|The Martin B-26 Marauder was one of the most controversial American
combat aircraft of the Second World War. It was primarily used in Europe, and was in fact
numerically the most important USAAF medium bomber used in that theatre of action.
However, on four occasions, investigation boards had met to decide if the development and
production of the Marauder should continue. The Marauder survived all attempts to remove
it from service, and by 1944, the B-26s of the US 9th Air Force had the lowest loss rate
on operational missions of any American aircraft in the European theatre, reaching a point
less than one half of one percent.
Despite its high landing speed of 130 mph, which remained essentially unchanged throughout the entire production career of the B-26 in spite of numerous modifications made to reduce it, the Marauder had no really vicious flying characteristics and its single-engine performance was actually fairly good. Although at one time the B-26 was considered so dangerous an aircraft that aircrews tried to avoid getting assigned to Marauder-equipped units and civilian ferry crews actually refused to fly B-26s, it turned out that the Marauder could be safely flown if crews were adequately trained and knew what they were doing. It nevertheless did demand somewhat of a higher standard of training from its crews than did its stablemate, the B-25 Mitchell. However, once mastered, the B-26 offered a level of operational immunity to its crews unmatched by any other aircraft in its class.
A total of 5157 B-26 Marauders were built. Although on paper the B-26 was a more advanced aircraft than its stablemate, the North American B-25 Mitchell, it was built in much fewer numbers because it was more expensive to manufacture and had a higher accident rate.
One of the most commonly-asked questions is the difference between the Martin B-26 Marauder and the Douglas B-26 Invader. They were two completely different aircraft and had been designed to completely different requirements. The Douglas B-26 Invader had been originally been designated A-26, and was a twin-engine attack bomber intended as a successor to the Douglas A-20 Havoc. In 1948, the newly-independent Air Force decided to eliminate the A-for-Attack series letter as a separate designation, and the A-26 Invader was redesignated B-26, in the bomber series. There was no danger of confusion with the Martin B-26 Marauder, since this aircraft was by that time no longer in service with the US Air Force.
The history of the Martin Marauder dates back to early 1939. Both the North American B-25 Mitchell and the Martin B-26 Marauder owe their origin to the same Army Air Corps specification. On March 11, 1939, the Air Corps issued Proposal No. 39-640 for the design of a new medium bomber. According to the requirements listed in the specification, a bombload of 3000 pounds was to be carried over a range of 2000 miles at a top speed of over 300 mph and at a service ceiling exceeding 20,000 feet. The crew was to be five and armament was to consist of four 0.30-inch machine guns. The proposal called for either the Pratt & Whitney R-2800, the Wright R-2600, or the Wright R-3350 radial engine.
Requests for proposals were widely circulated throughout the industry. Proposals were received from Martin, Douglas, Stearman, and North American. The proposal of the Glenn L. Martin company of Middle River, Maryland (near Baltimore) was assigned the company designation of Model 179. Martin assigned 26-year-old aeronautical engineer Peyton M. Magruder as Project Engineer for the Model 179. Magruder and his team chose a low-drag profile fuselage with a circular cross section. Since the Army wanted a high maximum speed but hadn't specified any limitation on landing speed, the team selected a high-mounted wing with a wingspan of only 65 feet. Its small area gave a wing loading of more than 50 pounds per square foot. The wing was shoulder-mounted to leave the central fuselage free for bomb stowage. The wings were unusual in possessing no fillets. The engines were to be a pair of 1850 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800-5 Double Wasp air-cooled radials, which were the most powerful engines available at the time. Two-speed mechanical superchargers were installed in order to maintain engine power up to medium altitudes, and ejector exhausts vented on each side of the closely-cowled nacelles. The engines drove four-bladed 13 foot 6 inch Curtiss Electric propellers. Large spinners were fitted to the propellers, and root cuffs were added to aid in engine cooling.
