)
*January 3, 1943 - St. Nazaire
*January 13, 1943 - Lille
*January 23, 1943 - Lorient, France
*February 14, 1943 - Hamm, Germany
*February 16, 1943 - St. Nazaire
*February 27, 1943* - Brest [Morgan, pp.178 and 384.] [Only Morgan's account supports that he flew the "Memphis Belle" on this mission. 303rd BG site states he flew 515 this date, and 324th dailies do not show him on mission at all.]
*March 6, 1943 - Lorient
*March 12, 1943 - Rouen, France
*March 13, 1943 - Abbeville, France
*March 22, 1943 - Wilhemshaven
*March 28, 1943 - Rouen
*March 31, 1943 - Rotterdam, Netherlands cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = | url =| title = Hells Angels vs. Memphis Belle, Historical Information| format = | work = | publisher = 303rd Bomb Group Association| accessdate = 11 August| accessyear = 2008] [Morgan, p.187.] cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = | url =| title = 1943 dailies of 324th Bomb squadron| format = | work = | publisher = 91st Bomb group Associaiton| accessdate = 11 August| accessyear = 2008]
*April 16, 1943 - Lorient
*April 17, 1943 - Bremen, Germany
*May 1, 1943 - St. Nazaire
*May 13, 1943 - Meaulte, France (flown by Lt. C.L. Anderson)
*May 14, 1943 - Kiel, Germany (flown by Lt. John H. Miller)
*May 15, 1943 - Wilhelmshaven
*May 17, 1943 - Lorient
*May 19, 1943* - Kiel (flown by Lt. Anderson) [All references except Morgan show this as the 25th mission of the "Memphis Belle". Morgan, p.215, states that all flights of the "Memphis Belle" after May 15 were local only, for the purpose of "touchup shots" to complete editing of the movie.]

*Sources disagree on which two of these three missions the "Memphis Belle" received mission credits.

Morgan's crew completed the following missions in B-17s other than the "Memphis Belle":
*February 4, 1943 - Emden, Germany (in B-17 DF-H 41-24515 "Jersey Bounce") [Morgan, pp.167 and 384.]
*February 26, 1943 - Wilhelmshaven (in B-17 41-24515) [Morgan, pp. 177 and 384.]
*April 5, 1943 - Antwerp, Belgium (in B-17 41-24480 "Bad Penny") [Morgan, pp.187 and 384.]
*May 4, 1943 - Antwerp (in B-17 41-24527, "The Great Speckled Bird") [Morgan, pp.196 and 385.]

It was then flown back to the United States on June 8, 1943, by a composite crew chosen by Eighth Air Force from those who had flown combat in it, led by Morgan, for a 31-city war bond tour. Capt. Morgan's original co-pilot was Capt. James A. Verinis, who himself flew the "Memphis Belle" as pilot for one mission. Verinis was promoted to aircraft commander of another B-17 for his final sixteen missions and finished his tour on May 13. He rejoined Morgan's crew for its flight back to the United States as co-pilot.


The plane was named for pilot Robert K. Morgan's sweetheart, Margaret Polk, a resident of Memphis, Tennessee. Morgan originally intended to call the plane "Little One", after his pet name for her, but his crew had seen the movie "Lady for a Night", in which the leading character owns a riverboat named the "Memphis Belle", and as this name also fit Morgan's wishes, he chose it instead. [Morgan, p.98. Morgan states the crew agreed to the name by vote.] Morgan then contacted George Petty at the offices of "Esquire" magazine and asked him for a pinup drawing to go with the name, which Petty supplied from the magazine's April 1941 issue. [Morgan, p.99.]

The 91st's group artist Corporal Tony Starcer reproduced the famous Petty girl nose art on both sides of the forward fuselage, depicting her suit in blue on the aircraft's port side and in red on its starboard. The nose art later included 25 bomb shapes, one for each mission credit, and 8 swastika designs, one for each German plane claimed shot down by the crew of the "Memphis Belle". Station and crew names were stencilled below station windows on the aircraft after its tour of missions was completed.

Postwar history

In his memoir, Morgan claimed that during his publicity tour, he flew the plane between the Buncombe County Courthouse and the City Hall of Asheville, North Carolina, his home town. Morgan wrote that after leaving the Asheville Regional Airport he decided to buzz the town, telling his copilot, Captain Verinis, "I think we'll just drive up over the city and give them a little goodbye salute." Morgan flew north and turned the bomber east down Patton Avenue, a main thoroughfare, toward downtown Asheville. When he observed the courthouse and the city hall (two tall buildings that are only about 50 feet (20 m) apart) dead ahead, he lowered his left wing in a sixty degree bank and flew between the structures. He wrote that the city hall housed an AAF weather detachment whose commanding officer allegedly complained immediately to the Pentagon, but was advised by a duty officer that "Major Morgan...has been given permission to buzz by Lieutenant General Henry Arnold." [Morgan, pp. 241-242.]

After the war the Flying Fortress was saved from reclamation at Altus, Oklahoma, where it had been consigned since August 1, 1945, by the efforts of the mayor of Memphis, Walter Chandler, and the city bought the plane for $350. It was flown to Memphis in July 1946 and stored until the summer of 1949 when it was placed on display at the National Guard armory. It sat out-of-doors into the 1980s, slowly deteriorating due to weather and occasional vandalism.

