Tag Archives: 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy)

8 April 1945

In one of the most dramatic photographic images of World War II, “Wee Willie,” Boeing B-17G-15-BO Flying Fortress 42-31333, is going down after it was hit by antiaircraft artillery over Stendal, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, 8 April 1945. (American Air Museum in Britain, Roger Freeman Collection.)

8 April 1945: Wee Willie, a Flying Fortress heavy bomber, left its base at Air Force Station 121 (RAF Bassingbourne, Cambridgeshire, England), on its 129th combat mission over western Europe. The aircraft commander was 1st Lieutenant Robert E. Fuller, U.S. Army Air Forces.

Wee Willie was a B-17G-15-BO, serial number 42-31333, built by the Boeing Airplane Company’s Plant 2, Seattle, Washington. It was delivered to the United States Army Air Forces at Cheyenne, Wyoming on 22 October 1943, and arrived at Bassingbourne 20 December 1943. It was assigned to the 322nd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy), 1st Air Division, 8th Air Force. The identification letters LG W were painted on both sides of its fuselage, and a white triangle with a black letter A on the top of its right wing and both sides of its vertical fin.

Boeing B-17G-15-BO Flying Fortress 42-31333, Wee Willie, December 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-17G-15-BO Flying Fortress 42-31333, LG W, Wee Willie, December 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

On 8 April 1945, the 322nd Bombardment Squadron was part of an attack against the locomotive repair facilities at the railroad marshaling yards in Stendal, Saxony-Anhalt Germany. The squadron was bombing through clouds using H2S ground search radar to identify the target area. Antiaircraft gunfire (flak) was moderate, causing major damage to four B-17s and minor damage to thirteen others. Two bombers from the 91st Bomb Group were lost, including Wee Willie.

The Missing Air Crew Report, MACR 13881, included a statement  from a witness:

“We were flying over the target at 20,500 feet [6,248 meters] altitude when I observed aircraft B-17G, 42-31333 to receive a direct flak hit approximately between the bomb bay and #2 engine. The aircraft immediately started into a vertical dive. The fuselage was on fire and when it had dropped approximately 5,000 feet [1,524 meters] the left wing fell off. It continued down and when the fuselage was about 3,000 feet [914.4 meters] from the ground it exploded and then exploded again when it hit the ground. I saw no crew member leave the aircraft or parachutes open.”

This photographic image precedes the one above. The Boeing B-17G-15-BO Flying Fortress 42-31333, Wee Willie, is engulfed in flame. The left wing has separated and is crossing over the fuselage. (American Air Museum in Britain)

The pilot, Lieutenant Fuller, did escape from the doomed bomber. He was captured and spent the remainder of the war as a Prisoner of War. The other eight  crew members, however were killed.

1st Lieutenant Robert E. Fuller, O-774609, California. Aircraft Commander/Pilot—Prisoner of War

2nd Lieutenant Woodrow A. Lien, O-778858, Montana. Co-pilot—Killed in Action

Technical Sergeant Francis J. McCarthy, 14148856, Tennessee. Navigator—Killed in Action

Staff Sergeant Richard D. Proudfit, 14166848, Mississippi. Togglier—Killed in Action

Staff Sergeant Wylie McNatt, Jr., 38365470, Texas. Flight Engineer/Top Turret Gunner—Killed in Action

Staff Sergeant William H. Cassiday, 32346219, New York. Ball Turret Gunner—Killed in Action

Staff Sergeant Ralph J. Leffelman, 19112019, Washington. Radio Operator/Top Gunner—Killed in Action

Staff Sergeant James D. Houtchens, 37483248, Nebraska. Waist Gunner—Killed in Action

Sergeant Le Moyne Miller, 33920597, Pennsylvania. Tail Gunner—Killed in Action

In the third photograph of the sequence, Wee Willie has exploded and fragments of the wings and fuselage streak downward in flame. (American Air Museum in Britain, Roger Freeman Collection)

Wee Willie was the oldest B-17G still in service with the 91st Bomb Group, and the next to last B-17 lost to enemy action by the group before cessation of hostilities. The War in Europe came to an end with the unconditional surrender of Germany just 30 days later, 7 May 1945.

