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by Mountaineerbr

#10 - Flying Memphis Belle, a B-17 Air Fortress

Esta é uma história sobre algumas aventuras do Sr. Walter nos tempos da guerra em que completou missões perigosas. Alguma hora, traduziremos este texto para o português.

Memphis Belle, probably during the War Bond Tour
Fig 1. Memphis Belle at the War Bond Tour. (credit: Royal Aeronautical Society )

Mr Walter "Blaacky" Schwartz is a USA citizen. The young American man studied and graduated as a photographic engineer at the United States Army request and cost. He was trained and refined his skills to do it right: press the shutter at the perfect timing and capture the moment of the strike. Although Mr Schwartz preferred not to reveal what institution he received training, he carries the name of at least one very famous camera maker company in his diploma.

The first story is about a mission over the eye of a hurricane, at a very high altitude to be able take photos for a weather committee of scientists. At the time we talked, he reasoned about one elegant and simple definition for the purpose of narrow-angle lenses: it was to go in pursuit of further detail of the subject when it was not convenient to go closer, of course. Another group of men could never have passed as near a spiralling rotatory to death and return home with mission accomplished but those men in the crew.

On other occasions, Mr Walter entered volcanoes under mission assignment to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

One of the most admirable trace of character of Mr Walter was his courage in face of such dangerous situations. While he talked about those remembrances, we would not quiver his voice. His life stories are truly fascinating.

Another one of his military stories he could and was willing to share is as follows.

He was sent to one military missions aboard the Memphis Belle bomber craft. It was the first heavy bomber to return to the US after completing 25 successful missions during the Second World War in Europe. The Memphis Belle is an American icon, it represents sacrifice and what Americans will do to protect their freedom.

The mission started upon arrival of the crew members at the War Front, located somewhere in the coast range of England. The Air Front was composed of dozens of wings and for this mission, as many as 35 aircrafts would campaign together. The air front faced France and Germany, territories which were taken by the enemy at the Second World War. All crew members were gathered with the group commander at the target map room. It was where they were informed the whereabouts and objectives the commission was to carry out for the first time. All crew members synchronised their wrist watches, just before the little spare time they had before lift off. The spirits of them were high, expectant and hopeful. Many soldiers went to see the base priest for their prayers.

The aircraft he was sent to board was a B-17 heavy bomber craft, a B-17 made by Boeing and was propelled by four engines. The particular design made it possible for the aircraft sustain flight even when severely damaged. It had a big wing which could bear many holes..

It had a nearly frameless clear-view nose, which was transparent and bore the pilot stick panel, sharing the tight space alongside one head gunner. Most of the 10-men crew were gunners, positioned at specific angles to cover most attack angles. Each gunner had a radius range of 1,000 yards frontward and adding all gunner posts, they were protected almost 360 degrees. Others would take care of the bombs to be dropped. There was one chief bomb engineer at the wing formation who would decide the precise moment of bomb release, after which every other bomber group crew would release their bomb load in sequence. The air formation provided them even more protection at altitude of 25 thousand feet (7.6 kilometres approximately).

About a week and a half after the crew finished their 25th mission, they were visited by the King and Queen on the 26th of May 1943. That is thought the pilot, Robert Morgan, named the craft Memphis Belle for his Memphis sweetheart, Margaret Polk. There were other markings, such as Irene underneath the window of the radio operator Hanson and the name Virginia on the right-hand side where the waist gunner position was. The very well-known nose art was a drawing of 25 bombs, represneting 25 succesful missions, and some stars over the bombs, representing when the Bell was a lead in the attack formation. There were some swastikas around the aircraft around mid to late May that year. Soon after, the aircraft had it's 26th mission while still in the 91st Bomb Group. The markings changed over time.

Mr Schwartz said his aircraft was not carrying bombs, his mission was to take photographs, footage of the mission execution.

Outside the Memphis Belle, many black specks were part of the scenario and were increasing. These were the result of detonation of anti-air missiles shot from ground territory. They were always apprehensive and concerned, or scared, because the flak was coming up, the blue black puff of seemingly innocent smoke is a bomb exploding. If that blew near to the wing, it would take the whole wing off. At that height, the enemy aim was very bad and most missiles would dischard before hitting the aircrafts, but many discharged close enough to the formation that many aircrafts had missing parts. Some of B-17 downed and others were out of sight into enemy territory. It was time to hold strong, keep to the Formation. The crew was plenty busy.

The American crew knew that if the German bombardiers ceased firing, enemy aircrafts would soon come firing from any side in the sky.

All anticipation culminated in the most important moment of the mission and their their sole purpose: drop the bombs and check whether they hit the targets. The targets were usually buildings and facilities that upon destroyal would warrant devastating political and economical impact.

Bombs dropped and the photograph plates were exposed. At that point, the first half of the mission had been done. It was the most important part but also the easiest, as they took the enemy by surprise upon arrival. The second part was most dangerous, the crew would try and return to the air base.

With the expertise of all men aboard, and some luck, they all landed well enough. Many of the return crew members who landed were badly injured, some dead and others intact. All of them, without exception, held strong to their honour and returned to America with glory. All survivor soldiers were received back with the utmost respect and love from their compatriots and friends. Those soldiers would be recognized for their impetuous spirits and firm minds. They would now return home and train new people, tell them what happened at the war front and how that was done.

interview and first draft around 2013-2014
text updated on 2020
in memoriam of Walter Schwartz