Recently, I had the opportunity to see again a documentary released in 1944 that showcased the Memphis Belle and its crew. The Memphis Belle was a B-17 Flying Fortress, a four-engine heavy bomber produced by The Boeing Company. These B-17 bombers saw heavy action throughout World War II. Many of them, like the Memphis Belle, were stationed over in England, from where they would conduct daytime bombing raids over Germany.
The documentary is currently available through Netflix, and that's where I was recently reintroduced to it. Growing up as a kid, I was fascinated by various World War II - era bombers and fighters, so I had seen this documentary a number of times as a kid.
In a nutshell, the crew of the Memphis Belle became the first to complete its mandatory 25 bombing missions. When a crew completed 25 missions, they could go home. Sadly, so many didn't come close to that mark, shot down by German fighters and heavy anti-aircraft guns on the ground. The crew of the Belle was truly lucky and fortunate to accomplish what it did. The odds of getting to go home, for any crew, were slim to none.
1990 saw the release of a major motion picture film called Memphis Belle. As with many Hollywood films, the story was heavily dramatized for effect. In reality, the crew and plane made it back to base virtually unscratched. Nonetheless, what you'll see depicted in the movie really did happen to so many crews - to so many lives and families - and we must not forget that. The horrors of war are real, and the movie shows what really happened up there in the sky virtually every day of the war.
Following is the documentary in its entirety. It runs around 40 minutes. I've also included several clips from the 1990 Hollywood film.
In the documentary, pay close attention to the artwork on the side of the planes as they take off on their mission. Many of these planes had names, and featured ornate painted images to go along with those names. For example, the Memphis Belle was named so by its pilot. - he had a girlfriend in Memphis. There's another plane called Dame Satan, featuring a blonde woman dressed as the devil. A couple of the planes featured Hitler in insulting or scared poses. And then there's Old Bill, which featured a friendly-looking, bearded, Paul Bunyan - type of guy. At the end, you'll also see England's King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother greeting the crew. They are the parents of the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. On a side note, one of the Memphis Belle's crew members, you'll hear, is from Green Bay, Wisconsin!
Finally, if you spot any yellow-painted bombs on the side of a B-17, those represent the number of missions that plane has completed. Yellow-painted swastikas represent the number of German fighters that B-17 has shot down.
Here's a Wikipedia article on the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.