Boeing B-17G-15-BO Flying Fortress, LG W, “Wee Willie,” and its flight crew at Air Force Station 121, RAF Bassingbourne, 12 February 1944. The bomber is still nearly new, having flown 6 combat missions, 31 January 1943–3 February 1944, when it was damaged by anti-aircraft artllery over Wilhelmsahaven, Germany. “Wee Willie” was out of action until 20 February 1944. Standing, left to right: 1st Lt. John A. Moeller, co-pilot; 2nd Lt. Harry Lerner, navigator; S/Sgt Robert Kelley, waist gunner; S/Sgt Martin, ball turret gunner; Lt. Joe Gagliano, bombardier; 1st Lt. Paul D. Jessop, pilot. Kneeling, left to right: S/Sgt MacElroy, waist gunner; S/Sgt Shoupe, radio operator; S/Sgt Southworth, engineer/top turret gunner; and S/Sgt Joe Zastinich, tail gunner. Waist gunner S/Sgt Henry F. Osowski was wounded on the Wilhelmshaven mission and is not in this photograph. (American Air Museum in Britain)
During the 129 missions “Wee Willie” flew in its 1 year, 3 months, 20 days at war, many airmen served as its crew members. The men in this photograph are not identified, and the date it was taken is not known. A battle-scarred veteran, “Wee Willie” now has markings showing 106 missions completed. These men are representative all the aircrews who fought and died in the skies over Europe. The officer kneeling in the front row, right, has been identified as 2nd Lieutenant Jess Ziccarello, the navigator for this crew. Thanks to his son, Rick Ziccarello, for the identification. (American Air Museum in Britain)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

26 July 1944

North American Aviation P-51 Mustangs, "The Bottisham Four", 26 July 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation P-51 Mustangs, “The Bottisham Four,” 26 July 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

26 July 1944: This iconic World War II photograph, The Bottisham Four, is one of a series depicting a flight of four North American Aviation P-51 Mustang fighters—three P-51Ds and one P-51B—of the 375th Fighter Squadron, 361st Fighter Group, 8th Air Force, based at Air Force Station F-374 (RAF Bottisham), Cambridgeshire, England, as they flew formation with a B-17 Flying Fortress camera ship from the 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy).

None of these aircraft would survive the war. Fourteen days after this photo was taken, 9 August 1944, the number two plane, 44-13926 (E2 S), crashed during a training flight near Stalham, Norfolk, killing the pilot, 2nd Lieutenant Donald D. Dellinger.

Three days later, 12 August 1944, at 1505 hours, 361st Fighter Group commanding officer Colonel Thomas J.J. Christian, Jr., flying the lead plane, Lou IV, was killed and his Mustang destroyed in a dive-bombing attack against the Arras railroad marshaling yards in Boisleux-au-Mont, France.

The number four plane, the P-51B Suzy G, crash-landed following a combat mission and was destroyed, 11 September 1944.

Sky Bouncer, the number three P-51D, crashed on takeoff, near Cambron Casteau, Belgium, 3 April 1945.

Lead: P-51D-5-NA 44-13410, E2*C, named Lou IV after the pilot's daughter. (U.S. Air Force)
Lead: North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang 44-13410, E2 C. (U.S. Air Force)

Lead: P-51D-5-NA 44-13410, E2 C, flown by group commander Colonel Thomas J.J. Christian, Jr., and named Lou IV after his wife, Marjorie Lou Ashcroft Christian.

Jack Christian was a 1939 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. He served as a B-17 pilot with the 19th Bombardment Group at Clark Field, Philippine Islands. After the B-17s were destroyed in the attacks of 8 December 1941, Christian was at Bataan before being evacuated to Australia.

While ferrying a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, he was shot down over Timor and listed as Missing in Action. He eventually made his way to Allied territory.