The armament included a flexible 0.30-inch machine gun installed in the tip of a transparent nose cone and operated by the bombardier. Two 0.50-inch machine guns were installed in a Martin-designed dorsal turret located behind the bomb bay just ahead of the tail. This was the first power-operated turret to be fitted to an American bomber. Another 0.30-inch flexible machine gun was installed in a manually-operated tunnel position cut into the lower rear fuselage. There was a 0.50-inch manually-operated machine gun installed in a pointed tail cone. The tail gunner had enough room to sit in an upright position, unlike the prone position that had been provided in the early B-25.
There were two bomb bays, fore and aft. The bomb bay doors were unusual in being split in tandem, the forward pair folding in half when opened and the aft set being hinged normally to open outward. Two 2000-LB bombs could be carried in the main bomb bay, but up to 4800 pounds of smaller bombs could be carried if the aft bay was used as well.
Detailed design of the Model 179 was completed by June of 1939. On July 5, 1939, the Model 179 was submitted to a Wright Field Board. The Martin design was rated the highest of those submitted, and on August 10, 1939, the Army issued a contract for 201 Model 179s under the designation B-26. This contract was finally approved on September 10. At the same time, the competing North American NA-62 was issued a contract for 184 examples under the designation B-25. Since the design had been ordered "off the drawing board", there was no XB-26 as such.
Although the first B-26 had yet to fly, orders for 139 B-26As with self-sealing tanks and armor were issued on September 16. Further orders for 719 B-26Bs on September 28, 1940 brought the total B-26 order to 1131 aircraft.
Early wind tunnel test models of the B-26 had featured a twin tail, which designers thought would provide better aerodynamic control. This was dropped in favor of a single fin and rudder so that the tail gunner would have a better field of view.
The B-26 had a semi-monocoque aluminum alloy fuselage fabricated in three sections. The fuselage had four main longerons, transverse circular frames, and longitudinal stringers covered by a metal skin. The mid section with the bomb bays was built integrally with the wing section. The retractable tricycle landing gear was hydraulically actuated. The nose wheel pivoted 90 degrees to retract into the nose section, and the main wheels folded backwards into the engine nacelles. The tail fins were of smooth stressed skin cantilever structure. The elevators were covered with metal skin, but the rudder was fabric covered.
The first B-26 (c/n 1226, USAAF serial 40-1361) took off on its maiden flight on November 25, 1940, with chief engineer and test pilot William K. Ebel at the controls. The first B-26 initially flew without any armament fitted.
The first 113 hours of flight testing went fairly well, and there were few modifications needed. However, a slight rudder overbalance required that the direction of travel of the trim tabs be reversed.
Since there was no prototype, the first few production aircraft were used for test purposes. On February 22, 1941, the first four B-26s were accepted by the USAAF. The first to use the B-26 was the 22nd Bombardment Group (Medium) based at Langley Field, Virginia, which had previously operated Douglas B-18s.
A series of failures of the front wheel strut resulted in a delay in bringing the B-26 to full operational status. Although the forward landing gear strut was strengthened in an attempt to correct this problem, the true cause was an improper weight distribution. The manufacturer had been forced to deliver the first few B-26s without guns, and had trimmed them for delivery flights by carefully loading service tools and spare parts as ballast. When the Army took the planes over, they removed the ballast without replacement and the resultant forward movement of the center of gravity had multiplied the loads on the nose wheel, causing the accidents. The installations of the guns corrected the problem.
The last B-26 was delivered in October of 1941. That month, the Martin Middle River production line shifted over to the B-26A version.
Specification of Martin B-26 Marauder
A Little More History
The first Allied bomber to carry out 200 combat missions was a 9th Air Force B-26B christened "Flak Bait". This record is even more enviable if one considers that it was achieved by an aircraft that in the initial stages of its career, was not liked by its crews, because its excellent performance made it difficult to fly. However, once it was better known, the B-26 "Marauder" proved to be an extremely effective aircraft. In all, 5,157 were manufactured between February 1941 and March 1945. They served on all fronts and in all theaters of operation. In particular, 522 of them served in the units of the British Royal Air Force and in those of the South African Air Force, in the Mediterranean.
