Posted tagged ‘squadron’

Soaring Above Europe: The Memphis Belle

May 7, 2010

Memphis Belle was the nickname of a B-17F Flying Fortress during the Second World War that inspired the making of two motion pictures: a 1944 documentary film, Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress, and a 1990 Hollywood feature film, Memphis Belle. It was the first U.S. Army Air Forces heavy bomber to complete 25 combat missions. The plane and crew then returned to the United States to sell war bonds. The original airplane is undergoing extensive restoration at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

Combat history

The Memphis Belle, a Boeing-built B-17F-10-BO, serial 41-24485, was added to the USAAF inventory on July 15, 1942, and delivered in September 1942 to the 91st Bomb Group at Dow Field, Bangor, Maine. It deployed to Prestwick, Scotland, on September 30, 1942, to a temporary base at RAF Kimbolton on October 1, and then to its permanent base at Bassingbourn, England, on October 14. Each side of its fuselage bore the unit identification markings of the 324th Bomb Squadron (Heavy)

Captain Robert Morgan’s crew flew 29 combat missions with the 324th Bomb Squadron, all but four in the Memphis Belle. The aircraft’s 25 missions were:

* November 7, 1942 – Brest, France
* November 9, 1942 – St. Nazaire, France
* November 17, 1942 – St. Nazaire
* December 6, 1942 – Lille, France
* December 20, 1942* – Romilly-sur-Seine, France
* December 30, 1942 – Lorient (flown by Lt. James A. Verinis)
* January 3, 1943 – St. Nazaire
* January 13, 1943 – Lille
* January 23, 1943 – Lorient, France
* February 14, 1943 – Hamm, Germany
* February 16, 1943 – St. Nazaire
* February 27, 1943* – Brest
* March 6, 1943 – Lorient
* March 12, 1943 – Rouen, France
* March 13, 1943 – Abbeville, France
* March 22, 1943 – Wilhemshaven
* March 28, 1943 – Rouen
* March 31, 1943 – Rotterdam, Netherlands
* April 16, 1943 – Lorient
* April 17, 1943 – Bremen, Germany
* May 1, 1943 – St. Nazaire
* May 13, 1943 – Meaulte, France (flown by Lt. C.L. Anderson)
* May 14, 1943 – Kiel, Germany (flown by Lt. John H. Miller)
* May 15, 1943 – Wilhelmshaven
* May 17, 1943 – Lorient
* May 19, 1943* – Kiel (flown by Lt. Anderson)

* Sources disagree on which two of these three missions the Memphis Belle received mission credits for.

Morgan’s crew completed the following missions in B-17s other than the Memphis Belle:

* February 4, 1943 – Emden, Germany (in B-17 DF-H 41-24515 Jersey Bounce)
* February 26, 1943 – Wilhelmshaven (in B-17 41-24515)
* April 5, 1943 – Antwerp, Belgium (in B-17 41-24480 Bad Penny)
* May 4, 1943 – Antwerp (in B-17 41-24527, The Great Speckled Bird)

The aircraft was then flown back to the United States on June 8, 1943, by a composite crew chosen by Eighth Air Force from those who had flown combat in it, led by Capt. Morgan, for a 31-city war bond tour. Morgan’s original co-pilot was Capt. James A. Verinis, who himself piloted the Memphis Belle for one mission. Verinis was promoted to aircraft commander of another B-17 for his final sixteen missions and finished his tour on May 13. He rejoined Morgan’s crew as co-pilot for the flight back to the United States.

Namesake

The plane was named for pilot Robert K. Morgan’s sweetheart, Margaret Polk, a resident of Memphis, Tennessee. Morgan originally intended to call the plane Little One, after his pet name for her, but after Morgan and his copilot, Jim Verinis, saw the movie Lady for a Night, in which the leading character owns a riverboat named the Memphis Belle, he proposed that name to his crew. Morgan then contacted George Petty at the offices of Esquire magazine and asked him for a pinup drawing to go with the name, which Petty supplied from the magazine’s April 1941 issue.

The 91st’s group artist Corporal Tony Starcer reproduced the famous Petty girl nose art on both sides of the forward fuselage, depicting her suit in blue on the aircraft’s port side and in red on its starboard. The nose art later included 25 bomb shapes, one for each mission credit, and 8 swastika designs, one for each German plane claimed shot down by the crew of the Memphis Belle. Station and crew names were stencilled below station windows on the aircraft after its tour of missions was completed.