In the early 1970s, another mayor had donated the historic plane back to the Air Force, but they allowed it to remain in Memphis contingent on it being maintained. Efforts by the locally-organized Memphis Belle Memorial Association, Inc. (MBMA) saw the aircraft moved to Mud Island in the Mississippi River in 1987 for display in a new pavilion with large tarp cover. It was still open to the elements, however, and prone to weathering. Pigeons would also nest inside the tarp and droppings were constantly needing removal from the plane. Dissatisfaction with the site led to efforts to create a new museum facility in nearby Shelby County. In the summer of 2003 the "Belle" was disassembled and moved to a restoration facility in Millington, Tennessee for work. In September 2004, however, the National Museum of the United States Air Force, apparently tiring of the ups and downs of the city's attempts to preserve the aircraft, indicated that they wanted it back for restoration and eventual display at the museum near Dayton, Ohio.

On August 30, 2005, the MBMA announced that a consultant that they hired determined that the MBMA would not be able to raise enough money to restore the "Belle" and otherwise fulfill the Air Force's requirements to keep possession of the aircraft. They announced plans to return the aircraft to the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio after a final exhibition in Millington, Tennessee on September 30 - October 2, 2005. The "Belle" arrived safely at the museum in mid-October 2005 and was placed in one of the Museum's restoration hangars.

While the aircraft was in Memphis, it sat outside unattended; vandals and souvenir hunters removed almost all of the interior components. No instruments were found in the cockpit, and virtually every removable piece of the aircraft's interior had been scavenged, often severing the aircraft's wiring and control cables in the process. Through the efforts of the Memphis Belle Memorial Association, almost all of the removed items were replaced and corrosion of the metal was stopped. In addition, a coat of zinc chromate primer had been liberally applied to the aircraft's interior and throughout the inside of its wings to prevent further corrosion. All of this was done by volunteers donating time and money to this effort. Were it not for the MBMA's efforts and dedication,the NMUSAF would have a far greater challenge in the restoration of this historic aircraft.

The Museum has placed restoration of "Memphis Belle" near the top of its priorities. In the magazine "Friends Journal" of the museum's foundation, Major General Charles D. Metcalf (USAF-Ret.), the director of the museum, stated that it might take 8-10 years to fully restore the aircraft.After stripping the paint from the aft fuselage of the aircraft, hundreds of names and personal messages were found scratched in the aluminum skin. During the plane's war bond tour, people were allowed to leave their mark on this war-time hero.

Film portrayal

A former firebomber B-17G-85-DL, serial 44-83546, registered N3703G, was converted into a B-17F configuration by installing a Sperry top turret, early-style tail gunner's compartment and waist gunner's positions, and omitting the chin turret. It subsequently appeared in the 1990 fictionalized version of the "Memphis Belle" story and continues to make air show appearances in that guise. Originally painted with the Warner Bros. movie version of the nose art and markings, the B-17 (owned by David Tallichet) now carries the historic markings found on the actual "Memphis Belle". It currently operates out of Geneseo, New York.

Other planes named "Memphis Belle"

* A Republic F-105D Thunderchief (60-0504) from 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing based at Takhli Royal Thai Air Base during the Vietnam War was named "Memphis Belle II" in honor of the original B-17F. The aircraft claimed two MiG-17 kills in addition to numerous bombing missions, and was the last F-105 to fly. It is currently preserved at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. It was donated in April 1990. [ of Memphis Belle II]
* A Rockwell B-1B (86-0133) was named "Memphis Belle". In 1996, Colonel Robert Morgan, pilot of the original "Memphis Belle", received the opportunity to fly in this aircraft, while it served with the 116th Bomb Wing at Robins AFB, GA.
* A General Dynamics FB-111 (68-0267) was also nicknamed "Memphis Belle II" for a period during the 1980s. It is currently located at the Strategic Air and Space Museum. [ of Memphis Belle II]
* Two Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses have carried the name "Memphis Belle" B-52G (59-2594) was named "Memphis Belle III" and took part in the 1991 Gulf War It was sent to the AMARC in October, 1992, and the first B-52H (60-0001) was named "Memphis Belle IV" It is currently based at Barksdale Air Force Base, flying for the 2nd Bomb Wing and has seen action in both Iraq and Afghanistan. [ of Memphis Belle IV]
* A Lockheed C-141 Starlifter (67-0024) became the "Memphis Belle V". It has recently been transferred to the AMARC inventory. [ of Memphis Belle V]
* A Lockheed C-5 Galaxy (69-0025) is named the "Memphis Belle X". [ Picture of the Memphis Belle X]

ee also

* Veterans' Museum (Halls, Tennessee)


* Bishop, Cliff T. "Fortresses of the Big Triangle First". Bishops Stortford, UK: East Anglia Books, 1986, pp. 133, 135, and 233. ISBN 1-869987-00-4.
* Havelaar, Marion H., and Hess, William N. "The Ragged Irregulars of Bassingbourn: The 91st Bombardment Group in World War II". Atglen: Schiffer, 1995, pp. 38-40, 211, 212. ISBN 0-88740-810-9.
* Freeman, Roger A., "The Mighty Eighth War Diary", Jane's, London, 1990, pp. 36, 59. ISBN 0-87938-495-6
* Morgan, Col. Robert K., Ret., with Powers, Ron. "The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle". , New York: Dutton, 2001. ISBN 0-525-94610-1.
* Thompson, Scott A. "Final Cut - The Post-War B-17 Flying Fortress : The Survivors, Second edition". 2000. ISBN 1-57510-077-0.

External links

* [ "25 Missions - The Story of the Memphis Belle"] , Training Aids Division, Army Air Forces, July 1943
* [ The Memphis Belle, full movie from 1944 (Stream)]
* [ Website of the Memphis Belle Memorial Association (former custodian of the MB)]
* [ Website of the 91st Bomb Group Memorial Association] Daily reports of the 324th Bomb Squadron can be viewed at this site detailing the history of plane and crew
* [ Memphis Belle page at National Museum of the United States Air Force]
* [ Photographs of Memphis Belle when she was still at Mud Island]
* [ Memphis Belle Documentary from US National Archives]

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