B-17 "MEMPHIS BELLE" Story
1st Eighth Air Force WW II Bomber to complete 25 Combat Missions & return to the United States
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 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.
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!
THE 25 COMBAT MISSIONS OF THE B-17 MEMPHIS BELLE
When America entered the war in Europe flying sorties from English bases, the losses were as high as 82%. The war Department set 25 missions as an incentive for a crewman to go home. On 17 May 43 the B-17 Memphis Belle and her crew made military history as the first WWII bomber to complete 25 combat missions & return to the United States. They flew the Belle home in June 1943 and for three months flew her to 32 American cities to thank the American people for supporting the war effort.
1. Nov. 7 Brest, France
2. Nov. 9 St. Nazaire, France
3. Nov. 17 St. Nazaire, France
4. Dec. 6 Lille, France
5. Dec. 20 Rommily-Sur-Seine
6. Jan 3 St. Nazaire, France
7. Jan. 13 Lille, France
8. Jan. 23 Lorient, France
9. Feb. 4 Emden, Germany
10. Feb. 14 Hamm, Germany
11. Feb. 16 St. Nazaire, France
12. Feb. 26 Wilhelmshaven, Germany
13. Feb. 27 Brest, France
14. Mar. 6 Lorient, France
15. Mar. 12 Rouen, France
16. Mar. 13 Abbeville, France
17. Mar. 22 Wilhelmshaven, Germany
18. Mar. 28 Rouen, France
19. Apr. 5 Antwerp, Belgium
20. Apr. 16 Lorient, France
21. Apr. 17 Bremen, Germany
22. May 1 St. Nazaire, France
23. May 4 Antwerp, Belgium
24. May 15 Wilhelmshaven, Germany
25. May 17 Lorient, France
Capt. Robert K. Morgan - Pilot (Died 2004)
Capt. James Verinis - Copilot (Died 2003)
Capt. Vincent B. Evans - Bombardier (Died 1980)
Capt. Charles B. Leighton - Navigator (Died 1991)
T/Sgt. Harold P. Loch - Engineer/Top Gunner (Died 2004)
T/Sgt. Robert Hanson - Radio Operator (Died 2005)
S/Sgt. John P. Quinlan - Tail Gunner (Died 2002)
S/Sgt. Cecil H. Scott - Ball Turret Gunner (Died 1979)
S/Sgt. Clarence E. Winchell - L Waist Gunner (Died 1994)
S/Sgt. Casimer "Tony" Nastal - R Waist Gunner (Died 2002)
Joe Giambrone - Crew Chief (Died 1992) - Who replaced 9 engines, both wings, two tails, and both main landing gear
Ms. Margaret Polk - The Memphis Belle (Died 1990)
Scotty Dog "Stuka" - Mascot
OTHER PEOPLE WHO FLEW MISSIONS IN THE BELLE
Levi Dillon, 1st Top Turret Gunner. Flew four missions. (Died 1998)
Eugene Adkins, 2nd Top Turret Gunner, Flew six missions. Hands froze on 6th mission. (Died 1995)
E. Scott Miller, Right Waist Gunner, Flew 15 Missions. (Died 1995)
Courtesy of http://www.memphis-belle.com/belle_story.htm
For a 32-day trip on the Pacific Ocean in an overcrowded Liberty Ship most young men bought booze and cigars, not Hal Olsen. Young Hal spent $50 on a set of oil paints. His ship mates laughed at him and told him he was crazy for blowing his money on that stuff. Hal would have the last laugh though.
Trained as a naval aviation mechanic specializing in repairing autopilots, Olsen had visions of painting the tropical paradise of Tinian Island. But the realities of heavy bombing, a Marine Corps invasion, and close quarters battles soon altered that perception. Then a stroke of luck changed his fortune. Shortly after Olsen landed on Tinian, a Japanese bomb attack destroyed the paint shed on the island and with it the paints used by the resident nose artist. Olsen saw a great opportunity and did his first painting on a Navy PB4Y-1, the Navy’s version of the B-24 heavy bomber, for free. As soon as he had finished, he was besieged with pilots and crewmembers of other aircraft wanting their designs painted as well. This time Olsen charged for his work, $50 a painting, and he made so much money in his spare time that after the war he was able to take a three-month honeymoon and put himself through art school!
