The Martin B-26 Marauder is an American twin-engined medium bomber built by the Glenn L. Martin Company in Middle River, Maryland (just east of Baltimore) from 1941 to 1945. First used in the Pacific Theater of World War II in early 1942, it was also used in the Mediterranean Theater and in Western Europe.
After entering service with the United States Army aviation units, the aircraft quickly received the reputation of a "widowmaker" due to the early models' high accident rate during takeoffs and landings. This was due to the fact that the Marauder had to be flown at exact airspeeds, particularly on final runway approach or when one engine was out. The unusually high 150 mph (241 km/h) speed on short final runway approach was intimidating to many pilots who were used to much slower approach speeds, and whenever they slowed down to speeds below what the manual stipulated, the aircraft would often stall and crash.
The B-26 became a safer aircraft once crews were re-trained, and after aerodynamics modifications (an increase of wingspan and wing angle-of-incidence to give better takeoff performance, and a larger vertical stabilizer and rudder). The Marauder ended World War II with the lowest loss rate of any USAAF bomber.
A total of 5,288 were produced between February 1941 and March 1945; 522 of these were flown by the Royal Air Force and the South African Air Force. By the time the United States Air Force was created as an independent military service separate from the United States Army in 1947, all Martin B-26s had been retired from U.S. service. After the Marauder was retired the unrelated Douglas A-26 Invader then assumed the "B-26" designation which led to confusion between the two aircraft.
Design and development[edit | edit source]
In March 1939, the United States Army Air Corps issued Circular Proposal 39-640, a specification for a twin-engined medium bomber with a maximum speed of 350 mph (560 km/h), a range of 3,000 mi (4,800 km) and a bomb load of 2,000 lb (910 kg). On 5 July 1939, the Glenn L. Martin Company submitted its design, produced by a team led by Peyton M. Magruder, to meet the requirement, the Martin Model 179. Martin's design was evaluated as superior to the other proposals and was awarded a contract for 201 aircraft, to be designated B-26. The B-26 went from paper concept to an operational bomber in approximately two years. Additional orders for a further 930 B-26s followed in September 1940, still prior to the first flight of the type.
The B-26 was a shoulder-winged monoplane of all-metal construction, fitted with a tricycle landing gear. It had a streamlined, circular section fuselage housing the crew, consisting of a bombardier in the nose, armed with a .30 in (7.62 mm) machine gun, a pilot and co-pilot sitting side by side, with positions for the radio operator and navigator behind the pilots. A gunner manned a dorsal turret armed with two .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns (the first powered dorsal turret to be fitted to a U.S. bomber), and an additional .30 in (7.62 mm) machine gun was fitted in the tail.[Note 2]
Two bomb bays were fitted mid-fuselage, capable of carrying 5,800 lb (2,600 kg) of bombs, although in practice such a bomb load reduced range too much, and the aft bomb bay was usually fitted with additional fuel tanks instead of bombs. The aircraft was powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial engines in nacelles slung under the wing, driving four-bladed propellers. The engines were manufactured at the Ford Dearborn Engine plant in Dearborn, Michigan, USA. The wings were of low aspect ratio and relatively small in area for an aircraft of its weight, giving the required high performance, but also resulting in a wing loading of 53 lb/sq ft (260 kg/m2) for the initial versions, which at the time was the highest of any aircraft accepted for service by the Army Air Corps, until the introduction of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, with the then-astonishing wing loading of 69.12 lb/sq ft (337.5 kg/m2) (although both would be considered lightly loaded by the standard of combat aircraft of the next decade).
The first B-26, with Martin test pilot William K. "Ken" Ebel at the controls, flew on 25 November 1940 and was effectively the prototype. Deliveries to the U.S. Army Air Corps began in February 1941 with the second aircraft, 40-1362. In March 1941, the Army Air Corps started Accelerated Service Testing of the B-26 at Patterson Field, near Dayton, Ohio.
Accidents[edit | edit source]
The B-26's relatively small wing area and resulting high wing loading required a high landing speed of 120 to 135 mph (193 to 217 km/h) indicated airspeed depending on load. At least two of the earliest B-26s suffered hard landings and damage to the main landing gear, engine mounts, propellers and fuselage. The type was grounded briefly in April 1941 to investigate the landing difficulties. Two causes were found: insufficient landing speed (producing a stall) and improper weight distribution. The latter was due to the lack of a dorsal turret; the Martin power turret was not yet ready.