A few months later, Christian, while flying a Bell P-400 Airacobra with the 67th Pursuit Squadron, was the first U.S. Army Air Corps pilot to land at Henderson Field, on the island of Guadalcanal, 12 August 1942.

On 10 February 1943, Major Christian was given command of the 361st Fighter Group at Richmond, Virginia. The group deployed to England in November 1943.

For his service in World War II, Colonel Christian was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf cluster (two awards), Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters (four awards) and the Purple Heart.

There is a Special Memorial in honor of Colonel Thomas J.J. Christian, Jr., United States Army Air Corps, at the Faubourg-d’Amiens Cemetery, Arras, Pas-de-Calais, France.

Colonel Thomas Jonathan Jackson ("Jack") Christian, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps. (American Air Museum in Britain)
Colonel Thomas Jonathan Jackson (“Jack”) Christian, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps. (American Air Museum in Britain)

**********

Number two P-51D-5-NA 44-13926, E2*S (note the dorsal fin fillet at base of vertical fin). (U.S. Air Force)
Number Two: North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang 44-13926, E2 S. (Note the dorsal fin fillet at base of vertical fin for increased longitudinal stability). (U.S. Air Force)

Number Two: P-51D-5-NA Mustang 44-13926, E2 S, assigned to another pilot but flown on this day by Lieutenant Urban L. (“Ben”) Drew. (Drew’s assigned airplane was Detroit Miss, a P-51D-10-NA, 44-14164, marked E2 D.)

Urban L. Drew joined the U.S. Army Air Corp in 1942 and trained as a P-51 fighter pilot. He joined the 361st Fighter Group in England in October 1943. He flew 75 combat missions with the 361st and shot down six enemy aircraft in aerial combat, two of which were Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighters, destroyed 7 October 1944. Nominated for the Distinguished Service Cross, the medal was denied because his gun camera failed and the shoot-downs were not recorded. His wingman was shot down during the air battle and captured, so Drew’s claims could not be verified. However, the kills were later confirmed with German records, and in 1983, Major Drew was awarded the Air Force Cross. In addition to scoring the first kill of an enemy Me 262 by an Allied pilot, Drew also destroyed the Blohm & Voss BV238-V1, a prototype six-engine flying boat, the world’s largest airplane at the time.

In 1945, Ben Drew was transferred to the 413th Fighter Squadron, 414th Fighter Group, 10th Air Force, in the western Pacific, flying Republic P-47 Thunderbolts from the island of Iwo Jima. He was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, twice, and fifteen Air Medals.

Following World War II, Ben Drew joined the Michigan Air National Guard in which he served until 1950.

Major Drew died in 2013 at the age of 89 years.

Captain Urban L. ("Ben") Drew, United States Army Air Corps. (American Air Museum in Britain)
Captain Urban Leonard (“Ben”) Drew, United States Army Air Corps. (American Air Museum in Britain)

**********

Number three P-51D-5-NA 44-13xxx, E2*A, Sky Bouncer. (U.S. Air Force)
Number Three: North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA 44-13568, E2 A. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Bruce W. ("Red") Rowlett, U.S. Army Air Corps, Operations Officer, 375th Fighter Squadron. (American Air Museum in Britain)
Lieutenant Bruce W. (“Red”) Rowlett, U.S. Army Air Corps, Operations Officer, 375th Fighter Squadron. (American Air Museum in Britain)

Number Three: P-51-D-5-NA Mustang 44-13568, Sky Bouncer, flown by Captain Bruce W. (“Red”) Rowlett, U.S. Army Air Corps, Operations Officer, 375th Fighter Squadron.

Sky Bouncer, flown by Jared M. Lundin, crash-landed after an engine failure on take off at Cambron-Casteau, Belgium, 3 April 1945. The airplane was destroyed.

