A memoir of high-altitude warfare by a well-known figure in WWII history.
The Memphis Belle was one of the new generation of long-range bombers developed by Boeing Aircraft at the start of WWII, a plane that first-time author Morgan and collaborator Powers (Flags of Our Fathers, not reviewed) lovingly describe as “silver and elegant and indomitable-looking on the tarmac, bristling with armature, that massive reassuring tailfin crowning its splendid architecture.” Powers piloted it and a crew straight out of a Hollywood movie (Clark Gable, in fact, came along for a ride while he was making training films for the Air Corps) for an impressive total of 25 bombing runs over Nazi-occupied Europe—impressive because the odds were very much against any plane’s surviving for so long (as Morgan notes, 82 percent of his original bomber group had been blown out of the sky within the first two years of the war). When the Memphis Belle completed its 25th mission on May 17, 1943, plane and crew were sent on a barnstorming tour of America to promote the war effort and sell government bonds. Not content to remain behind the lines, Morgan pressed to be reassigned to the Pacific: “I had some payback I needed to deliver to the Japanese for what they did to us at Pearl Harbor,” he explains. Payback he got. Under General Curtis LeMay, he planned and executed the hellish 1945 firebombing of Tokyo, using a napalm bomb “of fiendish effectiveness” that killed or badly wounded more than 120,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians in the space of an hour. Morgan narrates these results with an unsettling satisfaction and no apparent remorse—a tone that will trouble some readers but may satisfy others.
Not great literature by any means, but likely to interest students of aerial warfare and WWII history.