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Gives the 303rd its Name
[from "Might in Flight" Copyright ©1997 Harry D. Gobrecht]
The original 303rd crews received new B-17F aircraft at Kellogg Field, MI and were given the opportunity to name their new Flying Fortresses. The flights to Gander Field, NF allowed crews to check their aircraft for deficiencies before making the over-the-water flight to the UK.
The Group's most famous B-17, Hell's Angels was not named when Captain Irl E. Baldwin and his crew flew her from Kellogg Field, MI to England. On their B-17s 4th or 5th mission, Captain Baldwin remarked on interphone that he was thinking about a name. He asked, "How about 'Hell's Angels' from the movie of that name. One of the crewman, commenting on the mission being flown stated, "This is the closest to hell that angels will ever get!" The crew then agreed that Hell's Angels would be a good name for their B-17.
The Hell's Angels nose art was designed and painted on the right side of the fuselage by PFC Bernard K. Kastenbaum in late November or early December, 1942. Eighth Air Force Headquarters later issued a directive that squadron and aircraft Ietters would be painted on the side of the fuselage of all bombers. Bernie K. Kastenbaum was transferred to the 1st Bomb Wing Headquarters at Brampton Grange on 19 December 1942 and was promoted to S/Sgt as a draftsman. His original nose art was removed to permit the painting of the squadron and aircraft letters (VK-D). The art work was then repainted on the nose by S/Sgt Harold E. Godwin, Tail Gunner on the Captain Baldwin crew. S/Sgt Godwin completed his 25th mission tour on 25 May 1943 and departed the 358th BS for the USA on 2 June 1943.
On 07 January 1944, following several weeks of suggestions, debates and arguments, and by a vote of the 303rd BG(H) staff and Squadron commanders, the name Hell's Angels was adopted by the 303rd Bombardment Group (H). At that time the numerical designation of bomb groups in England was still on the secret list, and the men of the 303rd wanted some name that was simple, descriptive and appropriate for one of the Eighth Air Force's top organizations. The name was taken from the old B-17F Hell's Angels, one of the group's original planes that had already made an impressive record of dependability, endurance and mechanical efficiency.
The old Fortress had helped make the group famous by running up a total of 25 missions without returning early (the first heavy bomber in the Eighth Air Force to reach that mark) and went on to the 40th mission before a slight mechanical failure forced an early turnback.
At 48 missions Hell's Angels and her ground crew of six men were selected from the Eighth Air Force to return to the U.S. for a tour of the war factories. On hand for the sendoff ceremony was Ben Lyon, then a Lt. Col. in the USAAF on the staff of Gen. Ira Eaker, commander of the 8th AF.
On this tour Hell's Angels, both as an airplane and as a Bomb Group, became famous all over the entire United States. The crew told hundreds of thousands of war workers of the trials and hardships of the early days of daylight bombing missions and pointed out the patches that covered the old Fort from nose to tail. They were very proud of the fact that no member of its aircrew was ever wounded in action.
Although this record was surpassed many times by many aircraft during the later years, Hell's Angels was the champion of the early days and will always be the champion in the eyes of the 303rd.