A noted aviation historian has refuted the notion that the B-17 “Memphis Belle” crew was the first to finish a full 25-mission tour during World War II. He spoke to an audience of 55 during the Sun Lakes Aero Club (SLAC) gathering on Nov. 15. Col. James Evans (USAF ret.) told how a B-24 Liberator “Hot Stuff” crew earned the first 25-mission designation.
Evans explained that the 25 combat missions was the benchmark established by the Army Air Force for bomber crews to be rotated back to the U.S. where the plane and crew would tour the country to promote the war effort. By the time “Hot Stuff” and its crew received word they were to rotate back to the States, they had completed not just 25, but 31 combat missions prior to the “Memphis Belle” completing her 25th. A combat mission was defined as anytime an American aircraft came under hostile enemy fire over enemy territory.
Tragically, “Hot Stuff” with some of her original crew, crashed on a foggy mountainside in Iceland on what was to be their triumphant return to the U.S.
Lt. Gen. Frank Andrews, commander of all U.S. Forces in Europe, was flying as copilot and perished in the foggy crash on May 3, 1942. It was his explicit command that the flight not stop in Prestwick, Scotland, that put the flight in peril of low fuel and inadequate weather information. It was his importance to the war effort that wrapped this crash, and the incredible story of the “Hot Stuff” crew, in a cloak of secrecy which paved the way for the B-17 “Memphis Belle” and crew to become famous as the first to survive 25 missions.
Now in its 16th year, SLAC sponsors programs on the third Monday of each month, November through May, at the Sun Lakes Country Club. Programs begin with coffee and camaraderie at 6:30 p.m., followed by the program at 7 p.m. More information on the club is available from Cannon Hill at 509-539-7857 or Gary Vacin at 480-298-7017, or at the club’s website SunLakesAeroClub.org.