The Great 1943 War Bond Tour
Travel across the United States of America to visit regional airports or airfields and at almost every one you will find someone that claims that the Memphis Belle visited that particular place during the 1943 War Bond Tour. Whether the claims are true or not, depends on where you are standing!
War Bonds were issued by the U.S. Government, at first being called Defense Bonds. The name was changed to War Bonds after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7th, 1941. Known as debt securities for the purpose of financing military operations during war time, the bonds yielded a mere 2.9 percent return after a 10-year maturity.
Despite the war’s hardships, some 134 million Americans were asked to purchase war bonds to help fund the war. Stamps also could be purchased, starting at 10 cents each, to save toward the bond. The first Series ‘E’ U.S. Savings Bond was sold to President Roosevelt by Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau. The ‘bonds’ – actually a loan to the government to help finance the war effort – sold at 75 percent of their face value in denominations of $25 up to $10,000, with some limitations.
The War Finance Committee was in charge of supervising the sale of bonds, and the War Advertising Council promoted voluntary compliance with bond buying. In the name of defense of American liberty and democracy, and as safe havens for investment, the public was continually urged to buy bonds. Bond rallies were held throughout the country with famous celebrities, usually Hollywood film stars, to enhance the advertising’s effectiveness. Free movie days were held in theaters nationwide with a bond purchase as the admission. Hollywood stars such as Greer Garson, Bette Davis and Rita Hayworth completed seven tours in more than 300 cities to promote war bonds. The ‘Stars Over America’ bond blitz, in which hundreds of stars took part, surpassed its quota and netted $838,540,000 worth of bonds. It was into this the Memphis Belle and crew flew.
The Memphis Belle’s Grand Tour of America cannot be told without including the story and background to the break-up of Bob Morgan and Margaret Polk’s relationship which occurred during the latter stages of the tour and has therefore, been slotted in with the timeline. After all, if it was not for Margaret, there would have been no Memphis Belle.
The tour would also be difficult for a number of the crew, in that they had to ‘toe the party line’ for they were now part of the 25 mission crew story as put out by the propagandists within the Army Air Force. It would be especially difficult for Jim Verinis, for it would be the start of living in Bob Morgans ‘shadow’ – something he did for the rest of his life – when the Press eternally dubbed him as the Memphis Belle’s copilot. This was despite the fact that he had commanded Connecticut Yankee for twenty missions AND beat Bob Morgan to the magic twenty-five missions completed!
The material in this section has come from a number of sources – Bob Morgan’s Flight Records, the Memphis Belle’s Maintenance Log, the scrapbooks of Margaret Polk, Bob Morgan, John Quinlan and Bob Hanson. We also had access to one other remarkable document – navigator Charles Leighton’s original tour map. We have also made heavy use of a myriad of contemporary newspaper reports located and collected over many years.
These newspaper reports themselves have proved to be very much a double-edged sword, for as well as providing an enormous amount of detailed information, at the same time not only do contradict each other but they contain a good few blatant errors! We particularly like one paper that refers to ‘Roy’s Ragged Irregulars’! However, with careful study and a lot of cross-referencing they do provide confirmation of dates to a specific location that the aircraft and crew visited – as opposed to ‘planned to visit’ – allowing this information to be tied in to other data that creates an accurate timeline. This, along with other references which, although cannot be double-checked to a high degree of certainty, is essential to be able to collect the flavor, scale and times of the tour. Interestingly, the aircraft itself still carries conformational signs of the tour, for many people ‘signed’ the aircraft by writing – or scratching – their names on its skin. A number of these ‘signatures’ also incorporated the location and date.
It was clear from talking to the crew while they were still alive that the Bond Tour was so intense and the stops came with such hypnotic regularity that it became impossible for them to separate one from another in their minds as the Tour rolled on. This was something that became increasingly difficult with the passage of time; they really did have no idea where they went and when!
By the numbers:
Wingspan – 103 feet, 9.3 inches; Length – 74 feet, 9 inches; Height – 9 feet, 1 inch; Empty weight – 36,135 pounds; Max. weight – 72,000 pounds; Powerplants – four 1200 hp Wright R-1820-97 radial engines; Armament – 13 M2 0.50 Browning machine guns; Crew – 10; Max Speed – 250 mph; Service Ceiling – 35,000 ft; Range – 2,400 miles.
The “Memphis Belle,” a Boeing B-17, has been retired from active service in the European theater after 25 successful bombing missions. With its distinguished crew, which has remained intact since its formation 10 months ago, the ship has been returned to the United States for another-and no less important-mission. At my direction, Captain Robert K. Morgan, the pilot, his crew and his ship are making a tour of Army Air Forces training establishments in all parts of the United States. There are three principal reasons for this tour: First, that combat crews in those units now being trained for the European theater may be guided in their training to achieve combat skill, teamwork, mutual confidence and fighting spirit. Second, that student pilots, bombardiers, navigators and gunners may profit by the experience and knowledge of the men of the Memphis Belle. Third, that battle conditions now existing in Europe and the magnificent achievements of the United States Eighth Air Force in mastering these conditions may be represented properly to AAF personnel and the public. I consider it important that the messages of these men be given maximum circulation. Therefore, I have had each-member of the crew interviewed by an officer of the Army Air Forces and their stories, told in their own words, published in this booklet.
I commend the contents of this booklet to the thoughtful reading of all AAF personnel and especially those officers and enlisted men being prepared for duty in the European theater. Here are factual accounts of aerial warfare over Germany and the occupied countries. Here is an appraisal of the enemy we are fighting. Here is the advice of men who have taken the war to the enemy. We must not fail to make the most of the experience of men who have pioneered the American task in Europe.
Published by authority of the Commanding General Army Air Forces July 1943