One a Day in Tampa Bay!
Martin's B-26 Marauder
by Randy Wilson
Copyright © 1995 by the Confederate Air Force and Randy Wilson. All rights reserved.
In early 1939, the Glenn L. Martin Company became the largest aircraft factory in the U.S. with a work force which jumped from 3,000 to 13,000. Three shifts worked in expanded buildings to fill an order for 215 Martin model 167s, better known as Baltimores, for France after the design lost the competition for a U.S. attack bomber.
When the Air Corps issued a new specification for a very fast medium bomber in January 1939, Martin designed the model 179, which incorporated as many advanced features as possible. These included a highly streamlined fuselage, shoulder-mounted wings, tricycle landing gear and two new Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engines driving four-bladed propellers. The cigar-like fuselage housed a bomb bay as large as a B-17's, and over 5,000 pounds of bombs could be carried.
The Army specification aimed at a top speed of 350 mph but omitted any limits on takeoff or landing speeds. In response to the demand for high speed, the model 179's wings were unusually small, with a span of only 65 feet, and a very high wing loading of 51 pounds per square foot, as designed.
With war in Europe imminent, the Air Corps ordered Martin, Douglas, North American and other manufacturers to skip the usual prototypes and provide examples of their designs for evaluation. In August 1939, the Martin design, now designated B-26, won over North American's model NA-62 and Douglas' B-23. The Army wanted 385 planes delivered within 24 months, however Martin felt it could only build 201 B-26s within that time. Thus the Air Corps ordered the remaining 184 planes from the runner-up, North American, as B-25s.
The Second World War began the next month, and production of the first B-26s was delayed to incorporate lessons learned in combat, including improved powered turrets. The first B-26 was test flown in November 1940, and the British immediately placed an order for 459, giving them the name Marauder. The British name stuck.
After initial deliveries to the 22nd Bomb Group in February 1941, operational testing suffered from problems with nosewheel struts, fuel systems and the new four-bladed Curtiss electric propellers. The problems were slowly solved, and the initial order for 201 Marauders was completed by the end of 1941.
Marauders first saw combat in the Pacific, during dark days following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Forty-four planes of the 22nd Bombardment Group arriving in Australia in February 1942. The B-26s attacked enemy airfields and shipping, at low altitudes and without fighter escort. Marauders also fought in the Aleutians and at Midway, and were the only Army bombers ever to launch torpedoes against enemy ships.
As production of an improved B-26B began in April 1942, two unrelated events seemed to threaten the Marauder's future. The first was the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo by 16 North American B-25 Mitchells, launched from the deck of the USS Hornet. North American used this notoriety to seek more contracts for its B-25. The second happening was a furor over the Marauder's high accident rate in training, especially at McDill Field in Tampa, Florida. To the cadets assigned to fly the B-26, the Marauder was becoming known as the "Flying Prostitute" and "Widow Maker." A Senate investigating committee arrived in Tampa to be greeted by the sight of two crashed B-26s still burning. "One a day in Tampa Bay" was a horrifying possibility.
However, the Army quickly determined that the Marauder's accident rate was due to inadequate multi-engine training of cadets, aggravated by the B-26's very high wing loading and high takeoff and landing speeds. The plane could not be flown by the "seat of the pants" but required careful attention to minimum airspeeds, especially with one engine out. The Cessna AT-9 and other twin-engine advanced trainers were part of the answer, and Martin designed a number of modifications to improve the Marauder's slow speed performance.
Beginning with late model B-26Bs, the wing span was increased to 71 feet, the tail surfaces enlarged, the nosewheel strut lengthened (to increase the angle of attack on takeoff) and slotted flaps added. These changes continued in the B-26C. Even with the longer wings, the addition of more combat equipment resulted in a still high wing loading of 58 pounds per square foot. However, with the changes and better training, the Marauder's accident rate dropped sharply, and by the end of the war, it was lower than the Douglas A-20's.
In November 1942, Marauders participated in the invasion of North Africa, where they were used in low-level attacks and suffered heavy losses from ground fire. After North Africa, Marauder units arrived in Britain, flying their first combat mission on May 17, 1943. The low-level attack on a power station in Holland was a disaster, and all 10 B-26s were lost to German flak and fighters.
With the future of the Marauder in doubt, a change in tactics was tried, with B-26s flying at medium altitudes (8,000 to 14,000 feet) with fighter escort. Norden bombsights replaced low-level D-8 sights, and bombing accuracy improved. Fortunately, the new tactics worked, and in 6,700 Marauder sorties between July and December 1943, the loss rate was only 0.3 per cent, better than any other aircraft type.
In November 1943, the B-26 groups were transferred to the Ninth Air Force, to begin tactical air support for the upcoming invasion of Europe. Before, during and after the invasion, the Marauder would fully justify its design and prove its worth, flying 29,000 sorties both day and night and dropping over 46,000 tons of bombs for the loss of only 139 aircraft. The final Marauder versions, B-26Fs and Gs, began arriving as replacements in late 1944 and early 1945.
The Marauder ended World War II with what is claimed to be the lowest combat loss rate of any U.S. medium bomber. Despite this, it was declared obsolete at war's end, and most were quickly scrapped, the last being dropped from the Air Force lists in 1948. It's designation B-26 was even given to the Douglas A-26 when the attack designation was dropped in 1947. But to "Marauder Men", there will always be only one true B-26.
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