This day in history, May 17, 1943, the crew of the Memphis Belle, a group of American bombers based in Britain, became one of the first B-17 crews to complete 25 missions over Europe.
The Memphis Belle is the second B-17 crew to complete 25 missions over Europe, as the Hell’s Angels completed 25 combat missions first, a few days before the Memphis Belle did. While there is some confusion regarding this, it’s generally accepted that Hell’s Angels completed it first.
The Memphis Belle performed its 25th, and last, mission in a bombing raid against Lorient, a German submarine base in France.
Captain Robert K. Morgan’s crew flew 29 combat missions with the 324th Bomb Squadron, all but four in the Memphis Belle.
Before returning back home to the United States, film footage was shot of Belle‘s crew receiving combat medals for a 31-city war bond tour. This was but one part of a longer documentary on a day in the life of an American bomber, which included dramatic footage of a bomber being shot out of the sky, with most of its crew parachuting out, one by one.
The Memphis Belle documentary would not be released for another 11 months, as more footage was compiled to demonstrate the risks these pilots endured. The film’s producer, Lt. Col. William Wyler, was known for such non-military fare as The Letter,” “Wuthering Heights” and “Jezebel.”
A fictional film about the B-17, called “Memphis Belle,” was released in 1990, starring John Lithgow, Matthew Modine and Eric Stoltz.
As of 2017, the aircraft was being restored at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio, with plans to put it on display May 17, 2018.