Stuka the Mascot

Stuka – the name given by the Germans to their dive bomber, the Junkers 87. Stuka is a contraction of the word Sturzkampf-flugzeug, which translates into English as something like ‘diving battle plane’. In the spring of 1943, Jim Verinis, the Memphis Belle co-pilot, gave the name of Stuka to a frisky little Scottish terrier girl puppy whose best idea for creating terror was to chew up her master’s socks on the floor of his barracks bedroom at Bassingbourn.

There were rumors that became newspaper stories that Stuka actually went on one of the bombing missions with the Memphis Belle, enclosed in a little box that had its own oxygen supply. Verinis says it isn’t so. ‘I don’t know where that one got started. Somebody made it up. Stuka never flew with us unless we were staying below 10,000 feet and we never flew a mission that low’.

The Stuka story began sometime around February or March of 1943. Verinis said he and Leighton, the Memphis Belle’s navigator, made one of their escapes to London for a little relaxation. ‘We were just walking down the street, when we passed a pet shop. I saw this little puppy in the window’. The frisky little dog appealed to him so mightily that he went straight in and bought her.

I don’t remember the exact price, but I believe it turned out to be something like $50 in American money.

Somehow, both master and puppy survived each other. When the Memphis Belle returned to the United States, Stuka went along. ‘I believe that was her first plane ride. When the engines started and the plane began to move, she got nervous and ran back and forth. She didn’t bark or yelp, though’.

The little dog didn’t seem to mind all the stunt flying Morgan did as he arrived over each new city on the tour. ‘After she got used to flying, Stuka seemed to enjoy all the wild stuff. She was a big hit with the crowds. People went wild over her. She seemed to be enjoying all the attention. When the cities put on parades for us, she would ride in it as if she were a queen’.

Newspaper photographers and newsreel cameramen had a field day, taking pictures of the flying dog. A man could start a conversation with a pretty girl by telling her about the little black terrier that flew with them. They would always be surprised to see her waiting for me at the door of my hotel room. They would say to me, ‘Gee, you really do have a dog, don’t you?’

Word got out that Stuka liked whiskey. Some people would slip her a saucer full. ‘She’d lap it up. She’d stagger around a little, act silly and go off somewhere and lay down to sleep’.

Then Stuka had her own ‘short snorter’ Those were dollar bills which overseas GIs would collect autographs on. When one got filled up, they’d start on a new one. Some soldiers had big collections of them.

‘Stuka’s short snorter had signatures on it such as Clark Gable, Burgess Meredith and William Wyler, the director who made the Belle movie’ said Verinis.