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Lives of a Liberator

The Consolidated B-24 Liberator

by Randy Wilson

Copyright 1994 by the Confederate Air Force and Randy Wilson. All rights reserved.

Originally published in The Dispatch magazine, Volume 19, Number 4, Winter, 1994 edition. If you are interested in subscribing to The Dispatch please write to The Commemorative Air Force, ATTN: Dispatch Editor, PO Box 62000, Midland, TX 79711-2000 or call (432) 563-1000. Reproduced with permission.

Designed as a bomber with a longer range and heavier bomb load than the Boeing B-17, the Consolidated B-24 Liberator was one of the principal U.S. heavy bombers of the Second World War.

The prototype XB-24 made its first flight on December 29, 1939, and with the war in Europe a reality, orders were received by Consolidated from the French and British as well as the U.S. Army Air Force. These foreign models had the company designation LB-30, the next number in Consolidated's "Land Bomber" series. Early use of LB-30As by the Royal Air Force resulted in the designation often being explained as Liberator built for the British.

Due to their long range and capacious fuselage, some LB-30s and other early B-24s were converted to high-priority transports and used to ferry pilots and other important passengers and cargo across the Atlantic between the U.S. and Britain.

On January22, 1942, the first mass produced combat model, the B-24D, began deliveries to the USAAF. More than 2,870 were built by five factories in California, Michigan, Oklahoma and Texas. Most B-24Ds had three powered turrets, but still used hand held guns in the nose. Maximum bomb load was 8,000 pounds but 5,000 pounds was a more common load, allowing a range of about 2,300 miles. One hundred seventy-nine B-24Ds equipped the Ninth Air Force groups which attacked Ploesti, Rumania on August 1, 1943.

To meet the need for a four-engine heavy transport, 291 Liberator Express versions were produced as C-87s, with all guns removed and a cargo floor in place of the bomb bay. The C-109 was a flying tanker version, which played an important part in supplying aviation fuel to B-29 bases in the Pacific, later in the war.

The B-24J was the version of the Liberator built in the greatest numbers, with about 6,678 delivered. It differed little from the previous G and H models, with two .50 caliber guns in a powered nose turret. By September 1944, the USAAF had over 6,000 B-24s operational, mostly in the Mediterranean and Pacific theaters.

The final versions of the Liberator to see service, even after the war, were PB4Ys for the U.S. Navy. To increase the Navy Liberators' stability at low altitudes, where most long range patrols were flown, the PB4Y-2 replaced the twin vertical fins and rudders of the B-24 with a much larger, single vertical fin. Non-turbocharged engines were also fitted, due to the low altitudes. PB4Y-2s continued in service into the early 1960s with the USN and other countries' navies.

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