Postwar history

In his memoirs, Morgan claimed that during his publicity tour, he flew the plane between the Buncombe County Courthouse and the City Hall of Asheville, North Carolina, his home town. Morgan wrote that after leaving the Asheville Regional Airport he decided to buzz the town, telling his copilot, Captain Verinis, “I think we’ll just drive up over the city and give them a little goodbye salute.” Morgan flew north and turned the bomber east down Patton Avenue, a main thoroughfare, toward downtown Asheville. When he observed the courthouse and the city hall (two tall buildings that are only about 50 feet (20 m) apart) dead ahead, he lowered his left wing in a sixty degree bank and flew between the structures. He wrote that the city hall housed an AAF weather detachment whose commanding officer allegedly complained immediately to the Pentagon, but was advised by a duty officer that “Major Morgan…has been given permission to buzz by Lieutenant General Henry Arnold.”

After the war the Flying Fortress was saved from reclamation at Altus Air Force Base, where it had been consigned since August 1, 1945, by the efforts of the mayor of Memphis, 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 occasional 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. (MBMA) saw the aircraft moved to Mud Island in the Mississippi River in 1987 for display in a new pavilion with large tarp cover. It was still open to the elements, however, and prone to weathering. Pigeons would also nest inside the tarp and droppings were constantly needing removal from the plane. Dissatisfaction with the site led to efforts to create a new museum facility in 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. The Memphis Belle- The Final Chapter in Memphis, a documentary film by Ken Axmaker, Jr., focuses on the history of the Belle in Memphis and emphasizes the final days and the volunteers who tried to keep one of the most famous aircraft in the world and another Memphis icon from disappearing.

On August 30, 2005, the MBMA announced that a consultant that they hired determined that the MBMA would not be able to raise enough money to restore the Belle and otherwise fulfill the Air Force’s requirements to keep possession of the aircraft. They announced plans to return the aircraft to the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio after a final exhibition in Millington, Tennessee on September 30 – October 2, 2005. The Belle arrived safely at the museum in mid-October 2005 and was placed in one of the Museum’s restoration hangars.

While the aircraft was in Memphis, it sat outside unattended; vandals and souvenir hunters removed almost all of the interior components. No instruments were found in the cockpit, and virtually every removable piece of the aircraft’s interior had been scavenged, often severing the aircraft’s wiring and control cables in the process.

The Museum has placed restoration of Memphis Belle near the top of its priorities. In the magazine Friends Journal of the museum’s foundation, Major General Charles D. Metcalf (USAF-Ret.), the director of the museum, stated that it might take 8–10 years to fully restore the aircraft.
Memphis Belle during refurbishment in 2003.By the Spring of 2009, considerable preparatory work had been accomplished, but the fuselage and wings were still disassembled.After stripping the paint from the aft fuselage of the aircraft, hundreds of names and personal messages were found scratched in the aluminum skin. During the plane’s war bond tour, people were allowed to leave their mark on this war-time hero.

Film portrayal

Two B17’s were used in the filming. A former firebomber B-17G-85-DL, serial 44-83546, registered N3703G, was converted into a B-17F configuration by installing a Sperry top turret, early-style tail gunner’s compartment and waist gunner’s positions, and omitting the chin turret. It subsequently appeared in the 1990 fictionalized version of the Memphis Belle story and continues to make air show appearances in that guise. Originally painted with the Warner Bros. movie version of the nose art and markings, the B-17 (owned by David Tallichet) now carries the historic markings found on the actual Memphis Belle. It currently operates out of Geneseo, New York.

The Sally B was also used in filming as the Memphis Belle. She is the last airworthy B17 in the UK and is based at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford. She is part of the USAAF WWII Memorial Flight and makes dozens of appearances across the UK and North Europe. She is maintained and run by volunteers, relying solely upon donations.

Other planes named Memphis Belle

* A Republic F-105D Thunderchief (60-0504) from 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing based at Takhli Royal Thai Air Base during the Vietnam War was named Memphis Belle II in honor of the original B-17F. The aircraft claimed two MiG-17 kills in addition to numerous bombing missions, and was the last F-105 to fly. It is currently preserved at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. It was donated in April 1990. Picture of Memphis Belle II
* A Rockwell B-1B (86-0133) was named Memphis Belle. In 1996, Colonel Robert K. Morgan, pilot of the original Memphis Belle, received the opportunity to fly in this aircraft, while it served with the 116th Bomb Wing at Robins AFB, GA.
* A General Dynamics FB-111 (68-0267) was also nicknamed Memphis Belle II for a period during the 1980s. It is currently located at the Strategic Air and Space Museum. Picture of Memphis Belle II
* Two Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses have carried the name Memphis Belle B-52G (59-2594) was named Memphis Belle III and took part in the 1991 Gulf War It was sent to the AMARC in October, 1992, and the first B-52H (60-0001) was named Memphis Belle IV It is currently based at Barksdale Air Force Base, flying for the 2nd Bomb Wing and has seen action in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
* A Lockheed C-141 Starlifter (67-0024) became the Memphis Belle V. It has recently been transferred to the AMARC inventory.
* A Lockheed C-5 Galaxy (69-0025) is named the Memphis Belle X.

