Memphis Belle Celebrates Two Anniversaries this Weekend

Memphis Belle, mid-restoration in this recent photo.

Memphis Belle, mid-restoration in this recent photo.
Memphis Belle, mid-restoration in this recent photo.
The National Museum of the United States Air Force reports one of history’s most famous aircraft will celebrate two anniversaries this weekend.

Seventy years ago, the Boeing B-17F Flying FortressMemphis Belle” was flying over the skies of Europe on bombing missions during World War II. On May 17, 1943, Capt. Robert K. Morgan flew the Memphis Belle against a target in Lorient, France, on his 25th officially credited mission (it was the Belle’s 24th combat mission). Two days later, on May 19, 1943, Lt. C. Anderson and his crew flew the Memphis Belle on its 25th officially credited mission to Keil, Germany, becoming the first B-17 United States Army Air Forces heavy bomber to complete 25 combat missions with her crew intact.

Her place in the history assured, the aircraft and her crew then returned to the United States to sell war bonds on a 31 city national tour, earning a her place in the American psyche. She was the subject of a 1944 documentary film, “The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress,” and a 1990 Hollywood feature film, “Memphis Belle,” further cementing her status as an American cultural icon.

After the war, the Memphis Belle was saved from reclamation at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma where she had been consigned, bought by the city of Memphis for $350. She was flown back to Memphis in July 1946 and stored until the summer of 1949 when she was placed on display at the National Guard armory near the city’s fairgrounds. She sat outside into the 1980s slowly deteriorating due to exposure to the elements and vandalism. She was moved a couple of times and foundations for her protection were set up but in the end there was never the means to properly care for the craft and she was eventually handed over to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in 2005.

(Image Credit: NMUSAF)
(Image Credit: NMUSAF)
Upon the arrival of this icon, museum staff quickly got to work on a multi-year restoration project to bring the Memphis Belle back to her original pristine condition. Seven years into the project now, the plane has been available for public viewing during her restoration in the museum’s restoration facility where she is a featured attraction.

While originally scheduled for her official unveiling and taking her place of honor in the museum’s World War II Gallery in 2014, the effects of the federal government’s sequester have put her restoration on hold as well as forcing the museum to suspend tours of the now-silent restoration shop. So this weekend’s anniversaries will go by unheralded at the plane, but for now she is safe, indoors and not deteriorating any further and her restoration is merely delayed, rather than suspended.

3 Comments

  1. It’s too bad we could not restore then brave crew members that flew the “Belle” on her missions. They were great Americans. And thanks to them, our enemies of the time were defeated. At least they will always be memorialized in the restoration of their flying machine. I thank them for the sacrifice that they made for our country.

    A fellow aviator.

  2. The first heavy bomber in the 8th Air Force to complete 25 mission in World War II was the B-24 Liberator Hot Stuff. It completed its 25th mission on February 7, 1943, three and a half months before the B-17 Memphis Belle. It was so acknowledged by the USAF Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Welsh in a letter read at a memorial service on May 3, 2013 honoring those who perished when Hot Stuff crashed into a mountain in Iceland on May 3, 1943 while returning to the United States to tour the country and help sell war bonds.

    Hot Stuff was carrying Gen. Frank M. Andrews Commander of the European Theater of Operations back to Washington. Gen. Ira Eaker was ordered by the Joint Chief of Staff to tell Gen. Andrews on the day he died that he had been selected to be, what would be called six months later, Supreme Allied Commander when the job was given to Gen. Eisenhower.

    The Memphis Belle and Hot Stuff flew on the same mission on March 22, 1943. The Memphis Belle was on its 10th mission. Hot Stuff was on its 30th.

    The families of the Memphis Belle are still reaping the rewards from books and films while the families of Hot Stuff receive nothing.

    According to a member of the 93rd BG who is still living, the story of Hot Stuff being the first was “hushed up” and he was surprised when it was announced that the Memphis Belle had been given the honor. There were several B-24s in the 93rd BG that completed 25 missions long before the Memphis Belle or Hell’s Angels complete 25.

    It’s sad that the crew of Hot Stuff and the bomber were completely forgotten as was Gen. Andrews except for having Joint Base Andrews named after him. Few people know he was a great leader and considered the Father of the United States Air Force.

    Had he not died, he would have lead the D-Day invasion and May have been the 34th President of the United States.

    A video of the story of Hot Stuff and Gen. Andrews is available for viewing at the following website: http://www.b24hotstuff.wikispaces.com

    The video contains footage from the National Archives.

    It’s time Hot Stuff and her crew and their families be given long overdue recognition they deserve.

    You have my email address. I can prove with documentation everything stated above.

    • If you read the wording in the article, we stated that the “Memphis Belle” was the first Flying Fortress to complete 25 Missions with her crew intact.

      The article is in no way intended to take anything away from any other craft or the brave souls that served upon them.

      The loss of “Hot Stuff” while enroute to do a war bonds tour of the states is indeed tragic, but extrapolating that General Andrews could become President or feeling that others have profited inappropriately due to the Memphis Belle capturing the public’s attention is a bit of a reach.

      You’ve given us food for thought though and for that we thank you. Look for an article on “Hot Stuff” here soon.

      Roger

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