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Memphis Belle

From Academic Kids

The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress is a 1944 documentary film which documents the last (25th) bombing run of the B-17 bomber Memphis Belle. The shots of the actual battle, as they happened, were done by cinematographer First Lieutenant Harold J. Tannenbaum, under the direction of William Wyler.

Although the movie was made under the auspices of the First Motion Picture Unit, a branch of the United States Army Air Corps, this is not a rah-rah paean to patriotism. It just shows the everyday courage of the men who manned these planes in wartime. The crew included:

  • Captain Robert Morgan (pilot)
  • Captain James A. Verinis (co-pilot)
  • Captain Vincent B. Evans (bombadier and chin turret operator)
  • Captain Charles B. Leighton (navigator)
  • Technical Sergeant Robert J. Hanson (radio operator)
  • Technical Sergeant Harold P. Loch (engineer and top turret gunner)
  • Staff Sergeant Casimer A. Nastal (waist gunner)
  • Staff Sergeant Cecil H. Scott (ball turret gunner)
  • Arthur Kennedy (crewman) (probably the other waist or the tail gunner, as these 2 positions are unfilled)

In 2001 the United States Library of Congress deemed the original version "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

1990 Fictionalized Version

A fictionalized version of the story was made as Memphis Belle in 1990. It stars Matthew Modine, Eric Stoltz, Tate Donovan, D.B. Sweeney, Billy Zane, Sean Astin, Harry Connick Jr. and Reed Diamond. It was written by Monte Merrick and directed by Michael Caton-Jones. Captain Morgan later said that this film was untrue in many ways and used dramatic license. He told Sergeant David Tucker, a leading World War II historian, that he resented the scenes that portrayed the crew like college fraternity brothers playing pranks on each other all the time. He told Sergeant Tucker that when he and his men got in the air they were all business.

Aircraft Information

The actual Memphis Belle, a Boeing-built B-17F-10-BO, serial 41-24485, was delivered in July 1942 and flew its seven months of missions with the 324th Bomb Squadron, 91st Bomb Group. These were:

  • 7 November 1942 - Brest, France
  • 9 November 1942 - St. Nazaire, France
  • 17 November 1942 - St, Nazaire
  • 6 December 1942 - Lille, France
  • 20 December 1942 - Rommily-Sur-Seine, France
  • 3 January 1943 - St. Nazaire
  • 13 January 1943 - Lille
  • 23 January 1943 - Lorient, France
  • 4 February 1943 - Emden, Germany
  • 14 February 1943 - Hamm, Germany
  • 16 February 1943 - St. Nazaire
  • 26 February 1943 - Wilhelmshaven, Germany
  • 27 February 1943 - Brest
  • 6 March 1943 - Lorient
  • 12 March 1943 - Rouen, France
  • 13 March 1943 - Abbeville, France
  • 22 March 1943 - Wilhemshaven
  • 28 March 1943 - Rouen
  • 5 April 1943 - Antwerp, Belgium
  • 16 April 1943 - Lorient
  • 17 April 1943 - Bremen, Germany
  • 1 May 1943 - St. Nazaire
  • 4 May 1943 - Antwerp
  • 15 May 1943 - Wilhelmshaven
  • 17 May 1943 - Lorient
 It was then brought back to the United States for War Bond tours. The plane was named for pilot Robert K. Morgan's sweetheart, Margaret Polk.  The famous Petty girl nose art was painted by the 91st' group artist Tony Starcer.  After the war the Flying Fortress was saved from reclamation at Altus, Oklahoma by the efforts of the mayor of Memphis, the Hon. Walter Chandler, and the city bought the plane for $350.  It was flown to Memphis in July 1946 and stored until the summer of 1949 when it was placed on display at the National Guard armory.  It sat out-of-doors into the 1980s, slowly deteriorating due to weather and vandalism.  In the early 1970s another mayor had donated the historic plane back to the Air Force but they allowed it to remain in Memphis contingent on it being maintained.  Efforts by the locally-organized Memphis Belle Memorial Association, Inc. saw the aircraft moved to Mud Island in the Mississippi River in 1987 for display in a new pavilion with roof cover.  It was still open to the elements, however, and prone to weathering.  Dissatisfaction with the site led to efforts to create a new museum facility in nearby Shelby County.  In the summer of 2003 the "Belle" was disassembled and moved to a restoration facility in Millington, Tennessee for work.  In September 2004, however, the National Museum of the United States Air Force, apparently tiring of the ups and downs of the city's attempts to preserve the aircraft, indicated that they wanted it back for restoration and eventual display at the museum near Dayton, Ohio.  A local outcry and political pressure brought on the Air Force caused them to relent later in the fall although no permanent agreement has yet been reached on the final disposition of the Memphis Belle.  At this writing it is still under restoration at Millington, Tennessee. 

Sources - Morgan, Col. Robert K., Ret., with Power, Ron, "The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle", Dutton, New York, 2001, ISBN 0-525-94610-1.

"25 Missions - The Story of the Memphis Belle," published by the authority of the Commanding General, Army Air Forces - Training Aids Division, Army Air Forces, New York City, July 1943 - reprinted by the Memphis Belle Memorial Association, Inc., 1977.

Thompson, Scott A., "Final Cut - The Post-War B-17 Flying Fortress : The Survivors", Second edition, 2000.

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