The B-26 project was launched in 1939, in response to specifications issued by the USAAC on January 25th, calling for a fast medium bomber with particular qualities as far as range and ceiling were concerned. In September, the Glenn L. Martin Company presented its Model 179, and the proposal was considered so superior to its rivals that it was accepted "on the drawing board", with an initial order being placed for 201 aircraft. The new planes design was supervised by Peyton M. Magruder with William K. Ebel as chief engineer. It had a rounded fuselage, and nice aerodynamic lines with a retractable, rearward folding, tricycle landing gear. It was powered by a pair of large Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp 18-cylinder engines.
The first B-26 made its maiden flight on November 25, 1940, and in the course of this flight confirmed the expectations of its technicians in achieving a maximum speed of 305 mph (508 km/h). However, in order to guarantee the high performance requested the design was characterized by a high wing load, much greater than that of any other military aircraft to date. It was not, therefore, and easy plane to fly (especially during landing), and this did not facilitate training or the launching of its operative career. There were many accidents, and although the "A" version aircraft (139 built in all) were delivered in 1941, they did not see combat until April of 1942 in the Pacific. The B-26A also saw service as a torpedo bomber during the Battle of Midway (June 1942) and as an anti-ship type in the hands of the 73rd and 77th Bomb Squadrons operating in the Aleutian Islands. Production was even halted, and a specific inquiry launched to investigate the actual danger of the aircraft. Nevertheless, the commission decided to continue to build the B-26, introducing a series of modifications to improve its performance at low altitude and to perfect its maneuvering capabilities.
In May 1942, production of the B-26B was started. This was the version of which most of the aircraft were built (1,883) and in which, apart from improvements to the armament, and various other equipment, a substantial modification was made with an increased wingspan of 6 feet (183 cm). With this modification in place the aircraft had a lower wing load, aiding in solving the earlier wing loading problem. The surface area of the tail fins and rudder were also increased.
The next variant, the B-26C, was characterized by having more defensive armament, but also an increase in weight. 1,235 of these aircraft were built, and they went into service in the USAAF toward the end of 1942 in North Africa. The final versions were the B-26F and G, which differed only slightly in their equipment. An attempt was made in both aircraft to further improve the takeoff and landing characteristics by increasing the angle of attack of the wing by 3.5 degrees. The last Marauder was delivered on March 30th, 1945, and the aircraft that survived the conflict remained in service for another three years.
The British used the B-26 in its various versions with differing designations under the terms of the lend lease act. The Mk. I designation was used for 52 B-26A's. The Mk. IA designation was used for 19 B-26B's. The Mk. II designation was used for 123 B-26C's, while the Mk. III designation was used for 350 B-26F's and B-26G's.
The B-26 - Firsts
(J.K. Havener piloted more than 50 combat missions in B-26 Marauders during WWII and was also a B-26 transitional training instructor. The following was taken directly from his book The Martin B-26 Marauder (Copyright 1988 by TAB BOOKS Inc)
It was the first aircraft of WWII vintage to use four-bladed propellers. These were 13-foot 6-inch Curtis electrics that were driven by Pratt and Whitney R-2800-5 Wasp engines, which developed 1850 hp at takeoff and 1500 hp at 15,000 feet. A two-stage blower was employed for a supercharging effect at higher altitudes.
It embodied the first horizontal tailplane with a marked dihedral. ( 8 degrees. )
It was the first aircraft to carry a power-operated gun turret. The original armament called for four flexible .30-caliber guns, but Martin designed the 250CE dorsal-mounted, electrically operated turret with twin .50-caliber guns for increased firepower. These turrets were also later used on B-25, B-17, and B-24 American bombers as well.
It was the first medium bomber in which the tail gunner could sit in an upright position. Original armament included a flexible .30-caliber gun in the tail position, but this was later replaced (in the B models) with twin flexible .50s, and later (in March 1943) by an electric-hydraulic Martin-Bell turret still containing twin .50s.
It was the first WWII aircraft to use weapons pods. Two fixed .50-caliber machine guns were mounted in package pods on both sides of the forward fuselage belly, beginning with the B models.
It incorporated the first all-plexiglass bombardier's nose-a Martin innovation.