Some of the very earliest B-26s suffered collapses of the nose landing gear. It is said that they were caused by improper weight distribution, but that is not likely to have been the only reason. The incidents occurred during low-speed taxiing, takeoffs and landings, and occasionally the strut unlocked. Later the Martin electric dorsal turret was retrofitted to some of the first B-26s. Martin also began testing a taller vertical stabilizer and revised tail gunner's position in 1941.
The Pratt & Whitney R-2800-5 engines were reliable, but the Curtiss electric pitch change mechanism in the propellers required impeccable maintenance, not always attainable in the field. Human error and some failures of the mechanism occasionally placed the propeller blades in flat pitch resulting in an overspeeding propeller, sometimes known as a "runaway prop". Due to its sound and the possibility that the propeller blades could disintegrate, this situation was particularly frightening for aircrews. More challenging was a loss of power in one engine during takeoff. These and other malfunctions, as well as human error, claimed a number of aircraft and the commanding officer of the 22nd Bombardment Group, Colonel Mark Lewis.
The Martin B-26 suffered only two fatal accidents during its first year of flight, from November 1940 to November 1941: a crash shortly after takeoff near Martin's Middle River plant in Maryland (cause unknown, but engine malfunction strongly suggested) and the loss of a 38th Bombardment Group B-26 when its vertical stabilizer and rudder separated from the aircraft at altitude (cause unknown, but the accident report discussed the possibility that a canopy hatch broke off and struck the vertical stabilizer).
As pilots were trained quickly for the war, relatively inexperienced pilots entered the cockpit and the accident rate increased. This occurred at the same time as more experienced B-26 pilots of the 22nd, 38th and 42nd Bombardment Groups were proving the merits of the bomber.
For a time in 1942, pilots in training believed that the B-26 could not be flown on one engine. This was disproved by several experienced pilots, including Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, who flew demonstration flights at MacDill Army Air Field, which featured take offs and landings with only one engine. Also, seventeen Women Airforce Service Pilots were trained to demonstrate the B-26, in an attempt to "shame" male pilots into the air.
In 1942, aviation pioneer and company founder Glenn L. Martin was called before the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, (or also known as the "Truman Committee"), which was investigating defense contracting abuses. Senator Harry S Truman of Missouri, the committee chairman (and future Vice President and 33rd President of the United States in 1945-1952), asked Martin why the B-26 had problems. Martin responded that the wings were too short. Senator Truman curtly asked why the wings had not been changed. When Martin replied that the plans were too close to completion, and his company already had the contract, Truman's testy response was quick and to the point: In that case, the contract would be canceled. Martin corrected the wings. (By February 1943, the newest model aircraft, the B-26B-10, had an additional 6 feet (1.8 m) of wingspan, plus uprated engines, more armor and larger guns.)
Indeed, the regularity of crashes by pilots training at MacDill Field — up to 15 in one 30-day period — led to the exaggerated catchphrase, "One a day in Tampa Bay." Apart from accidents occurring over land, 13 Marauders ditched in Tampa Bay in the 14 months between 5 August 1942 and 8 October 1943.
B-26 crews gave the aircraft the nickname "Widowmaker". Other colorful nicknames included "Martin Murderer", "Flying Coffin", "B-Dash-Crash", "Flying Prostitute" (so-named because it was so fast and had "no visible means of support," referring to its small wings) and "Baltimore Whore" (a reference to the city where Martin was based).
According to an article in the April 2009 edition of AOPA Pilot on Kermit Weeks' "Fantasy of Flight", the Marauder had a tendency to "hunt" in yaw. This instability is similar to "Dutch roll". This would make for a very uncomfortable ride, especially for the tail gunner.
The B-26 is stated by the 9th Air Force to have had the lowest combat loss rate of any US aircraft used during the war. Nevertheless, it remained a challenging aircraft to fly and continued to be unpopular with some pilots throughout its military career. In 1944, in answer to many pilots complaining to the press and their relatives back home, the USAAF and Martin took the unusual step during war, of commissioning large articles to be placed in various popular publications, "educating" and defending the so-called flying/accident record of the B-26 against "slanders". One of the largest of these articles was in the May 1944 issue of Popular Mechanics.
