The B-17 was an iconic warplane of WWII. These heavy bombers held the nickname “Flying Fortress” for a reason; they were not only very effective bombers, but they were also bristling with defensive armaments from nose to tail. They were the principal Army Air Force daylight strategic bombers used against the German industrial might during WWII.
The B-17s were part of the United States 8th Air Force and were based at many airfields throughout England. They were also used in the 15th Air Force based in Italy. They participated in the Combined Bomber Offensive (CBO) with the British RAF Bomber Command mission to gain air superiority over Europe (especially Germany) and to damage the German manufacturing capabilities in preparation for the invasion of France.
The B-17 was relatively fast and could fly at high altitudes over a long range. It dropped more bombs than any other U.S. aircraft in WWII. It was also employed as a transport, as an antisubmarine aircraft, as a drone controller, and for search-and-rescue missions.
This airplane was developed and built at Boeing’s Plant 2 in Seattle, Washington. All of its variants were built there up through the B-17E model. The B-17F model was built at Lockheed Vega in Burbank, California, and Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach, California. These were the primary variant flying with the 8th Air Force during the European campaign.
The Flying Fortress was armed with 13 .50-caliber M2 Browning machine guns in nine positions on the plane: two in the Bendix chin turret, two in the nose cheeks, two staggered waist guns, two in the upper Sperry turret, two in the Sperry ball turret on the belly of the plane, two in the tail, and one firing upwards from the radio compartment behind the bomb bay door.
These B-17 heavy bombers had to fly through a gauntlet of German fighters and ground-based anti-aircraft weapons on every mission. Many came back to their home bases heavily damaged, and many did not return. Of the 291 bombers dispatched, only 257 entered German airspace. 60 of them were shot down, over 20 percent of the total number. Five of the Flying Fortresses crashed on approach to their bases in England, and 12 were scrapped due to the amount of damage they returned with, for a total loss of 77 B-17s.
The Memphis Belle was one of the B-17s to complete 25 missions. That feat was accomplished on May 17, 1943, and was done without any loss of life.
This iconic Flying Fortress, the Memphis Belle was purchased by the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio in 2005. She underwent 13 years of painstaking restoration and then, on May 17, 2018, the 75th anniversary of her completion of 25 missions, she was revealed as a permanent exhibit at the museum.
This video is about that ceremony. In it, you will meet some of the children of the men who flew that magnificent plane. As you will see, the restoration is exact, and she is a beautiful thing to see.
We can only imagine what those B-17 Flying Fortress crews encountered and endured on each of those missions they flew in during WWII. The Memphis Belle crew’s accomplishment of successfully completing 25 missions was not without unimaginable and harrowing experiences against an equally advanced and powerful enemy. Their stories are included in this exhibit as well.
The Memphis Belle B-17 Flying Fortress exhibit at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, is a powerful tribute to all of the pilots and crews who flew in the B-17 both in Europe and in the Pacific during WWII. We at the Veterans Site add our thanks and respect to those who fought so valiantly through those long and dangerous missions to help bring an end to the Nazi threat during difficult days and years. We are glad that such a beautiful exhibit now exists in honor of those B-17 crews at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.