It was the first combat aircraft in which the designers used butted seams for the skin covering as opposed to the conventional lapped seams. This enhanced the flow of air over the streamlined torpedo-like fuselage, which increased the speed of the craft.
It was the first combat bomber to employ an all-electrical bomb release mechanism.
It was the first combat aircraft to have rubber self-sealing fuel tanks installed as regular equipment. These were another Martin innovation and invention called "Mareng Cells."
It employed the first flexible tracks for transferring ammunition from the bomb bay storage areas back to the tail gun position. Lionel, the famous toy train manufacturer, furnished these tracks.
It was the first combat aircraft to use plastic materials as metal substitutes on a grand scale. Martin had been pioneering the use of plastics to replace metal, and the B-26 contained over 400 such parts.
It was the first (and last) Army bomber to use torpedoes in the WWII conflict. An external rack was installed along the keel to carry a standard 2000-pound Naval aerial torpedo.
It was the first Allied bomber in the European Theater of Operations to complete 100 operational missions. This was accomplished by Mild and Bitter on an afternoon raid on a Nazi airfield at Evreux/Fauville, southwest of Rouen, France, on 9 May 1944. She was a B-26B-25, Serial Number 41-31819, of the 450th Squadron in the 322nd Bomb Group (M) of the 9th Air Force and had flown her first mission on 23 July 1943. She did all this on her original engines, amassing a total of 449 hours and 30 minutes on them, 310 hours and 40 minutes of that in combat! During this time she never aborted due to mechanical failure, and not one of her many crewmen was a casualty. She was taken off operations after her 100th mission and flown back to the States to conduct War Bond selling tours.
Even more amazing was the fact that a B-26 was the first Allied bomber in the European Theater of War to fly 200 operational missions! In fact, Flak Bait, Serial Number 41-31733, actually flew 202 combat missions over a 21 month period. She was assigned to the 449th Squadron of the same 322nd Bomb Group and flew her first mission on 16 August 1943; when Mild and Bitter had completed her 100th, Flak Bait had 99. She never did get the press coverage that Mild and Bitter received, but she persevered and it paid off in the end. She flew her 202nd and last mission in early May 1945 from Airfield Y-89 at Le Culot, Belgium, from which she had also flown the now-famous 200th. (Sgt. W.J. Johnston, now of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was the engineer-gunner on the third crew assigned to Flak Bait, and, although he didn't realize it at the time that it was to be her last mission, he was on it. His crew flew approximately 30 missions in Flak Bait, including numbers 199, 201, and 202. Why not number 200 when it was "their" airplane? The old military truism "Rank has its privileges" reared its ugly head for this historic event, and Sgt. Johnston's crew had to stand down that day so the top brass of the outfit could receive the glory. At least the Sarge flew on that last one and now gloats over the fact that Flak Bait is probably the most famous Marauder of them all. She was appropriately named, having absorbed over 1000 enemy hits during her combat days. Her nose section -well preserved but unrestored and in original condition- now resides in a place of honor at the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. After the war, Devon Francis even wrote a book about her, appropriately titled Flak Bait.
Another B-26 may have been the first American bomber to complete 300 combat missions -and probably the only one of any type in the USAAF to do so. A photo of this unnamed ship shows her after 336 missions, during which none of her many crew members had been injured. (Unfortunately, the negative for that photo, which is the only print in the Martin Photo Library, had been destroyed by deterioration, and attempts to discover the identity of the ship or to which group she was assigned proved futile.)
The army was anxious to get into production; and although the first order included a prototype, none was built, and the first production model was the first of the line to fly!
It had the first aerodynamically perfect fuselage. One of its early nicknames was "The Flying Torpedo".
It was the first twin - engine bomber to carry more payload of bombs than the B-17 of the time.
Lastly, the B-26 was the first aircraft to test the bicycle-type landing gear that would later be adopted for use by the Air Force on the B-47 and B-52 jet bombers. The test bed was a G-25 model, Serial Number 44-68221, and was called the XB-26H. It carried the name Middle River Stump Jumper.
It is doubtful that any other World War II aircraft could lay claim to that many firsts.
