The Memphis Belle

by Gene Trimble

The Memphis Belle is the most famous B-17 bomber to survive WWII, thanks to the movie that bears her name. The Dauntless Dotty while less famous has her own very special place in the history of WWII. Both planes had a common denominator. Colonel Robert K. Morgan flew both planes.

The Belle was the first WWII B-17 Flying Fortress to complete 25 missions over Europe and return safely to base. Due to an 80% loss of aircraft in the first 3 months of flying sorties the command generals set the completion of 25 missions as an incentive for an airman to go home. The Belle shot down 8 enemy fighters, probably destroyed 5 others, and damaged a dozen others. She dropped 60 tons of bombs over France, Germany, and Belgium. Her 25 missions encompassed 148 hours, 50 minutes, covering 20,000 combat miles. Colonel Morgan never lost a crewmember and only one Purple Heart was issued to a member of the Belles crew. The gallant lady was bullet ridden and flak damaged: on five separate occasions she had engines shot out and once she came home with her tail nearly shot off.

The 26th mission of the Belle was to return to the United States during the summer of 1943 on a public relations tour to thank the American public for supporting the war effort. The crew visited 32 cities where they received a hero’s welcome.

The famous nose art on the Belle was created by artist George Petty for Esquire magazine. The “telephone girl” was one of many Petty Girls created for Esquire. Colonel Morgan contacted Petty and received permission to recreate the girl on the Belle.

In 1945, the Belle wound up in an aircraft bone yard in Altus, OK, waiting to be scrapped. By chance a reporter saw her. He wrote the story of her plight, and contacted the Mayor of Memphis, TN. The City bought her for $350 and in July of 1946 she was flown home to Memphis, where she sat deteriorating for the next 41 years.

In 1977 she was moved to the Air National Guard at the Memphis Airport. During these years vandals did what the Germans could not do. They almost destroyed her. For the next nine years various fundraising efforts were made to restore the tattered bomber. The City of Memphis agreed to donate a piece of land on Mud Island where the historic plane could be displayed. Federal Express and Boeing each donated $100,000. Hugh Downs and ABC’s 20/20 aired an appeal for funds and an additional $376,000 was raised.

On May 27, 1987, 44 years after she flew her 25th mission, the Memphis Belle Pavilion was dedicated on Mud Island. The Memphis belle was saved and restored to its rightful place of honor in the history of WWII.

The Belle was not Colonel Morgan’s last foray into WWII. He was given command of the 869 Bombardment Squadron and arrived in Saipan in October of 1944 aboard the Dauntless Dotty, a B-29 Superfortress. On November 24 1944, the Dotty led 111 B-29’s on the first B-29 air attack on Tokyo. It was the first air attack on Tokyo since Doolittle’s B-25 raid in 1942. Colonel Morgan completed 25 missions in the Pacific and left Saipan on April 24, 1945. After completing 50 missions in the European and Pacific theaters Colonel Morgan continued to serve his country in the USAF Reserve until his retirement in 1965.

The Dauntless Dotty flew on after the departure of Colonel Morgan. She was credited with 53 missions, 880 combat hours, and 176,000 combat air miles. Tragically she did not survive the war. On June 6, 1945 a ferry crew was flying her home, on a simple route; Saipan, Kwajalein, Hawaii, and finally Mather field in CA. They left Kwajalein at 3:06 AM and 40 seconds later Dotty plunged into the Pacific Ocean, never to be seen again. Ten of the thirteen crewmembers aboard perished instantly.

Colonel Morgan will appear at the Regent Las Vegas on May 27 and 28, 2001 for a book signing to introduce his book, “The Man Who Flew The Memphis Belle. The Regent will issue very special limited chips to commemorate Colonel Morgan, The Memphis Belle, and the Dauntless Dotty. COO John James says, “We feel these chips will appeal to both chip collectors and collectors of WWII memorabilia. Personally, I think the chips will disappear fast and become much sought after in the chip collecting community.


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