What makes the gorgeous reclining lady adorning the nose of this B-17 extra special is the fact that she was initially designed by the famous American cartoonist Milton Caniff in reverence to his cartoon strip character ‘Miss Lace’.
Milton Arthur Paul Caniff (1907-1988) was the brains and talent behind many a comic strip during the early to mid 30’s, including ‘Terry and the pirates’, ‘Male call’ and ‘Steve Canyon’. Born in Hilsboro, Ohio he graduated from Ohio State University and went on to work with renowned cartoonist Billy Ireland at the Columbus Dispatch. Unfortunately during the Great Depression his position was eliminated and so Caniff packed up his old kit bag and set off for the big apple. in New York he accepted an artists job with the Features Service of the Associated Press. For several months he was merely a staff artist doing general assignments for strips such as ‘Dickie Dare’ and ‘The Gay Thirties’ before inheriting ‘Mister Gilfeather’ from Al Capp when he left in September 1932. Then came the fantasy adventure ‘Dickie Dare‘. In 1934 Caniff was employed by the New York Daily News where he produced the comic strip ‘Terry and the Pirates’ which ran for 12 years. In his support for the forces Caniff produced a comic strip dedicated to and centering on the forces during the war, it was initially a special version of ‘Terry and the Pirates’, concentrating on the character ‘Burma’ and only published in military newspapers. However after complaints were made about its inaccessibility to the general public it was re named ‘Male Call’ and the main character called ‘Miss Lace’.
The strip was produced until 7 months after V-J day and ‘Miss Lace’ became the inspiration for B-17 nose art ‘Bit o Lace’ after Caniff received a request from Lt John Bauman to use the character ‘Miss Lace’. Caniff responded in the affirmative and sent a sketch back entitled ‘Bit o Lace’ with the message “A bit of lace for Lt John Bauman and the gang, with my very best wishes” and was then transferred onto the flank of a B-17 with considerable skill by Nick Fingeily.
Shortly after D-Day on 18th June 1944 this beautiful airplane made the journey over the ocean to England where it began its combat flights until mid October when newer aircraft took over the lead roles. ‘Bit o Lace’ went on to regular mission under the control of various pilots. In the final months of the war this veteran of flight rarely missed a mission and at no point were her missions ever aborted die to mechanical failure which in itself is remarkable and shows how diligently her ground crew looked after her and ensured she was always ready to go up. She finished out the war with a total of 83 mission markers added to her nose. It was a sad day when it was decided that flying her was no longer viable and she was taken to the breakers yard in Kingman Arizona. Even sadder was the fact that amongst the skeleton crew on board and taking her on her final flight was Cpl Fingeily who as the artist who gave her the adornment must have found it a very hard experience. Though somewhat poignant that he was there at the end as he had been there at the start.
Long after the war ended and the flying lady had been crushed into ingots of aluminium and used quite possibly for soft drinks cans, her image is not forgotten. It lives on in many an Airfix fit and scale model around the world. One so beautiful could never be forgotten.
I shall let Caniff have the last say, it only feels right as without him and his talent we would not be able to gaze upon such wanton beauty and sensuality…
“Her function was to remind service men what they were fighting for”