Colonel Bruce W. Rowlett, United States Air Force, enlisted as a private soldier in the 36th Infantry Division (then part of the Texas National Guard) in 1940, lying about his age. (He was seventeen). He appled for flight training as an aviation cadet in 1942. After earning his wings as an Air Corps fighter pilot, Lieutenant Rowlett was assigned to the 375th Fighter Squadron, initially flying Republic P-47 Thunderbolts. After completing a 50 mission combat tour, Rowlett volunteered for a second tour, just as the squadron was transitioning to the P-51 Mustang. Nearing the end of the second tour, and after flying 109 combat missions, Captain Rowlett was sent back to the United States.

Red Rowlett remained in the Air Force following World War II. He  later flew in the Berlin Airlift. From 1964 to 1967, Colonel Rowlett was Chief of Air Defense Operations, North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), then was assigned to the Pentagon, as Director of Studies and Analysis, Headquarters, U.S. Air Force, 1968–1971.

Colonel Bruce W. Rowlett, United States Air Force, died at Wichita, Kansas, 28 January 1998, at the age of 74 years.

**********

North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang 42-106xxxx, SUZY-G. (U.S. Air Force)
Number Four: North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang 42-106811, SUZY-G. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Francis T. Glankler (American Air Museum in Britain)
Lieutenant Francis T. Glankler, U.S. Army Air Corps. (American Air Museum in Britain)

Number Four: P-51B-15-NA Mustang 42-106811, E2 H, flown by Captain Francis T. Glankler and named Suzy G after his wife. The underlined letter H indicates that this airplane is the second in the squadron identified with that letter. Lieutenant Glankler was flight leader of D Flight, 375th fighter Squadron.

Lieutenant Glankler and Suzy G crashed-landed in a farm field at Thorpe Park, near Clacton, Essex, in following a mission on 11 September 1944. The Mustang was damaged beyond repair.

(Some sources indicate that another pilot was flying Suzy G, and that the crash occurred following a dog fight with a P-47 Thunderbolt.)

Wreck of North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA 42-106881, Suzy G, in a farm field, Essex England. (U.S. Air Force)
Wreck of North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA 42-106881, Suzy G, in a farm field, Essex England. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation P-51D Mustangs, The Battisham Four, 3
A different formation grouping of “The Bottisham Four.” (U.S. Air Force)

The P-51D was the predominant version of North American Aviation’s legendary World War II fighter, with a total of 8,156 produced by North American at Inglewood, California and Dallas, Texas, and 200 by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation in Australia. It was a single-seat, single engine fighter, which had first been designed for the Royal Air Force. The most visible difference between the previous P-51B and P-51C Mustangs was the cut down rear fuselage and the one-piece bubble canopy.

The P-51D was 32 feet, 3.5 inches (9.843 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet (11.278 meters). It was 13 feet, 4.5 inches (4.077 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 7,635 pounds (3,463.2 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 12,100 pounds (5,488.5 kilograms).

The P-51 B, -C and -D Mustangs were powered by the Packard Motor Car Company’s license-built version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin, either a V-1650-3 or V-1650-7. These were right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter), single overhead cam 60° V-12 engines, rated at 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m at 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3), or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. at 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). (Military Power rating, 15 minute limit.) These were Packard’s versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66. This engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters) through a 0.479:1 gear reduction.

A Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 1,715 pounds (778 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. Packard built 55,873 of the V-1650 series engines. Continental built another 897. The cost per engine ranged from $12,548 to $17,185. (NASM)
A Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 1,715 pounds (778 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. Packard built 55,873 of the V-1650 series engines. Continental built another 897. The cost per engine ranged from $12,548 to $17,185. (NASM)

The P-51D was slightly slower than the P-51B/C. It had a maximum speed was 437 miles per hour (703.3 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 41,900 feet (12,771 meters). With internal fuel the maximum range was 1,650 miles (2,655 kilometers).

The P-51B and P-51C were nearly identical, with the B built in California, and the -C in Texas. North American built 1,988 P-51Bs at Inglewood and 1,750 P-51Cs at Dallas. They had a cruise speed of 362 miles per hour (583 kilometers per hour) and their maximum speed was 439 miles per hour (707.5 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was also 41,900 feet. With internal fuel, the combat range was 755 miles (1,215 kilometers).

