It is hard to understand the true impact of the Memphis Belle without knowing what was happening in World War II at the time. In 1941, the Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbor, and Hitler had taken complete control of the German army. Then, on January 13th, 1942, Germany had begun launching its U-boats (German military submarines) over to the east coast of the USA. This is one of the reasons why U-boat bases were the main targets of the Memphis Belle during its brief tenure (less than a year) as an aircraft bomber during the war. Also in 1942, Jews had begun getting killed in mass by the gas chambers at Auschwitz, causing many innocent Jews to die a terrible death. In 1943, much of the same was going on, until Hitler’s army finally suffered its first major defeat at Stalingrad on February 2nd. Many air raids went on during this time, Britain participating in a large number of them. On October 13th, Italy finally declared war on Germany, causing Germany even more resistance. However, American morale in 1942 was very low; the Memphis Belle changed all of that, causing great strife for the Germans and bombing many areas.
The Memphis Belle (a B17F Flying Fortress) is an integral part of Memphis history. The importance of the plane is clearly indicated by the fact that a movie, titled Memphis Belle, was created in 1990. It is currently being restored at the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio. Even though it is not currently visible for the citizens of Memphis to see without appointment, its legend will forever be remembered in Memphis.
All of the crew members of the Memphis Belle (all of whom returned home safely) each had various roles aboard the aircraft that were crucial to its success. The stories of each of these men can be viewed in the following sections, although some of you may not know what each of their roles encompasses. The Memphis Belle participated in a total of 25 officially credited combat missions before finally returning to the United States in 1943. The first mission they embarked on was in Brest, France on November 7th, 1942; their final mission was in Lorient, France close to a year later, on May 17th, 1943. More than 60 tons of bombs were dropped in total over Belgium, Germany, and France, raising American morale from the brink of despair. It’s very sad to think that this great legend of an aircraft was once left to rot at an airplane bone yard, and was almost destroyed twice. However, what matters is that it was not left to rot, and that it was not destroyed at all; rather, it survived many attacks and severely hindered the German’s plans. The 25 combat missions of the Memphis Belle were very crucial in America’s involvement in World War II.
-Excerpt from Memphis Belle: Dispelling the Myths, by Graham Simons and Harry Friedman. GMS Enterprises, 2008.
The timeline of the journey home – from last mission to Washington DC.
May 17 – Morgan’s 25th mission.
May 19 – Memphis Belle’s 25th mission.
May 26 – King George VI and Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Bassingbourn.
Date Unknown Medal ceremony at Bassingbourn.
June 8 – Test flying/filming/proficiency flying from Bassingbourn
June 9 – Depart Bassingbourn -filming en-route for one hour. Land at Bovingdon.
June 9 – ‘26th Mission’ ceremony at Bovingdon.
June 12 – Depart Bovingdon for two hour thirty minute flight to Prestwick, Scotland.
June 13 – Depart Prestwick, Scotland for eight hour flight to Greenland.
June 14 – Refuel. Depart Greenland for ten hour flight to Bangor, Maine.
June 14 – Refuel. Depart Bangor, Maine for three hour flight to Chicopee, Massachusetts.
June 15 – Arrive Washington DC area.
June 16 – Official arrival at Washington National Airport.