Note: all the photographs were taken by me at the Airpower over Wayne Airshow in 2007.  The first photograph was taken and edited by me in Photoshop

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A Short History of Aircraft Nose Art

May 3, 2010

Nose art

is a decorative painting or design on the fuselage of a military aircraft, usually located near the nose, and is a form of aircraft graffiti.

While begun for practical reasons of identifying friendly units, the practice evolved to express the individuality often constrained by the uniformity of the military, to evoke memories of home and peacetime life, and as a kind of psychological protection against the stresses of war and the probability of death. The appeal, in part, came from nose art not being officially approved, even when the regulations against it were not enforced.

Because of its individual and unofficial nature, it is considered folk art, inseparable from work as well as representative of a group. It can also be compared to sophisticated graffiti. In both cases, the artist is often anonymous, and the art itself is ephemeral. In addition, it relies on materials immediately available.

Nose art is largely a military tradition, but civilian airliners operated by the Virgin Group feature “Virgin Girls” on the nose as part of their livery. In a broad sense, the tail art of several airlines such as the Eskimo of Alaska Airlines, can be called “nose art”, as are the tail markings of present-day U.S. Navy squadrons. There were exceptions, including 8th Air Force B-17 “Whizzer”, which had its girl-riding-a-bomb on the dorsal fin.
History

The practice of putting personalized decorations on fighting aircraft originated with Italian and German pilots. The first recorded piece of nose art was a sea monster painted on the nose of an Italian flying boat in 1913. This was followed by the popular practice of painting mouths underneath the propeller spinner, initiated by German pilots in World War I. The cavallino rampante (prancing horse) of the Italian ace Francesco Baracca was another well-known symbol, as was the red-painted aircraft of Manfred von Richthofen. However, nose art of this era was often conceived and produced by the aircraft ground crews, not by the pilots.

Other World War I examples included the “Hat in the Ring” of the American 94th Aero Squadron (attributed to Lt. Johnny Wentworth) and the “Kicking Mule” of the 95th Aero Squadron. This followed the official policy, established by the American Expeditionary Forces’ (AEF) Chief of the Air Service, Brigadier General Benjamin Foulois, on 6 May 1918, requiring the creation of distinct, readily identifiable squadron insignia. What is perhaps the most famous of all nose art, the shark-face insignia made famous by the American Volunteer Group Flying Tigers, also first appeared in World War I, though often with an effect more comical than menacing.

While World War I nose art was usually embellished or extravagant squadron insignia, true nose art appeared during World War II, which is considered by many observers to be the golden age of the genre, with both Axis and Allied pilots taking part. At the height of the war, nose-artists were in very high demand in the USAAF and were paid quite well for their services while AAF commanders tolerated nose art in an effort to boost aircrew morale. The U.S. Navy, by contrast, prohibited nose art, while nose art was uncommon in the RAF or RCAF.
Curtiss P-40 fighter aircraft of the Flying Tigers, with their iconic shark face and the 12-point sun of the Chinese Air Force.

The work was done by professional civilian artists as well as talented amateur servicemen. In 1941, for instance, the 39th Pursuit Squadron commissioned a Bell Aircraft artist to design and paint the “Cobra in the Clouds” logo on their aircraft. Perhaps the most enduring nose art of WWII was the shark-face motif, which first appeared on the Bf-110s of Luftwaffe 76th Destroyer Wing over Crete, where the twin-engined Messerschmitts outmatched the Gloster Gladiator biplanes of RAF 112 Squadron. The Commonwealth pilots were withdrawn to Egypt and refitted with Curtiss Tomahawks off the same assembly line building fighter aircraft for the AVG Flying Tigers being recruited for service in China. In November 1941, AVG pilots saw a 112 Squadron Tomahawk in an illustrated weekly and immediately adopted the shark-face motif for their own planes. This work was done the pilots and ground crew in the field. Similarly, when in 1943 the 39th Fighter Squadron became the first American squadron in their theatre with 100 kills, they adopted the shark-face for their P-38 Lightnings. The shark-face is still used to this day, most commonly seen on the A-10 Thunderbolt II (with its gaping maw leading up to the muzzle of the aircraft’s GAU-8 Avenger 30mm cannon), a testament to its popularity as a form of nose art.
Nose art on a B-17 Flying Fortress

In the Korean War, nose art was popular with units operating A-26 and B-29 bombers, C-119 Flying Boxcar transports, as well as USAF fighter-bombers. Due to changes in military policies and changing attitudes toward the representation of women, the amount of nose art declined after the Korean War.