The P-51B/C Mustang’s armament consisted of four air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, mounted two in each wing, with 350 rounds per gun for the inboard guns and 280 rounds per gun for the outboard. The guns were installed leaning outboard from the vertical to reduce the overall height. This arrangement sometimes lead to ammunition feed problems.

The P-51D was armed with six AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with three mounted in each wing. In a change from the earlier airplanes, the guns were mounted vertically to improve ammunition feed. (This resulted in the requirement for a thicker wing.) 400 rounds of ammunition was provided for the inner pair of guns, and 270 rounds for each of the outer two pairs of guns, for a total of 1,880 rounds of ammunition. This was armor piercing, incendiary and tracer ammunition.

The fighter could also carry a 1,000 pound (453.6 kilogram) bomb under each wing, in place of drop tanks, or up to ten rockets.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

9 June 1943

Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-24485, Memphis Belle, flies home from England, 9 June 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

9 June 1943: After completing 25 combat missions over Western Europe from its base at Air Force Station 121 (RAF Bassingbourne, Cambridgeshire, England), Memphis Belle, a U.S. Army Air Forces Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress, serial number 41-24485, assigned to the 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy), 324th Bomb Squadron (Heavy), was flown home by Captain Robert K. Morgan and Captain James A. Verinis.

The crew of the Memphis Belle after their 25th mission: (left to right) Technical Sergeant Harold Loch, Top Turret Gunner/Engineer; Staff Sergeant Cecil Scott, Ball Turret Gunner; Technical Sergeant Robert Hanson, Radio Operator; Captain James Verinis, Co-pilot; Captain Robert Morgan, Aircraft Commander/Pilot; Captain Charles Leighton, Navigator; Staff Sergeant John Quinlan, Tail Gunner; Staff Sergeant Casimer Nastal, Waist Gunner; Captain Vincent Evans, Bombardier; Staff Sergeant Clarence Winchell Waist Gunner. (U.S. Air Force photograph)

The daylight bombing campaign of Nazi-occupied Europe was very dangerous with high losses in both airmen and aircraft. For a bomber crew, 25 combat missions was a complete tour, and they were sent on to other assignments. Memphis Belle was only the second B-17 to survive 25 missions, so it was withdrawn from combat and sent back to the United States for a publicity tour.

Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-22485, Memphis Belle, in flight over England, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Miss Margaret Polk, 1943.

The B-17’s name was a reference to Captain Morgan’s girlfriend, Miss Margaret Polk, who lived in Memphis, Tennessee. The artwork painted on the airplane’s nose was a “Petty Girl” based on the work of pin-up artist George Petty of Esquire magazine. (Morgan named his next airplane—a B-29 Superfortress—Dauntless Dotty after his wife, Dorothy Morgan. With it, he led the first B-29 bombing mission against Tokyo, Japan, in 1944. It was also decorated with a Petty Girl.)

Memphis Belle and her crew were the subject of a 45-minute documentary, “Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress,” directed by William Wyler and released in April 1944. It was filmed in combat aboard Memphis Belle and several other B-17s. The United States Library of Congress named it for preservation as a culturally significant film.

After returning to the United States, Memphis Belle was sent on a War Bonds tour. In this photograph, it is parked at Patterson Field, Dayton, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

Following the War Bonds tour, Memphis Belle was assigned to MacDill Field, Tampa, Florida, where it was used for combat crew training.

Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress 41-224485, “Memphis Belle,” arrives at the NACA Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory at Lewis Field, Cleveland, Ohio, 7 July 1943. (NASA)

After the war, Memphis Belle was sent to a “boneyard” at Altus, Oklahoma, to be scrapped along with hundreds of other wartime B-17s. A newspaper reporter learned of this and told Memphis’ mayor, Walter Chandler. Chandler purchased it for its scrap value and arranged for it to be put on display in the city of Memphis. For decades it suffered from time, weather and neglect. The Air Force finally took the bomber back and placed it in the permanent collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where it has been undergoing a total restoration for the last several years.

