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Major David G. Bellemere wearing what it took to survive at 25,000ft altitude, 1944

Nick Knight

This is Major David G. Bellemere and behind him is the B-24 Liberator heavy bomber ‘Tepee Time Gal’.

He’s wearing the typical flight clothing: M4 flak helmet with Polaroid B-8 goggles, flak jacket, F-2 electrical flying suit with B-3 jacket, A-14 oxygen mask, the gloves and ugg airmen boots.

Swastikas inscribed on the plane’s body represent number of German planes shot down (so-called kill counts). Bombs represent number of missions flown (so-called bombing run).

Crews frequently got attached to their aircraft, as they are not only flying them but continually repairing and maintaining them. Additionally, it is one of the things they were allowed to personalize. More importantly, the plane was what carried them away from death and back to the safety of their airfield.

The work you put into the maintenance and care for the plane is a culmination of the will you have to live on and survive. Aircraft would eventually be lost, outdated or scrapped due to maintenance cost and replaced.

Aircrews in World War II decorated their planes with pictures of pinups and pretty girls. This kind of art was called “nose art“. It was (and still is) an interesting practice.

The practice evolved to express the individuality often constrained by the uniformity of the military, to evoke memories of home and peacetime life, and as a kind of psychological protection against the stresses of war and the probability of death. Some see a deep, psychological impulse – attaching a talisman, a good-luck charm, to the aircraft as a way of warding off evil, death, and bullets. The beautiful Indian girl painted on the above photograph was named Wattacrok.

In 1942, during the first three months of America’s combat flights over Europe the average bomber crew was expected to complete 8-12 missions before being shot down or disabled. This in mind, the US Army Air Force decided that 25 missions would constitute a “completed tour of duty” because of the “physical and mental strain on the crew.”

The 25 missions was a number crews could believe in, and provided some hope of a light at the end of the tunnel, particularly necessary with the grim statistics bomber crews faced early-on, before long-range fighter escorts significantly improved mission survivability when they arrived later on in the course of the conflict.

This 25 missions rule does seem kind of strange because an infantryman was in until he was killed, injured or somebody won. Surviving 25 missions was pretty rare, so to inherit such a plane was considered extremely lucky. The new crew could always tell the new airplanes from the old ones because they were warmer. On the old ones the seals around the turrets would eventually wear out and let the cold in.

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The Liberator long range bomber prototype first flew on December 29, 1939. It went into production in the Fall of 1940 and stayed in production until May 1945, after some 19,000 examples had been built.

These aircraft were produced by Consolidated Vultee (Later Convair) in the San Diego and Ft. Worth plants), North American, Douglas and Ford.

In addition to being one of the primary heavy bombers of the USAAF, the Liberator heavy bomber was sold to the RAF and used by the U.S. Navy as a long-range patrol bomber. In the latter capacity it finally closed the “black hole” in the North Atlantic where German U-boats had previously operated free from interference from Allied land based aircraft.

The Liberator was one of the two American heavy bomber types (the other being the B-17) that formed the backbone of the USAAF strategic bomber offensive in the ETO. It was also widely used in the Pacific Theater, where its extra range made it superior to the B-17.

The twin tailed B-24 was a high-wing, cantilever monoplane of all-metal construction flown by a crew of ten men. It was produced in many variations and wartime improvements were incorporated. The B-24J had a wingspan of 110′, length of 67′ 2″ and a fully loaded weight of over 60,000 pounds. Maximum speed was 297 M.P.H., powered by four 1,200 h.p. Pratt & Whitney Twin-Wasp air-cooled supercharged and turbocharged radial engines. The normal range was 1,540 miles with maximum internal bomb load. Image source

The defensive armament consisted of ten .50 caliber heavy machine guns. These were distributed in pairs in power driven nose, dorsal, ventral and tail turrets plus manually trained single guns firing from waist positions in each side of the aft fuselage. There were twin bomb bays in the center fuselage beneath the wings that allowed for a maximum internal bomb load of 8,000 pounds.