Although Mild and Bitter was the first B-26 to complete 100 missions in the ETO and Flak Bait 200, the honor of the first B-26 to complete 100 missions anywhere has to go to Hells Belle II of the 17th Bomb Group in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. She was a B-26B-10, Serial Number 41-18322, and beat Mild and Bitter by eight days in racking up her 100th mission on 1 May 1944, bombing the Calaviria rail viaduct in Italy. At that time she had flown a total of 724 hours, 450 to 500 of which were in combat.
The 336-mission mystery ship was undoubtedly from a Mediterranean Theater outfit also, substantiated by the fact that B-26s had been flying combat in that theater since late 1942.
The heretofore unpublicized accomplishments of Hells Belle II and the mystery ship only point out the fact that public relations tend to distort or embellish the facts somewhat, or are guilty of omission. The latter is probably the reason in this case, since the air war in the ETO was the closest to Hitler's heartland, was blessed with the greatest number of USAAF combat groups, and therefore, made the juiciest news copy.
|In preparation for large-scale introduction of the Marauder into
combat, the USAAF had set up B-26 Transition Training Fields at MacDill Field, Tampa,
Florida and at Barksdale Field, Shreveport, Louisiana. Nine new USAAF medium bomber groups
had been activated in 1942 as Marauder-equipped units.
Unfortunately, many of the pilots trying to master the Marauder at these fields had no previous twin-engine experience. In 1942, a series of training accidents took place stateside which placed the future of the entire Marauder program in doubt. Most of these accidents took place during takeoff or landing. The increases in weight that had been gradually introduced on the B-26 production line had made the wing loading of the Marauder progressively higher and higher, resulting in higher stalling and landing speeds. Veteran pilots in combat overseas had enough experience that they could handle these higher speeds, but new trainees at home had serious problems and there were numerous accidents, causing the Marauder to earn such epithets as "The Flying Prostitute", "The Baltimore Whore", "The Flying Vagrant", or "The Wingless Wonder", these names being given because the B-26's small wing area appeared to give it no visible means of support. Other derisive names being given to the B-26 were "The Widow Maker", "One-Way Ticket", "Martin Murderer", "The Flying Coffin", "The Coffin Without Handles", and the "B-Dash Crash". In particular, there were so many takeoff accidents at MacDill Field during early 1942 that the phrase "One a Day Into Tampa Bay" came to be a commonplace lament.
The USAAF was concerned about the high accident rate and seriously considered withdrawing the Marauder from production and service. The US Senate's Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program (better known as the Truman Committee, after its chairman, Sen. Harry S. Truman of Missouri), which had been charged with ferreting out corruption, waste, and mismanagement in the military procurement effort, also began looking into the Marauder's safety record. By July, the Committee had heard so many Marauder horror stories that they recommended that B-26 production be stopped. However, combat crews in the South Pacific, who were more experienced, were not reporting any particular problems with the airplane, and they went to bat for the Marauder. They exerted pressure, and the USAAF decided to continue with production of the Marauder.
However, by September of 1942, the situation had gotten even worse and training accidents had become even more frequent. By that time, the reputation of the Marauder had gotten so bad that civilian crews contracted to ferry USAAF aircraft to their destinations were often quitting their jobs rather than having to ferry a B-26. The Air Safety Board of the USAAF was forced to initiate an investigation into the cause. In October, the Truman Committee was again on the warpath and once again recommended that production of the B-26 be discontinued.
USAAF commanding General Henry H. Arnold directed that Brig. Gen. James H. Doolittle (fresh from his famous Tokyo raid) investigate the problem with the B-26 personally. Doolittle had recently been given command of the B-26-equipped 4th Medium Bombardment Wing, which was scheduled to take part in the invasion of North Africa.