“On July 17, 1946, at 2:55 p.m., the Memphis Belle rolled to a stop in front of the Administration Building at Municipal Airport and ended its final flight. The plane had been stored in Altus, Okla. Mayor Walter Chandler (fifth left in white suit) and some 200 people greeted the Belle and the final flight’s crew (from left) Stuart Griffin, radioman; Lt. James Gowdy, navigator; Capt. Hamp Morrison, co-pilot; Capt. Robert Little, pilot; Sgt. Percy Roberts Jr., engineer; Capt Robert Taylor, co-navigator and Tech Sgt. Charles Crowe, engineer. (Editor’s Note: This crew was the crew that flew the plane from Altus, Okla.; not the wartime flight crew)” (The Commercial Appeal)

The Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber operated by a flight crew of ten. It was 74 feet, 8.90 inches (22.781 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9.38 inches (31.633 meters) and an overall height of 19 feet, 1.00 inch (5.187 meters). The wings have 3½° angle of incidence and 4½° dihedral. The leading edge is swept aft 8¾°. The total wing area is 1,426 square feet (132.48 square meters). The horizontal stabilizer has a span of 43 feet (13.106 meters) with 0° incidence and dihedral. Its total area, including elevators, is 331.1 square feet (12.18 square meters).

The B-17F had an approximate empty weight of 36,135 pounds (16,391 kilograms), 40,437 pounds (18,342 kilograms) basic, and the maximum takeoff weight was 65,000 pounds (29,484 kilograms).

The forward fuselage of Memphis Belle dismantled for restoration at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton Ohio. The “Petty Girl” on the right side of the airplane is in red. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-17F was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.876 liters) Wright Cyclone G666A (R-1820-65)¹ nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.70:1. The engines were equipped with remote General Electric turbochargers capable of 24,000 r.p.m. The R-1820-65 was rated at 1,000 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. for takeoff. The engine could produce 1,380 horsepower at War Emergency Power. 100-octane aviation gasoline was required. The Cyclones turned three-bladed, constant-speed, Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 7 inches (3.835 meters) though a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-1820-65 engine is 3 feet, 11.59 inches (1.209 meters) long and 4 feet, 7.12 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter. It weighs 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms).

The B-17F had a cruising speed of 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour). The maximum speed was 299 miles per hour (481 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), though with War Emergency Power, the bomber could reach 325 miles per hour (523 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet for short periods. The service ceiling was 37,500 feet (11,430 meters).

Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-24485, the Memphis Belle, under restoration at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

With a normal fuel load of 1,725 gallons (6,530 liters) the B-17F had a maximum range of 3,070 miles (4,941 kilometers). Two “Tokyo tanks” could be installed in the bomb bay, increasing capacity by 820 gallons (3,104 liters). Carrying a 6,000 pound (2,722 kilogram) bomb load, the range was 1,300 miles (2,092 kilometers).

The Memphis Belle was armed with 13 Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns for defense against enemy fighters. Power turrets mounting two guns each were located at the dorsal and ventral positions. Four machine guns were mounted in the nose, 1 in the radio compartment, 2 in the waist and 2 in the tail.

Restoration of the B-17 Flying Fortress Memphis Belle progresses. (Air Force Times)

The maximum bomb load of the B-17F was 20,800 pounds (9434.7 kilograms) over very short ranges. Normally, 4,000–6,000 pounds (1,815–2,722 kilograms) of high explosive bombs were carried. The internal bomb bay could be loaded with a maximum of eight 1,600 pound (725.75 kilogram) bombs. Two external bomb racks mounted under the wings between the fuselage and the inboard engines could carry one 4,000 pound (1,814.4 kilogram) bomb, each, though this option was rarely used.

The B-17 Flying Fortress was in production from 1936 to 1945. 12,731 B-17s were built by Boeing, Douglas Aircraft Company and Lockheed-Vega. (The manufacturer codes -BO, -DL and -VE follows the Block Number in each airplane’s type designation.) 3,405 of the total were B-17Fs, with 2,000 built by Boeing, 605 by Douglas and 500 by Lockheed-Vega.