Operational history[edit | edit source]
The B-26 Marauder was used mostly in Europe, but also saw action in the Mediterranean and the Pacific. In early combat, the aircraft took heavy losses, but was still one of the most successful medium-range bombers used by the US Army Air Forces. The B-26 was initially deployed on combat missions in the South West Pacific in early 1942, but most of the B-26s subsequently assigned to operational theaters were sent to England and the Mediterranean area.
By the end of World War II, it had flown more than 110,000 sorties, dropped 150,000 tons (136,078 tonnes) of bombs and had been used in combat by British, Free French and South African forces in addition to US units. In 1945, when B-26 production was halted, 5,266 had been built.
Pacific Theatre[edit | edit source]
The B-26 began to equip the 22nd Bombardment Group at Langley Field, Virginia, in February 1941, replacing the Douglas B-18 Bolo, with a further two groups, the 38th and 28th, beginning to equip with the B-26 by December 1941. Immediately following the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor, the 22nd BG was deployed to the South West Pacific, first by ship to Hawaii, then its air echelon flew the planes to Australia. The 22nd BG flew its first combat mission, an attack on Rabaul which required an intermediate stop at Port Moresby, New Guinea, on 5 April 1942.
A second group, the 38th, began receiving B-26s in November 1941 and began transitioning into them at Patterson Field, Ohio. There, the 38th continued the testing of the B-26, including its range and fuel efficiency. Immediately after the entry of the United States into World War II, plans were tentatively developed to send the 38th BG to the South West Pacific and to equip it with B-26Bs fitted with more auxiliary fuel tanks and provisions for carrying aerial torpedoes. Three 38th BG B-26Bs were detached to Midway Island in the buildup to that battle, and two of them, along with two B-26s detached from the 22nd BG, carried out torpedo attacks against the Japanese Fleet on 4 June 1942. Two were shot down and the other two were so badly damaged that they were written off after the mission. Their torpedoes failed to hit any Japanese ships, although they did shoot down one Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter and killed two seamen aboard the aircraft carrier Akagi with machine-gun fire. Notably, one of them, Susie Q, after dropping its single torpedo and searching for a safer escape route, flew directly down the length of the Akagi while being chased by interceptors and anti-aircraft fire, which had to hold their fire to avoid hitting their own flagship. Another, after being seriously damaged by anti-aircraft fire, made no attempt to pull out of its run, and instead headed directly for Akagi's bridge. The aircraft, either attempting a suicide ramming, or out of control due to battle damage or a wounded or killed pilot, narrowly missed crashing into the carrier's bridge, before it cartwheeled into the sea.
From approximately June 1942, B-26 squadrons of the 38th BG were based in New Caledonia and Fiji. From New Caledonia, missions were flown against Japanese bases in the Solomon Islands. On one occasion, a B-26 was credited with shooting down a Kawanishi H6K flying boat. In 1943, it was decided that the B-26 would be phased out of operations in the South West Pacific Theatre in favor of the North American B-25 Mitchell. Nevertheless, the 19th Bombardment Squadron of the 22nd BG continued to fly missions in the B-26. The B-26 flew its last combat mission in the theatre on 9 January 1944.
Two more squadrons of torpedo armed B-26s equipped the 28th Composite Group and were used for anti-shipping operations in the Aleutian Islands Campaign, but there are no records of any successful torpedo attack by a USAAF B-26.
Comedian George Gobel famously joked about being a trainer for this aircraft at Frederick Army Airfield (now Frederick Regional Airport) during the Pacific battles, boasting that "not one Japanese aircraft got past Tulsa".
