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William Wyler


William Wyler was born in Alsace-Lorraine and moved to America as a teenager. He became an Oscar-winning film director. He made three wartime documentaries, the most famous of which is 'The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress' (1944).

The skills of a wide variety of people were called upon to support the strategic bombing campaign. Wyler saw a role for himself in making pictures to support the war effort: ‘People say we should be making escapist pictures today. I say “Why?” This is the hell of a time to escape from reality! We’re in an all-out war – a people’s war – it’s the time to face it. Let’s make propaganda pictures, but make them good.’ During the Second World War he served in the US Army Air Forces, and made films which showed Americans at home what the air war was like. He flew on several missions to make The Memphis Belle. He lost the hearing in one ear while making a film about P-47 fighter-bombers in Italy: Thunderbolt.

Wyler joined the USAAF to ‘see if I could make a film that would help the war effort in some small way.’ He made a film which focussed on the final, 25th mission of one aircraft and crew – Captain Robert Morgan’s B-17 ‘Memphis Belle’. Wyler recalled the difficulty of filming the live action: ‘things happen so fast… Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs coming at you and you would try to get all this on film. You forget that they’re shooting at you at the same time!’ When President Roosevelt saw the finished film, he said to Wyler: ‘This has to be shown, right away. Everywhere.’

His 'short snorter', which is in the form of an engraved cigarette case, lists the five missions he flew with the 'Memphis Belle', part of 324th Bomb Squadron of the 91st Bomb Group:
26 February 1943 - Wilhelmshaven
14 April 1943 - Lorient
17 May 1943 - Lorient
19 May 1943 - Kiel
29 May 1943 - St Nazaire



  • Harold Tannenbaum

    Military | First Lieutenant | Photographer | 93rd Bomb Group
    Shot down 16 April 1943 in B-24 #41-23983. Some crew members had baled out when the plane exploded blowing some crew clear. Tannenbaum was a passenger as a photographer from the 8AF Combat Film Unit. Loss reports say he bailed out but slipped out of...

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Units served with

  • 8th Air Force

    8th Air Force

    Eighth Air Force Bomber Command became the Eighth Air Force on February 1944, it oversaw bombardment of strategic targets in Europe until 1945. ...

  • 91st Bomb Group The Ragged Irregulars

    91st Bomb Group The Ragged Irregulars

    The 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy) was activated at Harding Field, Louisiana on 15-April-1942 and went to MacDill Field, Florida for the first phase of training from 16-May-1942 to 25-June-1942. The Group was then assigned to 2nd Air Force at Walla...


  • 41-24480 'The Bad Penny'

    B-17 Flying Fortress
    Assigned 324BS/91BG [DF-B] Bangor 31/8/42; Bassingbourn 26/9/42; 322BS [LG-A] 5/43 16+m; taken off operations and transferred 403 AD 2/7/43; 8AF HQ Sqd 15/8/43 for VIP duties. Salvaged 19/10/44. Used as camera ship to film Major William Wilder's...

  • 41-24485 Memphis Belle

    B-17 Flying Fortress
    Assigned to the 324th Bomb Squadron/91st Bomb Group [DF-A], Bangor 31/8/42; Bassingbourn 26/10/42; one of first in group to complete 25 missions; Returned to the USA Columbia 25/6/43 for nationwide war bond tour; Reconstruction Finance Corporation ...


  • VIII Bomber Command 37

    26 February 1943
    After 10 days of weather related delays of the bomber offensive, a mission is organised with the port facilities of Emden, Germany as the primary target. However, Emden is obscured by cloud cover and all formations divert to attack the port facilities...

  • VIII Bomber Command 58

    17 May 1943
    VIII Bomber Command launches another operation against German U-Boat facilities with three elements. The first element is a formation of 100 B-17s despatched from: 91BG (24); 92BG (10); 303BG (21); 305BG (21) and 306BG (24) to attack the German U-Boat...

  • VIII Bomber Command 59

    19 May 1943
    The German naval bases at Kiel and Flensburg, Germany are the two primary targets for this mission. A force of 123 B-17s is despatched from: 91BG (19); 92BG (10); 303BG (27); 305BG (22); 306BG (24) and 351BG (21) to bomb the naval facilities at Kiel,...

  • VIII Bomber Command 61

    29 May 1943
    Three primary targets are selected for this mission. The U-Boat pens at St. Nazaire, France are selected as the target for a force of 169 B-17s despatched from: 91BG (23); 92BG (22), 303BG (30); 305BG (25) 306BG (24); 351BG (21) and 379BG (24). This is...

Associated Place

  • Bassingbourn

    Military site : airfield
    Now home to a museum all about the aifield and its USAAF residents ( , Bassingbourn opened in 1938 as part of the RAF's pre-war expansion programme. The RAF continued to use it until late in 1942 when its long...

  • American Air Museum

    Other location


Event Location Date
Born Mulhouse, France 1 July 1902

Son of Leopold and Melanie [Auerbach] Wyler.

Based Bassingbourn 1942 – 1945

Volunteered to serve as a major in the United States Army Air Forces and directed a pair of documentaries: "The Memphis Belle" and "Thunderbolt!"

Died Beverly Hills, CA, USA 27 July 1981

Died of Heart attack.

Buried Glendale, CA, USA August 1981

Forest Lawn Memorial Park


Date Contributor Update
19 August 2020 14:01:46 decwriter Changes to awards

NARA file verified Air Medal under G.O. #73, Hqrs. Eighth Air Force, June 7, 1943.

Date Contributor Update
14 August 2018 09:58:25 general ira snapsorter Changes to biography and media associations

American Air Museum text from displays.

Date Contributor Update
21 March 2017 20:57:57 Al_Skiff Changes to events, person associations, unit associations, place associations and mission associations

Date Contributor Update
26 August 2015 02:19:58 Jenny Changes to service number and highest rank

His 'short snorter' which is in the form of a cigarette case, confirms his service number and his rank at the end of the war. It is verified in the National Archives National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) VIP list, 2009 records, which is referenced here: