Published: July 18th 2013July 18th 2013
The photo shows a diecast model in 48 scale of the Memphis Belle. She was part of the 324th Bomb Squadron (heavy) in the 91st Bomb Group and the 8th Air Force. She flew out of Bassingbourn, England. Captain Morgan wanted to name the plane after his girlfriend, who was a Memphis girl. The rest of the crew didn't think much of that idea though because it made them feel like their girlfriends were chopped liver. There was, however, a Mississippi River steamboat called the Memphis Belle that was fun to get drunk and buck the tiger on. That name suited Morgan fine. The nose art was applied by the squadron painter from a file acquired from Esquire Magazine.
This Boeing B-17F heavy bomber has become one the most celebrated warplanes in our history. It has come to represent the valor and sacrifice, and all things that were good not only about the Eighth Air Force in particular, but also pretty much about all gallant air crews. Along the way it has become part of the folklore of our country. Neither the plane, nor the crew achieved spectacular success in combat operations, although survival on a bombing mission was spectacular enough in itself. Each mission flew right into the jaws of screeching bloody hell. The bomb targets were heavily defended by Nazi fighters and anti-aircraft artillery and they were beyond the range of our own fighter cover. The Nazis had an early warning radar system that enabled them to know in advance of the approach of our bombers. The Nazi fighters were able to intercept our missions well ahead of the targets. After the inbound attack the fighters could land, take on more fuel and ammo, and be ready for a renewed attack on the outbound bombers. Over the targets the ground artillery could be devastating. Damaged bombers outbound were easy prey to the waiting fighters because the damaged planes could not keep up with the rest of the formation. Each B-17 bristled with machine guns and as long as the gunners were intact the bombers could fly strong defensive formations. Combat losses were staggering among bomb crews. A minimum of 25 missions was required of each bomb crew before they could rotate back home to safer duty. It was a daunting task to complete 25 missions where each mission suffered 30 percent loss. The valor of those crews is astounding and well worth celebration. The Memphis Belle carried one of the first crews to attain the mission requirement intact. It was a huge propaganda event and the air corps sent a guy out from Hollywood to make a movie about the plane and the crew. Artistic license was freely used in that movie in order to obtain maximum propaganda effect. In 1990 another Memphis Belle movie was released. Matthew Modine starred in it as Captain Robert Morgan, the aircraft commander. This movie was full of dramatic effect and portrayed events that did not happen. The crew flew its final mission on May 17, 1943. It was a milk run to the Nazi naval yards at Lorient, France. The Belle reached its final mission flown by another crew on May 19 to Kiel, Germany. The plane was not much damaged on that mission. The plane and the crew both made it safely back home to a 31 city bond tour in which the propaganda movie was hugely popular. After the war the crew prospered in civilian life as best they could like everyone else. The plane was purchased from the scrap yard for $350 by the City of Memphis and put on static display. After years of neglect and vandalism the Air Force purchased the plane back. It has been fully restored and be seen at the Air Force Museum on Wright-Patterson Air Base in Dayton, Ohio. It is a fine tribute to some very brave men.