Assigned to the 324th Sqn of the 91st Bomb Group, Bob Morgan was one the original USAAF combat crews to fly the B-17 Fortress from England in the great daylight raids against targets in enemy occupied Europe. Bob Morgan completed a full tour in 1942 – 1943 piloting the famous four-engine B-17 heavy bomber, The Memphis Belle. Morgan later volunteered for a second tour and commanded the 869th Sqn’s B-29 Superfortresses in the Pacific. As part of the 497th Bomb Group flying from Saipan, he completed another full tour which included leading the first mission to bomb Tokyo in 1944. One of a handful of USAAF bomber pilots to see action in two different theatres of the war, the colorful Bob Morgan became an established household name in the US – a reputation rekindled when the successful film The Memphis Belle was released in 1990 which featured the exploits of USAAF bomber aircrews in Europe in WWII. The original Memphis Belle is now preserved at the USAF Museum in Dayton, Ohio.
Colonel Robert (Bob) MORGAN, USAAF, DFC
Bob Morgan Autobiography
I attended the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania before entering the Army Air Corps in 1940. I earned my pilot wings and was commissioned a second lieutenant on December 12, 1941, then after advanced training at Walla Walla Army Air Base, Washington, was assigned to the 91st Bomb Group, 324th Bomb Squadron as a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot.
I then flew with my crew to England as part of the original group of combat crews and we commenced our combat tour of 25 daylight bombing missions over Germany, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, between November 7, 1942, and May 17, 1943.
My ship, which I christened the Memphis Belle after my girlfriend back in the States, completed all 25 missions flying about 150 hours in combat to most of the gig targets in occupied Europe. In all we unloaded more than 60 tons of bombs, met flak and enemy fighters on every mission, received many hits from fighters but we never lost a crew member. During our tour we had almost all vital parts of the aircraft renewed or replaced at some point, but the faithful Belle always brought us home.
The War Bond tour was fun and a big change from facing the enemy in the skies over Europe but I was itching for more action and volunteered for a second tour in the Pacific. There I flew a second combat tour commanding the 869th Bomb Squadron, 497th Bomb Group, part of the Twentieth Air Force.
Flying a B-29 Superfortress based at Isley Field in Saipan, I completed a further 26 missions over Japan and led the first mission to bomb Japan on November 24, 1944 when 110 aircraft of the 73rd Bomb Wing hit Tokyo. My co-pilot on the mission was the wing’s commander Brigadier General Emmett O’Donnell, Jr.
The B-29 ‘Super-Fortress’ was one of the largest aircraft operational during World War II and, with its pressurised cabin and other advanced fire-control systems, was very advanced compared to the B-17 I’d flown in Europe.
Designed primarily as a high-altitude strategic bomber, the B-29 also excelled at mid and low altitudes. In its high altitude capacity, one of its last missions of the war was to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By that time I had returned to the United States.
I retired from the Air Force Reserve in the rank of colonel in 1965 having been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters, and the Air Medal with ten oak leaf clusters.
My crew and I were the subjects of a 1944 film documentary made by the famous Hollywood director, William Wyler, when cameras aboard recorded actual combat footage on our penultimate bombing mission in 1943. In 1990 Wyler’s daughter Cathy was behind a full-length feature film “The Memphis Belle” when the movie actor Matthew Modine played myself other actors playing the parts of my crew. During filming we were invited over to England during which time I stayed in Bath with my old friend Pat Barnard whose company Military Gallery published a print by the much-admired artist Robert Taylor showing a wonderful image of the Memphis Belle. The “Belle” was for years preserved in the Museum at Memphis but is due for complete restoration at the National Museum of the US Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio.