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Gary Younge
Commander of Memphis Belle dies at 85

Colonel Robert Morgan died on Saturday of complications after he fell at an air show, his wife said. He was 85.

The Belle was the first heavy bomber in Europe to complete 25 missions, the number required for the crew to be sent home. Col Morgan co-wrote a book about some of his experiences, The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle, with Ron Powers.

"Twenty-five doesn't sound like much until you start flying them," Col Morgan said later.

Col Morgan and his crew were assigned to the plane on September 1 1942. The pilot named the craft after his wartime sweetheart's home town. The Belle flew to England in late September and departed on its first bombing mission on November 7.

In the next six months, the Belle flew missions over France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. She was hit by flak, cannon shells and machine-gun bullets. Every major part of the plane was replaced at least once, including the engines (nine times), both wings, tails and main landing gears. Four of the plane's crew of 10 died during combat.

According to army records, the plane flew 148 hours, dropping more than 60 tonnes of bombs, all on daylight missions.

"Some of them were pretty rough missions. The Luftwaffe boys would sometimes fly into their own flak to get at us. They were mean devils, I tell you," top turret gunner Harold Loch told the Associated Press.

There were many close calls: engine fires, bullet holes, confrontations with fighter planes. Somehow the Belle always made it back to base when other planes went down.

Col Morgan said he and his men never talked about crashing or dying.

"Every time we were going to fly, we gathered in a huddle and we just told ourselves that if only one plane was coming back, it was going to be ours," he said.

The exploits of the Belle were brought to later generations by a 1990 film, Memphis Belle, which told a heavily fictionalised version of the bomber's 25th and final mission.

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