“One a Day in Tampa Bay”
Martin B-26 Marauder
In March 1939, the United States Army Air Corps, in anticipation of looming war began seeking a new medium bomber. The USAAC issued a circular of proposal requiring a new aircraft to have a payload of 2,000 lbs. and with the ability of reaching a top speed of 350 mph and a range of 2,000 miles. Among those to respond was the Glenn L. Martin Company which submitted its Model 179 for consideration, Created by a design team led by Peyton Magruder: Model 179 a shoulder-winged monoplane possessing a circular fuselage and tricycle landing gear. This aircraft was powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial engines which were slung under the wings with a crew of 7.
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 quickly earned the nicknames “Widowmaker”, “Martin Murderer”, and “B-Dash-Crash”, The B-26 was called the “Flying Prostitute” because it had no visible means of support. Its small wings had an unprecedented loading of 51 lbs per square foot. Due to the B-26’s small wings and high loading, the aircraft had a relatively high landing speed of between 120 and 135 mph as well as a stall speed of around 120 mph. These characteristics made it challenging aircraft to fly for inexperienced pilots. Though there were only two fatal accidents in the aircraft’s first year of use (1941), these increased dramatically as the US Army Air Forces expanded rapidly after the United States’ entry into World War II. As novice flight crews struggled to learn the aircraft, losses continued with 15 aircraft crashing at McDill Field in one 30-day period.
First used in the Pacific Theater in early 1942, it was later used in the Mediterranean Theater in Western Europe as well.
The B-26 began to equip the 22d Bombardment Group at Langley Field, Virginia in February 1941, replacing the B-18 Bolo, with the B-26 by December. Immediately following the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor, the 22d was deployed to the South West Pacific, being sent by ship to Hawaii and then flown to Australia. The 22d flew its first combat mission, an attack on Rabaul which required an intermediate stop at Port Moresby, New Guinea, on 5 April 1942.
The B-26 became a safer aircraft once crews were re-trained and after aerodynamics modifications (increase of wing span and incidence, to give better take off performance, and a larger fin and rudder). After aerodynamic and design changes, the aircraft distinguished itself as “the chief bombardment weapon on the Western Front” according to a United States Army Air Forces dispatch from 1946. The Marauder ended World War II with the lowest loss rate of any USAAF bomber.
Over 5,000 were in 1941 to Early 1945 By the time the United States Air Force was created as an independent service separate from the Army in 1947, all Martin B-26s had been retired from US service. The Douglas A-26 Invader then assumed the B-26 designation.
The B-26 Marauder was used mostly in Europe but also saw action in the Mediterranean after making its mark in the Pacific. By the end of World War II, it had flown more than 110,000 sorties and had dropped 150,000 tons of bombs, and had been used in combat by British, Free French and South African forces in addition to U.S. units. In 1945, when B-26 production was halted, 5,266 had been built.
Three Bombardment Groups were allocated to support the Allied invasion of French North Africa in November 1942. They were used to carry out low-level attacks against heavily defended targets, receiving heavy losses before switching to medium level attacks. By the end of the North Africa campaign, the three B-26 groups had flown over 1,500 sorties, losing approximately 80 aircraft. This was double the loss rate of the B-25s, which also flew 70% more sorties with fewer aircraft. Despite this, the B-26s continued in service with the 12th Air Force, supporting the Allied advance through Sicily, Italy and Southern France. The 42nd Bombardment Group of Marauders are still considered to be the “best day-bomber unit in the world.”
In 1942, a number of B-26A Marauders were offered to the UK under the Lend-Lease act. Just like the earlier Martin Maryland and Baltimore bombers, these were sent to the Mediterranean, replacing the Bristol Blenheims of No. 14 Squadron in Egypt. No. 14 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 option 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, B-26C-30s, allowed two squadrons of the South African Air Force, being used for bombing missions over the Aegean, Crete and Italy. A further 350 B-26F and Gs were supplied in 1944, with two more South African Squadrons in Italy to form an all-Marauder equipped wing, while one further SAAF squadron and a new RAF Squadron re-equipped with Marauders as part of the Balkan Air Force supporting Tito’s Partisans in Yugoslavia. A Marauder Squadron SAAF, lost on the unit’s last mission of the Second World War on 4 May 1945, was the last Marauder to be 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.
Following Operation Torch, the Free French Air Force re-equipped three bomber 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.
It has often been asked and wondered if the B-26 might have been somehow the embryonic stimulus for the Falcon jet perhaps? Take a picture of the two side by side and compare the two. What do you think?
JRHafer, Aviation writer