Frontline Figures

Memphis Belle: The Last Mission


During the 1939/45 war, it was difficult for the British nation to survive the onslaught of the Axis powers and the threat of Nazi Germany, and at the same time carry the fight to the enemy in such a way as to convince them that not only were the British, and their Allies surviving, but were indeed capable of mounting offensive attacks that needed to be taken seriously.

The setbacks of France, Dunkirk, The Battle of Britain, the Middle East conflicts, in particular that of the Desert Campaign, the fall of Singapore and the Far East war eventually led to establishment of the strategic bombing campaign by the RAF of the German Homeland.

Long range bomber raids escorted as best able by fighter cover by the various wings best suited to the role, sometimes even by the American Eagle Squadron, an unofficial American Unit, led eventually to the ultimate goal, 1000 bomber raids to key industrial and other targets. All at night and long range, and with fierce opposition from anti-aircraft fire and fighter aircraft attack, the strategy was only partly successful, due in part to difficulties of weather, navigation, technical ability and sheer logistics of the operations, especially at the height of the U Boat war in the North Atlantic.

Following the American declaration of war on the Axis powers and the establishment of the USMF Bomber Wings, daylight bombing was proposed, and executed by squadrons of B17 bombers, escorted by Mustang long range fighter aircraft, to strategic but far distant targets in Germany, thus, in effect creating round-the-clock 24 hour bombing raids.

As can be imagined, the daylight raids presented special problems, and huge formations of B17 bombers, flying at great heights with their crews continually on oxygen and presenting 360- fields of machine gun fire, flew mission after mission. The strain on the crews was intense and losses rose to almost unsustainable levels.

The crews were allocated blocks of trips or tours of 20, 30 and even 40 raids before being relieved, either for training posts or just long leave periods. Some crews often flew more than one tour rather than be split up. The strain of the missions was a constant drain on their physical and mental condition and the nearer the end of their tour came, the more the need to survive to the end of the last mission became paramount.

A book and subsequent film by David Putnam entitled "The Memphis Belle" Captures all the intensity, strain and drama of the last mission and the relief of living through the experience and still surviving is poignantly portrayed.

FRONTLINE FIGURES diorama of the crew safely on the ground, with all members relieved to be alive, at an airfield of the USMF wing somewhere in East Anglia, reflects the final scene of the film and is our tribute both to the film and to the spirit of that time.