Anyone with an interest in World War II aviation knows the name Memphis Belle, which, along with the B-29 Enola Gay, is inarguably one of the two most famous planes of that era. It first gained fame as the subject of William Wyler’s 1944 documentary, Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress. You may have also seen the 1990 Hollywood film, Memphis Belle, starring Matthew Modine, John Lithgow, and David Strathairn, which was a fictionalized (and seriously inaccurate) version of the plane and crew’s actual exploits. Built by Boeing in 1942, the real Memphis Belle (USAAF serial number 41-24485), a B-17F model, was piloted by Captain Robert K. Morgan on her 25th combat mission (May 17, 1943, to Lorient, France, her fifth mission to bomb German U-boat pens.) The plane actually had a 26th mission, two days later, to Kiel, Germany, piloted by a Lieutenant Anderson. At the time, if a bomber crew survived 25 combat missions, they were eligible for stateside rotation. (And who didn’t want to go home? Two-thirds of Eighth Air Force bomber crews never lived to see 25 missions.) Contrary to popular belief, the Memphis Belle was not the first B-17 to complete 25 missions. That honor belongs to Hell’s Angels, of the 303rd Bomb Group, which accomplished that goal a week before Memphis Belle did. Once back in the United States in the summer of 1943, the plane (named for Morgan’s 20-year-old girlfriend at the time, Margaret Polk, a resident of Memphis, Tennessee) and its crew


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