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World War II: Martin B-26 Marauder

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World War II: Martin B-26 Marauder

B-26 Marauder

Photograph Courtesy of the US Air Force

B-26G Marauder Specifications:

General

  • Length: 58 ft. 3 in.
  • Wingspan: 71 ft.
  • Height: 21 ft. 6 in.
  • Wing Area: 658 sq. ft.
  • Empty Weight: 24,000 lbs.
  • Loaded Weight: 37,000 lbs.
  • Crew: 7

Performance

  • Power Plant: 2 × Pratt & Whitney R-2800-43 radial engines, 1,900 hp each
  • Combat Radius: 1,150 miles
  • Max Speed: 287 mph
  • Ceiling: 21,000 ft.

Armament

  • Guns: 12 × .50 in. Browning machine guns
  • Bombs: 4,000 lbs.

B-26 Marauder - Design & Development:

In March 1939, the US Army Air Corps began seeking a new medium bomber. Issuing Circular Proposal 39-640, it required the new aircraft to have a payload of 2,000 lbs, while possessing 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, the Model 179 was a shoulder-winged monoplane possessing a circular fuselage and tricycle landing gear. The aircraft was powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial engines which were slung under the wings.

In an effort to achieve the desired performance, the aircraft's wings were relatively small with a low aspect ratio. This resulted in a high wing loading of 53 lbs./sq. ft. in early variants. Capable of carrying 5,800 lbs. of bombs the Model 179 possessed two bomb bays in its fuselage. For defense, it was armed with twin .50 cal. machine guns mounted in a powered dorsal turret as well as single .30 cal. machine guns in the nose and tail. While initial designs for the Model 179 utilized a twin tail configuration, this was replaced with a single fin and rudder to improve visibility for the tail gunner.

Presented to the USAAC on June 5, 1939, the Model 179 scored highest of all of the designs submitted. As a result, Martin was issued a contract for 201 aircraft under the designation B-26 Marauder on August 10. Since the aircraft was effectively ordered off the drawing board, there was no prototype. Following the implementation of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 50,000 aircraft initiative in 1940, the order was increased by 990 aircraft despite the fact that the B-26 had yet to fly. On November 25, the first B-26 flew with Martin test pilot William K. "Ken" Ebel at the controls.

Accident Issues:

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.

Due to the losses, the B-26 quickly earned the nicknames "Widowmaker", "Martin Murderer", and "B-Dash-Crash", and many flight crews actively worked to avoid being assigned to Marauder-equipped units. With B-26 accidents mounting, the aircraft was investigated by Senator Harry Truman's Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program. Throughout the war, Martin worked to make the aircraft easier to fly, but the landing and stall speeds remained high and the aircraft required a higher standard of training than the B-25 Mitchell.

Variants:

Through the course of the war, Martin continually worked to improve and modify the aircraft. These improvements included efforts to make the B-26 safer, as well as to improve its combat effectiveness. During the course of its production run, 5,288 B-26s were built. The most numerous were the B-26B-10 and B-26C. Essentially the same aircraft, these variants saw the aircraft's armament increased to 12 .50 cal. machine guns, a larger wingspan, improved armor, and modifications to improve handling. The bulk of the added machine guns were forward facing to allow the aircraft to conduct strafing attacks.

Operational History:

Despite its poor reputation with many pilots, experienced air crews found the B-26 to be a highly effective aircraft that offered a superb degree of crew survivability. The B-26 first saw combat in 1942 when the 22nd Bombardment Group was deployed to Australia. They were followed by elements 38th Bombardment Group. Four aircraft from the 38th conducted torpedo attacks against the Japanese fleet during the early stages of the Battle of Midway. The B-26 continued to fly in the Pacific through 1943, until it was withdrawn in favor of standardizing to the B-25 in that theater in early 1944.

It was over Europe that the B-26 made its mark. First seeing service in support of Operation Torch, B-26 units took heavy losses before switching from low-level to medium-altitude attacks. Flying with the Twelfth Air Force, the B-26 proved an effective weapon during the invasions of Sicily and Italy. To the north, the B-26 first arrived in Britain with the Eighth Air Force in 1943. Shortly thereafter, B-26 units were shifted to the Ninth Air Force. Flying medium-altitude raids with proper escort, the aircraft was a highly accurate bomber.

Attacking with precision, the B-26 struck a multitude of targets prior to and in support of the invasion of Normandy. As bases in France became available, B-26 units crossed the Channel and continued to strike at the Germans. The B-26 flew its last combat mission on May 1, 1945. Having overcome its early issues, the Ninth Air Force's B-26s posted the lowest loss rate in the European Theater of Operations at around 0.5%. Briefly retained after the war, the B-26 was retired from American service by 1947.

During the course of the conflict, the B-26 was used by several Allied nations including Great Britain, South Africa, and France. Dubbed the Marauder Mk I in British service, the aircraft saw extensive use in the Mediterranean where it proved an adept torpedo bomber. Other missions included mine-laying, long range reconnaissance, and anti-shipping strikes. Provided under Lend-Lease, these aircraft were scrapped after the war. In the wake of Operation Torch in 1942, several Free French squadrons were equipped with the aircraft and supported Allied forces in Italy and during the invasion of southern France. The French retired the aircraft in 1947.

Selected Sources

  • B-26 Marauder Historical Society
  • Lockheed Martin: B-26 Marauder
  • US Air Force: B-26 Marauder

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