The B-17F Memphis Belle is an icon that represents the thousands of bomber crews, maintainers, and others supporting the bomber mission, whose service and sacrifice helped win WWII
In fact as told by Rob Bardua, National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, in the article B-17F Memphis Belle™ to be placed on public display on May 17, 2018 at National Museum USAF, the B-17F Memphis Belle – the first U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) heavy bomber to complete 25 missions over Europe and return to the United States – will be placed on public display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force on May 17, 2018.
Pilot Robert Morgan named the aircraft after his wartime girlfriend, Margaret Polk, of Memphis, Tenn. Morgan chose the now famous artwork from a 1941 George Petty illustration in Esquire magazine.
Flying in the 324th Bomb Squadron of the 91st Bomb Group (Heavy), the Memphis Belle and its crew of 10 flew their first combat mission on Nov. 7, 1942. Until the arrival of long-range fighters later in the war, USAAF heavy bombers often flew without escort for part of their missions. Faced with hordes of enemy aircraft, deadly antiaircraft fire and the lack of friendly fighters in the target area, it was highly unlikely that a bomber crew would finish their required 25 missions.
The crew of the Memphis Belle beat the odds with their 25th combat mission on May 17, 1943, against the naval yard at Lorient, France. Interestingly, this raid was the Belle’s 24th combat mission–the original crew occasionally flew missions on other 91st BG (H) B-17s (and others took the Belle on some missions also). So, on May 19, the Memphis Belle flew its 25th combat mission on a strike against Kiel, Germany, while manned by a different crew.
Upon their return to the United States in June 1943, the Memphis Belle’s crew flew the aircraft across the country on a three-month war bond and morale boosting tour. With the bond tour and the 1944 William Wyler documentary film titled The Memphis Belle – depicting actual combat footage – the aircraft and its crew became widely known and celebrated. In 1990 a major motion picture of the same name added to their fame.
For many, the story of the Memphis Belle has become a timeless symbol of all the heroic USAAF bomber crews who flew against Nazi Germany in World War II. In need of a thorough restoration, the Memphis Belle arrived at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in October 2005, following decades of display in Memphis. A careful, multi-year conservation and restoration effort by museum staff – including corrosion treatment, the full outfitting of missing equipment and accurate markings – will bring the Memphis Belle back to pristine condition.
According to National Museum of the U.S. Air Force Curator Jeff Duford, the Memphis Belle is a national treasure, and will soon be the centerpiece of a new major exhibit in the museum’s WWII Gallery.
“The B-17F Memphis Belle is an icon that represents the thousands of bomber crews, maintainers, and others supporting the bomber mission, whose service and sacrifice helped win WWII.” said Duford. “Work is underway to showcase the aircraft in the WWII Gallery, and the surrounding exhibit will include interactive displays, rare archival film footage and many personal artifacts which have never been seen before by our visitors.”
Additional source: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force