During the Vietnam War, AC-130 gunships of the U.S Air Force Special Operations Squadrons were often given names with accompanying nose art – for example, “Thor”, “Azrael – Angel of Death”, “Ghost Rider”, “War Lord” and “The Arbitrator.” The unofficial gunship badge of a flying skeleton with a Minigun was also applied to many aircraft until the end of the war, and was later adopted officially.

Nose art underwent a revival during Operation Desert Storm and has become more common since Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom began. Many crews are merging artwork as part of camouflage patterns. The United States Air Force had unofficially sanctioned the return of the pin-up (albeit fully-clothed) with the Strategic Air Command permitting nose art on its bomber force in the Command’s last years. The continuation of historic names such as Memphis Belle was encouraged.

International designs

Source material for American nose art was varied, ranging from pinups such as Rita Hayworth and Betty Grable and cartoon characters such as Donald Duck and Popeye to patriotic characters (Yankee Doodle) and fictional heroes (Sam Spade). Lucky symbols such as dice and playing cards also inspired nose art, along with cartoon characters and references to mortality such as the Grim Reaper. Cartoons and pinups were most popular among American artists, but other works included animals, nicknames, hometowns, and popular song and movie titles. Some nose art and slogans imposed contempt to the enemy, especially to enemy leaders.

The farther the planes and crew were from headquarters or from the public eye, the racier the art tended to be. For instance, nudity was more common in nose art on aircraft in the Pacific than on aircraft in Europe.

Luftwaffe aircraft did not often display nose art, but there were exceptions. For example, Mickey Mouse adorned a Condor Legion Bf-109 during the Spanish Civil War and one Ju-87A was decorated with a large pig inside a white circle during the same period. Adolf Galland’s Bf-109E-3 of JG 26 also had a depiction of Mickey Mouse, holding a contemporary telephone in his hands, in mid-1941. A Ju-87B-1 (S2+AC) of Stab II/St. G 77, piloted by Major Alfons Orthofer and based in Breslau-Schongarten during the invasion of Poland, was painted with a shark’s mouth, and some Bf-110s were decorated with furious wolf’s heads or shark mouths on engine covers. Another example was Erich Hartmann’s Bf-109G-14, “Lumpi”, with an eagle’s head. A Bf-109g-10 (10 red) of I./JG 300, maintained by Officer Wolfgang Hunsdorfer, was flown by various pilots. In addition, the fighter wing Jagdgeschwader 54 was known as the Grünherz (Green Hearts) after their fuselage emblem, a large green heart. The Geschwader was originally formed in Thüringen, nicknamed “the green heart of Germany”. Perhaps the flashiest Luftwaffe nose art was the snake insignia running through the whole fuselage of certain Ju 87 Stukas.

The Soviet Air Force also decorated their planes with historical images, mythical beasts, and patriotic slogans.

The attitude of the Finnish Air Force to the nose art varied by unit. Some units disallowed nose art, while others tolerated it. Generally the Finnish air force nose art was humorous or satirical, such as the “horned Stalin” on Maj. Maunula’s Curtiss P-36.

The Japan Air Self-Defense Force has decorated fighter aircraft with Valkyrie-themed characters under the names Mystic Eagle and Shooting Eagle.

Canadian Forces were reported to have nose art on CH-47D Chinook and CH-146 Griffon helicopters in Afghanistan.

Famous examples

General Adolf Galland was famous for painting Mickey Mouse on his aircraft, and the mascot was adopted by his Gruppe during the early airwar phase of World War II.Oberstleutnant Werner Mölders flew a yellow-nosed Bf-109F2 while with JG 51 during June 1941.Other fighter aces and their nose art have become synonymous.

* Don Gentile’s P-51C’s named “Shangri-La”, with an eagle sporting boxing gloves.
* Chuck Yeager’s series of aircraft named “Glamourous Glennis”, with bright letter art.
* Ian Gleed’s Spitfires featured Figaro the Cat, from the 1940 Disney animated movie Pinocchio.
* Pierre Closterman’s Hawker Tempest Le Grand Charles featured the Cross of Lorraine.
* Johnny Johnson’s Spitfire IX featured the Canadian maple leaf.
* Erich Hartmann’s Bf 109s featured a distinctive “black tulip” design on the very front of the cowling, immediately behind the spinner.

The markings of aces were often adopted by their squadrons, such as Galland’s Mickey Mouse and Hartmann’s black tulip (still in use today on the aircraft of JG 71 “Richthofen”).

Nose art bans

The British MoD banned the use of pin-up women in nose art on Royal Air Force aircraft in 2007, as commanders decided the images (many containing naked women), were inappropriate and potentially offensive to female personnel, although there were no documented complaints.