The intense fighting of World War II produced many missions. Many pilots received a break after 25 missions, but others pilots flew more. This sometimes led to confusion in which the records of individual pilots and crews were mistaken for that of the aircraft and vice versa. The following list contains some of the most notable planes or pilots.
Marty Sidener became the youngest pilot in World War II. He completed his initial training when he was 17, and was called up to active duty before he graduated from high school. He had to get a waiver to receive his diploma in absence.
He finished flight school at the age of 18 in 1944. He flew 28 missions over Italy and Germany before his 20th birthday, and flew 48 missions by the time the war was over.
He attributed his luck and longevity to the B-26 Marauder which he called “one tough bird.” His awards include the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with eight oak leaf clusters. During his time in service he never bragged about being the youngest pilot. He was happy to fly, as his family had been too poor to pay for him to get flying lessons, and he was happy to serve alongside so many brave men.
Johnny Johnson joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) when he was 20 years old. He served as a rear gunner in both Wellington and Halifax bombers. The average gunner had a life expectancy of 6 weeks, but Johnson survived 5 years and 92 missions.
Twenty-five of those missions took him through a hornet’s nest of anti-aircraft fire and swarming interceptors over Germany. Dozens of other missions included operations in North Africa and Burma. He survived two crashes and many near-misses.
Once, his plane was shot down near El Alamein. The front end of the aircraft exploded and killed everyone else aboard. But the turret where Johnson was located separated from the plane as they crashed and he survived. He also survived later crashes in the rough terrain of Burma, including one that badly damaged his leg.
The Forgotten Hot Stuff
The B-24 bomber Hot Stuff is a victim of the confusion surrounding the planes that flew missions and the crew that was on them. The crew of the Hot Stuff was changed out due to the heavy damage it often took. But the plane itself was crewed for 31 missions in total. And they did it months before the more famous Memphis Belle.
Hot Stuff tragically crashed in inclement weather while trying to land and refuel in Iceland. It had never gone on a publicity tour after completing 25 missions, so it is far less known than most.
The Memphis Belle was a B-17 that received much more fame. It flew 25 missions with the same crew, and completed that feat a few months after the Hot Stuff. The captain of the crew, Robert Morgan, flew 29 missions in total.
The Memphis Belle went on a successful publicity tour and was displayed outside Memphis, Tennessee after the war. It was the subject of a movie in 1990 and generally very famous.
The Medal of Honor for 666
Some bombers are better known for the skill of their crew than the number of missions they flew. The Old 666 was a B-17 salvaged from the junk yard and was quickly replaced by B-24s. But before it was scrapped for good, the crew upgraded the caliber of its machine guns and increased them from 10 to 19.
They used all of those 19 guns on their Medal of Honor mapping mission when they were swarmed by Japanese fighter planes. The plane received tons of damage and many of the crew members were wounded or killed, but they completed their mission and entered the history books.
Instead of becoming famous for one mission like the Old 666, others entered the history books due to the number of missions they completed. The B-26 Marauder nicknamed Flak Bait served an astounding 207 missions.
It gained its nickname because it always seemed to return from its missions full of holes. The bomber soaked up over 700 metal splinters during its 180th mission.
A short time later the cockpit received a direct hit from a 20mm cannon but the injured pilot flew it home despite having his control panel destroyed. It returned twice on one engine, and once with an engine on fire. It suffered a complete electrical failure twice, and lost the hydraulic system another time.
Flak Bait sits in a museum today with over one thousand patched holes to testify to its durability.
The plane had a somewhat infamous reputation for getting hit, but the crew had a strange faith in the bomber that it would always get them back home–because it always did.
The Eager Beaver
Outdoing planes such as the Hot Stuff and Memphis Belle, the B-24 Eager Beaver completed an astounding 77 combat missions in the Pacific. The bomber and its missions are less well known to the public, but it served faithfully and defied the odds to rack up more missions than many other bombers put together.