Memphis Belle Was Not The First Bomber To Complete 25 Missions

B-17 "Sally B" was used in the movie Memphis Belle to look like the Famous B-17 and was used for scenes requiring pyrotechnics such as smoke and sparks indicating machine gun "hits"

Memphis Belle is a well-known World War Two bomber, which was made famous by the Hollywood movie of the same name back in 1990 and 1944 The Memphis Belle was supposed to be the first B-17 bomber to fly 25 bombing missions and return back to base safely each time.

Now an academic from Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) in Daytona, Florida has revealed that it was the B-24 named Hot Stuff that was the first bomber to make 25 missions and return home, not the Memphis Belle.

William Waldock is a professor at ERAU and he says that Hot Stuff flew her final and 25th mission in February of 1943, which was over three months earlier than the Memphis Belle completed her 25 missions. In fact, it is believed that Memphis Belle was the third to complete 25 successful missions.

Hot Stuff later crashed in Iceland under the command of Captain Robert Shannon in May of the same year. Hot Stuff was being flown home to the US since Captain Shannon had completed his tour of service. One the return journey Lieutenant General Frank Andrews took over the flying and when the plane hit severe weather conditions.

Waldock is an air accident investigator and has undertaken many archaeological digs related to aviation. Over the years he has been studying the history of bomber aircraft activity during the war. To be the first to complete 25 missions was significant because once completed the bomber and its crew could return home. The US War Department would use the bomber and its crew for public relations activities back home, The Daily Courier reports.

The second bomber to have completed 25 missions is said to have been the Hell’s Angels, but it wasn’t widely promoted since its name wasn’t aesthetically pleasing to the War Department. It, therefore, fell to Memphis Belle as the face of bomber aircraft during the war.

Waldock says that because Hot Stuff crashed and never made it home it never became as well-known as Memphis Belle. Waldock also discovered that Lieutenant General Andrews was a VIP getting a return flight back to the US along with his close aides and staff, who took the place of the bomber’s original crew.

The crew of Hot Stuff didn’t land at their scheduled stop on their way to Iceland, which if they had of stopped they would have found out about the incoming bad weather conditions, and may have waited until it passed and was safe to fly.

The plane flew into zero visibility and it has been reported that the bomber’s radio was broken. The plane crashed into the side of a mountain near the airfield in Iceland. Only one out of the 15 man crew survived.

After the war, the famous Andrews Air Force Base was named in his honor.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE