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Mystery of the Martin B-26 Marauder at Poperinge, Belgium September 1944

In a book about the war years in the wider Poperinge area I found a picture of a belly landed B-26. Caption said the plane had landed on 6 September 1944 due to fuel shortage along the Provenweg, just outside Poperinge.

Because the book itself offered no further info and the picture was the only indication that a crash had happened, I started a web search to see if any recorded losses matched the one at Poperinge. This proved unsuccessful. There was no MACR because the area had just been liberated by Polish troops and on the other hand, no (online) accident report pointed to an accident of that type then and there.

Unfortunately the serial on the picture could not be read due to the size in the book, so I first wrote to the author if he had a better copy. He never replied. Then I wrote to the publisher, who was so kind to send me their scan. This one could be enlarged, but still no readable serial could be seen.

In the meantime I had started to ask around, also at the most probable location of the crash, but the few elderly people I could speak to didn't really remember or confused the B-26 with a B-17 which had made a crash landing nearby in 1943.

Because no group or squadron markings were apparent on the B-26, I thought it might be a 322nd BG one. But their missions were not in the West-Flanders area and they had no losses there in the presumed month of September 1944.

Then in September 2009 I received two pictures of the quite dismantled B-26, the ones with the schoolgirls. On one of the pics you can part of the serial: 1 3 5. This of course gave a boost in the research, also confirming my earlier thought we had to do with an AT-23 or TB-26 type. The case was that the B-26 of Poperinge appeared to have no top gun turret at the rear of the fuselage, making it more of a hack, training or general use aircraft.

At times some info came in, but never with an exact date or hard facts. What I heard over the years: the aircraft skirted the town church (this later proved to have been an RAF Spitfire!), had its landing lights on, props were running when it bellied in, was said to have run out of fuel, some crew members jumped out before complete stand still, no one was hurt, crew (or local people?) removed the radio "in case the Germans returned"). I also heard that the (Polish?) troops who had come to pick up the crew had taken some 0.50 machine guns from the B-26 to boost the fire power of their scouts car..... What's all true about this, I just don't know.

However, if Polish troops were involved, then the period could indeed have been the first half of September 1944.

The USAAF plane was quickly dismantled by the local population and especially the mica material was popular with kids who would make rings or other ornaments from it.

With (long) intervals the search continued, also on different websites dealing with the USAAF and notably Questions were raised, suggestions provided, but no conclusion could be drawn despite all honest efforts. All known information about crashes, accident, combat losses etc. of B-26/AT-23 types just didn't match with the one at Poperinge.

Then early this year I noticed a listing of USAAF units overseas on 1 May 1945. Out of curiosity I did a search what was in Belgium on that date. There were two units that suddenly drew my attention: the 7th and 8th Gunnery & Tow Target Flights (Special), both based at Tirlemont, or Tienen in the correct Flemish wording.

I thought at once, didn't those Gunnery Flights sometimes use AT-23s as well? So I sent a request to the AFHSO in Washington if they had a record about either of those GTT Flights.

They were very quick with a reply, or rather it was just to say that they had very little about these two small units. But they added just the thing I was after.

8th had only one page, dated 23 Nov 44, .... 1) “On 8 Sept 44, the 8th G&TT Flight was moved to Air Strip AY-4, Versailles, France.” - - 2) “One B-26 is assigned to this Flight. A second B-26 was washed out when it crash landed in Belgium. No one was injured but the plane was damaged beyond repair.”

(Air Strip AY-4 Versailles can be identified as Y-4 Buc as well. Buc is adjacent to Versailles.).

You can imagine that I jumped up when I read this text. One conclusion was that the plane was lost somewhere between 8 Sept and 23 Nov 1944 and the other one that the loss report somehow never made it to the archives. I had also written to the people of and about this case, but they were equally puzzled and knew of no accident report.

However, with the info from the AFHSO I took a closer look on a Cumulative Loss Listing of Aircraft again. Somewhat hidden in the month November 1944 and well after the long list of bomber and fighter losses, there was a hard to read entry saying: SAL NBD 8 GN TOW TARGET AT23B 41-35837 11114 1111. So, an AT-23B type of the Flight I was after and with a serial containing "1 3 5" plus a loss not due to combat.

Salvage date was 11 Nov 1944, but they also put the loss date on that day, which was quite common in such SAL NBD cases, but of course gives no answer about the actual crash date.

Next step then is to see if there is a link between this 41-35837 of the 8th TGGF with the aircraft at Poperinge. If I can just match these two elements, then the search has gone a good step further. Unfortunately no crew names were mentioned in the little text (above) and perhaps the locals had had no real opportunity to see or speak with them, for they were reportedly picked up by (Polish?) troops quite soon.

One thing: if the belly landing was ion 8 Sep 1944 (so giving support to the caption in the book of early Sept 1944), then perhaps the crash took place during its ferry flight from the UK to France? Crew got lost, ran out of fuel, tried to find a suitable landing place and bellied on a flat farm field? All speculations that I hope will be answered someday.

Because the crash landing somehow can't be traced on accident reports other than in the little text about the 8th GTTF, then maybe the crew didn't bother to file one or the record didn't survive in the archives.

So all in all, I'm now after all information about this 8th GTTF B-26/AT-23 accident "in Belgium" that has escaped all known online loss data, and info about AT-23B 41-35837 in particular.

But one thing is sure: something did happen with this still mysterious B-26/AT-23 near Poperinge! For the record, I've attached the pictures again which can be enlarged, enabling us to see part of the serial "1 3 5."

Leendert Holleman

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