While stationed on Tinian, Olsen, in spite of his hectic military schedule, was a prolific painter. Over 100 pieces of nose art found their way on to PB4Y-1s and B-29 bombers. As soon as a new crew arrived on the island they found out about Olsen and had him go to work on their aircraft. From June to August of 1945, Olsen was painting two nose art pieces a day! He remembers, “I was so busy mixing flesh-tone paint, we did it by the gallon.”
Not just girls graced the fuselages of the big bombers. Says Olsen, “I was doing cartoon animals, city names, anything you could think of, including lettering.” It was so busy that a typical painting day for Olsen started at 6 a.m. and ended at noon. From noon to 11 p.m. he did his Navy job of instrument repair. “It was long days with only time out to sleep,” remembers Olsen.
Some of Olsen’s works lasted months, some just a few days. He remembers the time a new pilot came to him after being transferred from the European Theater of Operations.
“I want Lady Luck No. 2 painted on my plane; do you give a money-back guarantee if I’m shot down?” Olsen painted the requested nose art (no record of a guarantee), but the pilot was back in a month, “Now I need Lady Luck No. 3!” Olsen then asked the pilot if he thought he should change the name of the plane, but the pilot was adamant, so Lady Luck No. 3 it was. “I never saw him again,” said Olsen, “but he made it back – as far as I know.”
Some of Olsen’s nose art paintings were modified, not by enemy bullets, but by the commanding officers of the unit. After a visit to the Pacific theater in 1944 by none other than Charles Lindbergh, some units began to censor their artists. The GIs, always looking for a way to circumvent the rules, came up with many ways to appease their commanding officers. Water based paint was a popular method of censoring artwork, but crews would used whatever they had on hand. Hal Olsen even remembers one crew using mud to temporarily clad their female mascot!
So, why paint nose art anyway? As Olsen recounts,
“Nose art for the crew was a personalized reference to a piece of military hardware. You are trusting your life to the plane to get you back safely. You have to go through enemy territory.… So nose art brought the crew together. It gave a signature to their unit. By putting a girl on a plane, the crews felt they were protected on their way out to bomb and patrol. It inspired the crews and gave them a sense of belonging to an organized team. The main purpose, I guess, was to inspire the crews to have faith they’d be coming back.”
Nose art also drew on some very old traditions. “My story really started 400 years ago, said Olsen. “Nose art isn’t new. The British man-of-war ships had female figureheads. The Norwegian and Swedish [Viking] ships had ornate carvings out of wood.”
Some of Olsen’s last creations were painted on some of the most controversial planes used in the Second World War, the B-29s of the 509 th Composite Group, the unit that dropped the atomic bombs.
Hal Olsen painted two planes in the 509 th, both were destined to be used in the atomic drops, although, not as the actual bomb carriers. Olsen painted “Necessary Evil,” a B-29 assigned to the Hiroshima mission as a scientific monitoring aircraft. Olsen also painted “Up an’ Atom” a B-29 assigned to the Nagasaki mission as an advanced weather reconnaissance aircraft. With the dropping of the atomic bombs Olsen’s nose art business was “kaput,” finished. He decided to paint landscapes of Tinian instead, although he did paint the Enola Gay after it returned from its historic mission to Hiroshima. “Nobody, as far as I know, except myself, has ever painted a portrait of the Enola Gay,” said Olsen.
Of the 100 pieces of nose art that Hal Olsen painted on bombers both big and small, only one remains today. Out of sheer luck, the Commemorative Air Force in Midland, Texas, acquired the painting in 1977 with a group of thirty-two other pieces that had been collected from an aircraft disposal center at the end of World War II. The painting is now on display at the American Airpower Heritage Museum’s Aviation Nose Art Gallery in Midland; a fitting tribute to Hal Olsen, other Nose artists, and the sacrifices of all the young men and women of the “greatest generation.”
Courtesy of http://www.nps.gov/archive/wapa/indepth/PacTheatTopics/HalOlsen.htm