Only three B-17F Flying Fortresses, including Memphis Belle, remain in existence. The completely restored bomber went on public display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, 17 May 2018.

Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-24485, “Memphis Belle,” photographed 14 March 2018 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

Memphis Belle ® is a Registered Trademark of the United States Air Force.

¹ Later production B-17F and B-17G bombers were equipped with Wright Cyclone C9GC (R-1820-97) engines.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

17 May 1943

The crew of the Memphis Belle after their 25th mission: (left to right) Technical Sergeant Harold Loch, Top Turret Gunner/Engineer; Staff Sergeant Cecil Scott, Ball Turret Gunner; Technical Sergeant Robert Hanson, Radio Operator; Captain James Verinis, Co-pilot; Captain Robert Morgan, Aircraft Commander/Pilot; Captain Charles Leighton, Navigator; Staff Sergeant John Quinlan, Tail Gunner; Staff Sergeant Casimer Nastal, Waist Gunner; Captain Vincent Evans, Bombardier; Staff Sergeant Clarence Winchell Waist Gunner. (U.S. Air Force photograph)

17 May 1943: The flight crew of the B-17 Memphis Belle completed their combat tour of 25 bombing missions over Western Europe with an attack on the massive Kéroman Submarine Base at Lorient, France.¹ The bomber was a U.S. Army Air Force Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress, serial number 41-24485, assigned to the 324th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy), VIII Bomber Command, based at Air Force Station 121 (RAF Bassingbourne, Cambridgeshire, England). The aircraft commander was Captain Robert Knight Morgan, Air Corps, United States Army.

The daylight bombing campaign of Nazi-occupied Europe was extremely dangerous with high losses in both airmen and aircraft. For a bomber crew, 25 combat missions was a complete tour, and they were sent back to the United States for rest and retraining before going on to other assignments. Memphis Belle was only the second B-17 to survive 25 missions, so it was withdrawn from combat and sent back to the United States for a publicity tour.

Miss Margaret Polk
Miss Margaret Polk

The B-17′s name was a reference to Captain Morgan’s girlfriend, Miss Margaret Polk, who lived in Memphis, Tennessee. The artwork painted on the airplane’s nose was a “Petty Girl” based on the work of pin-up artist George Petty of Esquire magazine. ² (Morgan named his next airplane—a B-29 Superfortress—Dauntless Dotty, after his wife, Dorothy Grace Johnson Morgan. With it, he led the first B-29 bombing mission against Tokyo, Japan, in 1944. It was also decorated with a Petty Girl.)

Memphis Belle and her crew were the subject of a 45-minute documentary, “Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress,” directed by William Wyler and released in April 1944. It was filmed in combat aboard Memphis Belle and several other B-17s. The United States Library of Congress named it for preservation as a culturally significant film.

B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-24485 (c/n 3190) was built by the Boeing Aircraft Company at its Plant 2 in Seattle, Washington, during the summer of 1942. It was the 195th airplane in the B-17F series, and one of the third production block. Flown by a Boeing pilot named Johnston, the new bomber made its first flight, 1 hour, 40 minutes, on 13 August 1942. Maintenance records indicate, “1st flight OK.”

The B-17 was flown to Bangor, Maine and on 31 August 1942 was assigned to the 324th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy), then preparing to deploy overseas.

2nd Lieutenant Morgan first flew 41-24485 on 3 September, and logged nearly 50 hours over the next three weeks. The squadron flew across the North Atlantic Ocean, and 41-24485 arrived at its permanent station, Bassingbourne, on 26 October 1942.

Following its twenty-fifth combat mission, Memphis Belle was flown back to the United States on 9 June 1943.

After the war, Memphis Belle was put on display in the city of Memphis. For decades it suffered from time, weather and neglect. The Air Force finally took the bomber back and placed it in the permanent collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, where it has been undergoing a total restoration for the last several years.

