The Story of a WWII Icon

Our first “blast from the past” is the iconic nose art from the Memphis Belle. Belle was one of the first B-17s to complete 25 combat missions over Europe without losing a single crew member to enemy action.

Because of all the publicity Belle received, many don’t realize that she was not the first B-17 to complete the 25-mission milestone.  That honor goes to a B-17 from the 303rd Bomber Group that went by the name “Hell’s Angels.”  She completed her 25th mission just days before the Memphis Belle.

A B17 and her crew
The crew of “Hell’s Angels” (and numerous other members of the 303rd) pose with the historic aircraft.

After completing its combat missions, the Memphis Belle toured the United States to boost morale and promote war bonds. The nose art, in conjunction with the aircraft’s remarkable service record, turned the Memphis Belle into a wartime legend.

The Inspiration for the Artwork

The heavy bomber was named after pilot Robert K. Morgan’s sweetheart, Margaret Polk, a resident of Memphis, Tennessee. The nose art itself was inspired by a 1941 George Petty illustration in “Esquire” magazine. The original art on the Belle featured a seductive young woman dressed in a blue bathing suit, gracefully perched on her right leg. This artwork became synonymous with the aircraft and was a symbol of pride for the crew.