What's in a Name?

the names and punch line Ford's Folly — Watch the Fords Go By are typical bomber names. Anyone will recognize the appropriateness of Pistol Packing Mamma as a name for the powerfully gunned bomber, but you have to know something about the mass production of Liberators to appreciate the second. The Liberator or B-24 bomber was first built by the Consolidated Company in California. Henry Ford then undertook the development of the Willow Run Project to turn out B-24 Liberators at a rate per day which is still a military secret and a miracle of production. Although the airplanes are built from the same specifications, there are differences which the pilots recognize. "Are you flying a Ford or a Consolidated?" one B-24 pilot will ask another. The punch line Watch the Fords Go By is therefore an appropriate slogan for a Ford built B-24.

The crews of some of these ships obviously fancy themselves as great lovers — Casanovas of 1944. These cradles of romance appear with such names as Wolf Pack and Lovers Lane. Invariably this type of crew will have an unbelievably appealing girl painted on the nose. Each man will have his girl's name linked with his own at his combat position. For example, the pilot will inscribe under his window "'Lt Wilson, Jack and Mary." The navigator-bombardier will have his name printed under this side window "Lt Bradford, Hugh — Joan," and so on, from plexiglas enclosed nose gun turret to the waist gun positions and top turret. Other crews are less romantically inclined and show a certain fatalistic turn of mind by naming their ships with such deep meaningful monikers as Borrowed Time, Rubber Check — It Bounces Back, Silver Dollar In God We Trust, Bad Penny — Hell's Angels.

Other crews carry with them the pride of the old home town. When the majority of the crew comes from a single locality, their ships blossom out with such names as Memphis Belle, Dixie Bitch, Jersey Bounce, Brooklyn Dodger and Texas Terror — From deep in the heart of.

The crews of ships which cannot get together geographically or romantically on a name then resort to the wildest flights of fancy, wit and ingenuity. One Liberator sports a large queen of hearts and the slogan The Wicked Duchess and the Ten Little Dukes. The wicked duchess must mean the captain of the airplane and the ten little dukes his crew members to make up the Liberator's eleven men fighting team. Another distinguished Liberator, this one from India's far eastern theater, is very appropriately named My Assam Dragon.

The English pilots, who have difficulty understanding American humor at its best, rarely christen their ships. Occasionally an Excalibur, Nemesis or Pegasus is seen on the cowling of a Hurricane fighter or a Lancaster bomber, but never anything as earthy as the American bomber names — Outhouse Maisie, Iron Horse or Mission Belle. The Free French pilots in Africa fly fighters and old-type bombers bearing equally subdued names and mottoes expressing their. more sensitive Latin temperaments. Their girls' names, Celeste, Cecile or Anne-Marie, appear on engine cowlings in delicate blue or purple lettering never more than two inches high. Other Frenchmen inscribe fatalistic epithets of determination such as La Victoire ou le Mort or Un seul pour Victoire in delicate script along the sides of the fuselage. Quite in contrast from the all-American heavy bomber names — Hellzapoppin', Old Ironsides, The Golden Goose, Reich Wrecker, The Nipper and Big Spook — dreamed up over bars by the crews who fly these thirty-ton war machines from their home fields in the US across the Caribbean, down the coast of South America, across the South Atlantic and the Sahara Desert to the war zones of the far east and western Europe.

Occasionally even the broad-minded officers in command of these wild men of our bomber forces blush at the risque comment painted on some of these aircraft. When the rhetoric or art work is too pointed, it is censored by striking out the offending word or phrase with the stroke of a wide, red paint brush. The crew thus offended invariably prints "censored by…" beneath the deletion and notes the name of the officer guilty of the order to censor their ship.

One bomber, Lulu, appeared in Natal with one of the most intriguing female figures ever to grace canvas, paper or boudoir — only more so. This girl was provocatively poised, all rosy pink, in detail, and scaled up to about three times life size. Word spread through the camp. From the mess hall, from the tents and barracks, from the engine overhaul shelters, enlisted men, civilians, Brazilian workers and officers streamed to the parked bomber to admire the epitome of American womanhood depicted on the nose section of this Liberator. That evening the commanding officer ordered the crew to make their girl more modest, "It wouldn't look right to the English to have that show up over there…" he explained. "Just paint some kind of a little something or other around her — well, fix it up some way before you take off. That's an order."

With singularly light hearts Lulu's crew watched the artist among them, the top turret gunner, paint a neat, tight-fitting bathing suit on the girl. Two days later the same Liberator showed up in Africa, the girl completely unadorned in her naked splendor again, the object of every soldier's frustrated longing who came within vision of this Venus. Upon being asked what happened to the bathing suit that was painted on the girl at Natal, a crew member explained, "Oh, that was only water paint — we carry it with us for censoring purposes. When we went through that heavy rain in the equatorial front off the coast on the way over, it washed right off. Lulu's a honey, ain't she'?"

This article was originally published in the June, 1944, issue of Air News magazine, vol 6, no 5, pp 28-29.
The PDF of this article [ PDF, 13.3 MiB ] includes nine photos of nose art on several different aircraft types, including 4 B-17s, a couple of A-20s, a P-38, and a couple of B-24s.
The original was printed on 10½ by 13½ inch paper. Images in the PDF have been reduced to fit on letter-size paper.
Photos credited to Acme, European, Air News, International.