The B-17 Flying Fortress Memphis Belle (Serial No. 41-24485) was one of 12,750 B-17’s built by the Boeing Aircraft Co. The Belle was the most famous because she was the first heavy bomber in Hitler’s European war theatre to complete 25 combat missions and keep her entire crew alive. She flew for 10 months from November 7, 1942 to May 17, 1943. The command generals had set 25 missions as an incentive for air crews to go home. Morale was extremely low because 80% of the bombers were shot down during the first three months of America’s combat flights over Europe.
The Belle shot down eight enemy fighters, probably destroyed five others, and damaged at least a dozen more. She dropped more than 60 tons of bombs over Germany, France and Belgium. During her 25 missions she flew 148 hours, 50 minutes, and covered more than 20,000 combat miles. She is the only B-17 to have her own file in the Air Force Film Depository.
This gallant lady was bullet-ridden, flak damaged; on five separate occasions had engines shot out and once came back with her tail nearly shot off. There was not one major injury to the crew members. The crew met their plane in Bangor, Maine for the first time in September, 1942. They flew their ship to Memphis, TN on a shakedown flight, where she was christened MEMPHIS BELLE in honor of the pilot’s wartime sweetheart, Ms. Margaret Polk. From there they flew across the Atlantic to their home base in Bassingbourn, England, just north of London. Bassingbourn is still an active English army base today.
The commanding generals arranged 25 missions to allow a crew to return to their homeland. The morale war was very low because 80% of the bombers were shot down in the first three months of the fight.
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The Memphis Belle back to the US
The 26th mission of the BELLE was to return to the States during the summer of 1943 on a public relations tour to thank the American public for supporting the war effort. The crew visited more than 32 cities where they received a heroes’ welcome. Their mascot, a Scotty dog named “Stuka”, traveled across the Atlantic with them and participated in the PR tour.
Towns and cities, which the Memphis Belle visited while her PR Tour in the USA.
|Washington D.C||Las Vegas||Fort Meyers|
|Pittsburgh||Oklahoma City||Los Angeles|
The noseart was painted on the Belle by Cpl. Tony Starcer. The famous logo was designed by the famous artist George Petty, who created a series of pin-up girls for Esquire Magazine know as the “Petty Girls”. After the public relations tour, the Belle flew stateside in the training command. In 1945 she ended up in an aircraft boneyard in Altus, OK. An enterprising reporter saw her, wrote a story of her plight, and contacted the Mayor of Memphis. The City bought her for $350 and on July 17, 1946, she was flown home to Memphis.
In 1950 the Belle was placed on a pedestal near the Army National Guard. In November, 1977, she was moved to the Air National Guard at the Memphis airport. During these years the vandals did what the Germans couldn’t. They almost destroyed her! For the next nine years various fund raising efforts were made to restore the Belle. After a relentless, last ditch effort by Frank Donofrio, a local businessman, the City agreed to donate a piece on land on Mud Island, where the historic bomber could be displayed. Federal Express and Boeing each donated $100,000 toward her restoration and the City donated $150,000. When Hugh Downs of TV’s 20/20 aired the need for more money, the American people rose to the challenge and donated the rest of the $576,000. The MEMPHIS BELLE was saved and restored to a place of honor.
On May 17, 1987, 44 years after she flew her 25th mission, the Memphis Belle Pavilion was dedicated. Nearly 25,000 attended. Seven B-17’s, the largest formation since WW II, flew overhead in salute and “bombed” the pavilion with thousands of rose pedals. Margaret Polk and the Belle crew looked on as the crowd cheered thunderously. A fitting tribute to the grandest lady of the sky! The Air Force has declared the Belle a national historic treasure. She will never be flown again! On August 29, 1992 Morgan completed his 27th mission. He married his present wife, Linda, in front of the Belle. Gen. Paul Tibbets, pilot of Enola Gay, gave the bride away!