Mediterranean Theatre[edit | edit source]
Three Bombardment Groups were allocated to support the Allied invasion of French North Africa in November 1942. They were initially used to carry out low-level attacks against heavily defended targets, incurring heavy losses with poor results, before switching to medium level attacks. By the end of the North African Campaign, the three B-26 groups had flown 1,587 sorties, losing 80 aircraft. This was double the loss rate of the B-25, which also flew 70% more sorties with fewer aircraft. Despite this, the B-26 continued in service with the Twelfth Air Force, supporting the Allied advance through Sicily, Italy and southern France. Air Marshal Sir John Slessor, Deputy Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean Allied Air Forces, wrote of "the astonishing accuracy of the experienced medium bomber groups – particularly the Marauders; I think that the 42nd Bombardment Group in Sardinia is probably the best day-bomber unit in the world." Slessor in fact meant the 42nd Bomb Wing—17th, 319th and 320th Bomb Groups—but a US 'wing' equated roughly to a British 'group', and vice versa.
Northwest Europe[edit | edit source]
The B-26 entered service with the Eighth Air Force in England in early 1943, with the 322nd Bombardment Group flying its first missions in May 1943. Operations were similar to those flown in North Africa with B-26s flying at low level and were unsuccessful. The second mission, an unescorted attack on a power station at IJmuiden, Netherlands, resulted in the loss of the entire attacking force of 11 B-26s to anti-aircraft fire and Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters. Following this disaster, the UK-based B-26 force was switched to medium altitude operations, and transferred to the Ninth Air Force, set up to support the planned invasion of France.
Bombing from medium altitudes of 10,000 to 15,000 feet (3,000 to 4,600 m) and with appropriate fighter escort, the Marauder proved far more successful, striking against a variety of targets, including bridges and V-1 launching sites in the buildup to D-Day, and moving to bases in France as they became available. The Marauder, operating from medium altitude, proved to be a highly accurate aircraft, with the 9th Air Force rating it the most accurate bomber available in the final month of the war in Europe. Loss rates were far lower than in the early, low-level days, with the B-26 stated by the 9th Air Force as having the lowest loss rate in the European Theatre of Operations at less than 0.5%.
The B-26 flew its last combat missions against the German garrison at the Île d'Oléron on 1 May 1945, with the last units disbanding in early 1946.
British Commonwealth[edit | edit source]
In 1942, a batch of 52 B-26A Marauders (designated Marauder I by the RAF) were offered to the United Kingdom under Lend-Lease. Like the earlier Martin Maryland and Baltimore, these aircraft were sent to the Mediterranean, replacing the Bristol Blenheims of No. 14 Squadron in Egypt. The Squadron flew its first operational mission on 6 November 1942, being used for long range reconnaissance, mine-laying and anti-shipping strikes. Unlike the USAAF, 14 Squadron made productive use of the equipment for carrying torpedoes, sinking several merchant ships with this weapon. The Marauder also proved useful in disrupting enemy air transport, shooting down considerable numbers of German and Italian transport aircraft flying between Italy and North Africa.
In 1943, deliveries of 100 long-wingspan B-26C-30s (Marauder II) allowed two squadrons of the South African Air Force, 12 and 24 Squadron to be equipped, these being used for bombing missions over the Aegean Sea, Crete and Italy. A further 350 B-26Fs and Gs were supplied in 1944, with two more South African squadrons (21 and 30) joining No 12 and 24 in Italy to form an all-Marauder equipped wing, while one further SAAF squadron (25) and a new RAF squadron (39 Squadron), re-equipped with Marauders as part of the Balkan Air Force supporting Tito's Partisans in Yugoslavia. A Marauder of 25 Squadron SAAF, shot down on the unit's last mission of World War II on 4 May 1945, was the last Marauder lost in combat by any user. The British and South African aircraft were quickly scrapped following the end of the war, the United States not wanting the return of the Lend-Lease aircraft.
France[edit | edit source]
Following Operation Torch, (the Allied invasion of North Africa), the Free French Air Force re-equipped three squadrons with Marauders for medium-bombing operations in Italy and the Allied invasion of southern France. These B-26s replaced Lioré et Olivier LeO 451s and Douglas DB-7s. Toward the end of the war, seven of the nine French Groupes de Bombardement used the Marauder, taking part in 270 missions with 4,884 aircraft sorties in combat. Free French B-26 groups were disbanded in June 1945. Replaced in squadron service by 1947, two lingered on as testbeds for the Snecma Atar jet engine, one of these remaining in use until 1958.