Survivors. The crew of the Memphis belle after their 25th combat mission, 17 May 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Survivors. The crew of the Memphis Belle after their 25th combat mission, 17 May 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

The Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber operated by a flight crew of ten. It was 74 feet, 8.90 inches (22.781 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9.375 inches (31.633 meters) and an overall height of 19 feet, 1.00 inch (5.187 meters). The wings have 3½° angle of incidence and 4½° dihedral. The leading edge is swept aft 8¾°. The total wing area is 1,426 square feet (132.48 square meters). The horizontal stabilizer has a span of 43 feet (13.106 meters) with 0° incidence and dihedral. Its total area, including elevators, is 331.1 square feet (12.18 square meters).

The B-17F had an approximate empty weight of 36,135 pounds (16,391 kilograms), 40,437 pounds (18,342 kilograms) basic, and the maximum takeoff weight was 65,000 pounds (29,484 kilograms).

The B-17F was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.876 liters) Wright Cyclone G666A (R-1820-65) ³ nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.70:1. The engines were equipped with remote General Electric  turbochargers capable of 24,000 r.p.m. The R-1820-65 was rated at 1,000 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. for takeoff. The engine could produce 1,380 horsepower at War Emergency Power. 100-octane aviation gasoline was required. The Cyclones turned three-bladed, constant-speed, Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 7 inches (3.835 meters) though a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-1820-65 engine is 3 feet, 11.59 inches (1.209 meters) long and 4 feet, 7.12 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter. It weighs 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms).

Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-22485, Memphis Belle, in flight over England, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-17F had a cruising speed of 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour). The maximum speed was 299 miles per hour (481 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), though with War Emergency Power, the bomber could reach 325 miles per hour (523 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet for short periods. The service ceiling was 37,500 feet (11,430 meters).

The original “Petty Girl” pin-up nose art of the B-17 bomber, “Memphis Belle,” during restoration.

With a normal fuel load of 1,725 gallons (6,530 liters) the B-17F had a maximum range of 3,070 miles (4,941 kilometers). Two “Tokyo tanks” could be installed in the bomb bay, increasing capacity by 820 gallons (3,104 liters). Carrying a 6,000 pound (2,722 kilogram) bomb load, the range was 1,300 miles (2,092 kilometers).

The Memphis Belle was armed with 13 Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns for defense against enemy fighters. Power turrets mounting two guns each were located at the dorsal and ventral positions. Four machine guns were mounted in the nose, 1 in the radio compartment, 2 in the waist and 2 in the tail.

The maximum bomb load of the B-17F was 20,800 pounds (9434.7 kilograms) over very short ranges. Normally, 4,000–6,000 pounds (1,815–2,722 kilograms) of high explosive bombs were carried. The internal bomb bay could be loaded with a maximum of eight 1,600 pound (725.75 kilogram) bombs. Two external bomb racks mounted under the wings between the fuselage and the inboard engines could carry one 4,000 pound (1,814.4 kilogram) bomb, each, though this option was rarely used.

The B-17 Flying Fortress was in production from 1936 to 1945. 12,731 B-17s were built by Boeing, Douglas Aircraft Company and Lockheed-Vega. (The manufacturer codes -BO, -DL and -VE follows the Block Number in each airplane’s type designation.) 3,405 of the total were B-17Fs, with 2,000 built by Boeing, 605 by Douglas and 500 by Lockheed-Vega.

Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-24485, Memphis Belle, flies home from England, 9 June 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Only three B-17F Flying Fortresses, including Memphis Belle, remain in existence. The completely restored bomber goes on public display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, today, 17 May 2018.

Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-24485, “Memphis Belle,” photographed 14 March 2018 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

Memphis Belle ® is a Registered Trademark of the United States Air Force.

¹ VIII Bomber Command Mission No. 58

² The nose art was painted by Corporal Anthony L. Starcer.

³ Later production B-17F and B-17G bombers were equipped with Wright Cyclone C9GC (R-1820-97) engines.

Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-24485, “Memphis Belle,” photographed 14 March 2018 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather