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The Memphis Belle: American Icon

The Memphis Belle and its crew became timeless symbols of the service and sacrifice of the heavy bomber crews and support personnel who helped defeat Nazi Germany.  This famed aircraft was the first US Army Air Forces heavy bomber to return to the United States after completing 25 missions over Europe.

The Memphis Belle was a B-17F heavy bomber assigned to the 324th Bomb Squadron, 91st Bomb Group, at Bassingbourn, England, during the early part of the USAAF strategic bombing campaign.  Between November 1942 and May 1943, the Memphis Belle and its crew flew 25 bombing missions, including strikes against targets in Germany, France, and Belgium.

At the time, the odds of completing a 25-mission tour and going home were small.  During the Memphis Belle’s tour, the Eighth Air Force averaged one bomber lost every 18 sorties (one sortie equals one aircraft flying one combat mission).

Although the Memphis Belle was damaged on several combat missions, the crew beat the odds and completed their 25th mission on May 17, 1943.  The crew then returned home for a war bond tour across America.

Tail gunner SSgt John Quinlan was wounded during a raid on Rouen, France, on March 28, 1943.  He was the only member of the Memphis Belle crew to receive the Purple Heart.




Flak damage that holed the Memphis Belle’s tail and wounded Quinlan’s right leg.




TSgt Robert Hanson, radio operator, kissing the ground after the 25th mission.




Memphis Belle’s 25th Mission

Due to aircraft availability, the crew assigned to the Memphis Belle flew five of their 25 combat missions on other B-17s.  Conversely, the Memphis Belle was flown on five combat missions with an entirely different crew—in total, more than 50 Airmen flew combat missions on the Memphis Belle

As a result, the Memphis Belle crew’s 25th mission on May 17, 1943, was actually the aircraft’s 24th mission.  On May 19, two days later, the Memphis Belle completed its 25th mission while manned by a different crew.


Memphis Belle out of commission while combat damage is repaired.



Damage report completed by Memphis Belle crew chief MSgt Joseph Giambrone indicating combat damage to be repaired, including the tail.



Related Fact Sheets


The Memphis Belle: American Icon and 25th Mission

Memphis Belle Crew

The “Memphis Belle” and Nose Art

26th Mission: War Bond Tour

Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress”

Heavy Bomber “Firsts”

Combat Aircraft to Museum Artifact

Crippling the Nazi War Machine: USAAF Strategic Bombing in Europe

Enabling Technologies

Key Leaders

Early Operations (1942 to mid-1943) - Eighth Air Force in England

Ninth/Twelfth Air Forces in the Mediterranean

Combat Box/Communication and Life at 25K

Keeping them Flying: Mechanics and Armorers

Combined Bomber Offensive: Summer 1943 to Victory

Bigger Raids, Bigger Losses, and Crisis

Deadly Skies over Europe (Luftwaffe defense)

Bomber Crew Protection

Operation Tidalwave (Ploesti, 1 Aug 43)

Regensburg/Schweinfurt (17 Aug 43)

Black Thursday/Schweinfurt (14 Oct 43)

Fifteenth Air Force (created Sep 43)


Women’s Army Corps

Fighter Escort: Little Friends

Big Week (20-25 Feb 44)

Target Berlin

Operation Frantic: Shuttle Raids to the Soviet Union

Blind Bombing

D-Day Support

Strategic Bombing Victorious



Return to B-17F Memphis Belle Fact Sheet

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