Both General Doolittle and the Air Safety Board concluded that there was nothing intrinsically wrong with the B-26, and there was no reason why it should be discontinued. They traced the problem to the inexperience of both aircrews and ground crews, and also to the overloading of the aircraft beyond the weight at which it could be safely flown on one engine only. Almost immediately after the Marauder had entered service, it had been found necessary to add more and more equipment, armament, fuel, and armor, driving the gross weight steadily upwards. By early 1942, the B-26 had risen in normal gross weight from its original 26,625 pounds to 31,527 pounds with no increase in power. It had been found that many of the accidents had been caused by engine failures, which were in turn caused by a combination of poor maintenance by relatively green mechanics and a change from 100 octane fuel to 100 octane aromatic fuel, which damaged the diaphragm of the carburetors. Many of the B-26 instructors were almost as green as the pilots they were trying to train, and did not know themselves how to fly the B-26 on one engine only, and so could not teach the technique to their students.
General Doolittle sent his technical adviser, Captain Vincent W. "Squeak" Burnett, to make a tour of OTU bases to demonstrate how the B-26 could be flown safely. These demonstrations included single-engine operations, slow-flying characteristics, and recoveries from unusual flight attitudes. Capt. Burnett made numerous low altitude flights with one engine out, even turning into a dead engine (which aircrews were warned never to do), proving that the Marauder could be safely flown if you knew what you were doing. Martin also sent engineers out into the field to show crews how to avoid problems caused by overloading, by paying proper attention to the plane's center of gravity.
The efforts of the Army and Martin to improve training soon began to pay off, and accidents at training fields began to fall off, and within a month had reached a fairly low level. The Truman Committee finally relented, and stopped its demands for the cessation of Marauder production. Nevertheless, the derogatory nicknames still persisted, and word had not gotten down to the grass roots level that the problems with the B-26 had been identified and corrected. Student pilots still believed the popular legend that the B-26 was a deathtrap, and very few graduates requested assignment to a B-26 group. (taken from "Martin B-26 Marauder" Chapter 18-II: Service of B-26 Marauder with USAAF)
The End of The Marauder
Soon after VE-Day, some B-26 groups were demobilized, but others moved to Germany to serve with the occupation forces.
The Following Bombardment Groups Flew the B-26 Marauder in the ETO:
322nd Bombardment Group: May 14, 1943 to April 24, 1945
After the war in Europe was over, most of the Marauder-equipped units were quickly disbanded and their planes were scrapped. In the late fall of 1945, all of some 500 Marauders operating in the ETO were ferried to a disposal site near Landsberg, Germany where they were all scrapped.
In the fall of 1945, a gigantic aircraft disposal operation began at Walnut Ridge, Arkansas and handled the disposal of nearly 1000 surplus USAAF Marauders. In the beginning, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation handled the disposal task, but this was later taken over by the General Services Administration. The surplus aircraft were first offered for sale and many were bought by France, China, and South American countries for military or airline use. The remainder were scrapped.
Because of the massive scrapping effort immediately after the war, very few Marauders ended up in postwar service, and very few survive today. I am aware of only three Marauders that are still in existence today.
Flak Bait, a B-26 serial number 41-31773 of the 449th Squadron of the 322nd Bombardment Group was the first Allied bomber in the ETO to fly 200 combat sorties. Its nose section is now on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington.
B-26G-10 serial number 43-34581 ended up in France as a ground-based aircraft for use in training Air France mechanics. In 1965, 43-34581 was donated to the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, where it is currently displayed painted as a 387th Bombardment Group B-26B-50 serial number 42-95857.
The third was B-26 serial number 40-1464, the 103rd Marauder, which had crash-landed in northern Canada and had remained more or less intact out on the tundra for many years. It was recovered by the Military Aircraft Restoration Corporation, a subsidiary of Specialty Restaurants Corp., of Anaheim, California, whose president is David Tallichet.
B-26C-20-MO serial number 41-35071 had been purchased from the Walnut Ridge disposal operation by a commercial operator at the end of the war and went through a succession of operators, including the Tennessee Gas Corporation which converted it as an executive transport. In 1967, the Confederate Air Force bought the plane and attempted to restore it to flying condition, no mean feat since no structural B-26 parts were then available anywhere in the world and all B-26 engineering and production data had been destroyed in a fire at Martin's Baltimore plant. Most needed components had to be made by hand. The first flight did not take place until 1984. The aircraft was named Carolyn in honor of a generous contributor. It crashed in 1995 killing all its passengers. Cause was equipment failure.