B-26: One Designation, Two Aircraft
The U.S. Military gave two aircraft the designation B-26. The United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) designated an aircraft, built by Martin, the B-26 Marauder. The United States Air Force (USAF) designated an aircraft, built by Douglas, the B-26 Invader. The Marauder and the Invader served in World War II and the Invader served in Vietnam, Korea and Vietnam with the USAF. The Invader also served in other conflicts.
Martin B-26 Marauder
Martin won a 1939 USAAC competition for a medium bomber with its drawing board design. The aircraft was designated the B-26 Marauder. The Marauder made its first flight on November 25, 1940.[i] The Marauder was not a novice’s airplane. It soon earned a series of nicknames, such as “Widow Maker”, that spoke to its difficulty to fly safely. A special military board grounded the Marauder in April 1941.[ii] Martin lengthened the Marauder’s wingspan and increased the tail’s height. This gave the Marauder safer handling characteristics. United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) pilots were reluctant to fly Marauders. Some pilots even refused to fly it because of rumors the B-26 couldn’t fly on one engine.[iii] The USAAF had Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) fly B-26s to convince the men it was a safe aircraft. No WASP pilot was killed in a B-26 accident.[iv]
Marauders began combat operations in the Pacific soon after the Pearl Harbor attack. They flew bombing operations against New Guinea.[v] Marauders carried out torpedo attacks against the Japanese fleet during the Battle of Midway. The B-26 attacks were ineffective. One B-26 seemed to dive straight for a Japanese ship. It’s unanswerable whether the B-26 pilot was trying to crash into a Japanese ship or the B-26 was out of control and the proximity was a coincidence. The USAAF replaced the Marauders in the Pacific with B-25 Mitchells.[vi]
The USAAF began Marauder operations in North Africa at the end of 1942. Besides tactical bombing operations Marauders were used as fighters against the German transports, the Me 323 and Ju 52. The Royal Air Force (RAF) began using B-26s in the Middle East early in 1943.[vii]
Marauders flew their first mission with the 8th Air Force on May 14, 1943. The 322 Bomb Group dispatched 12 Marauders against Ijmuiden. The bombers dropped over 20 tons of bombs. One Marauder was written off. a crew member was killed, 7 other crew members were wounded.[viii]
On May 17 the 322 Bomb Group dispatched 11 B-26s. One bomber aborted. The German defenses shot down the others.[ix] Marauders flew missions on July 25-29 without losses.[x] One July 30 the 8th Air Force dispatched 48 Marauders with an escort of 8 Royal Air Force (RAF) Spitfire squadrons. One B-26 crashed on take-off. Leutnant Karl Willius shot down a straggling B-26, killing all six crew members. B-26 defensive fire shot down one FW 190. The USAAF credited the B-26 gunners with 6 kills, 5 probable kills, and one damaged aircraft. There were only 8 Luftwaffe fighters involve in the attack. The Spitfire escort shot down one FW 190 for the loss of one of their own.[xi] Marauders finished out the month with a mission of 84 bombers. One B-26 was lost and 12 received damage. [xii]
Marauders carried out diversionary raids on August 17. Over 100 B-26s were sortied to bomb airfields. One Marauder crew member was wounded and 22 aircraft received damage. Enemy defenses shot down 60 B-17s, 4 more were written off, and 168 B-17s received lesser damage. [xiii]
Marauders flew missions, often against Luftwaffe airfields, and sometimes as diversions for heavy bomber missions. Thanks in large part to their RAF Spitfire escorts there were few losses on these missions. On September 27 enemy fighters heavily damaged and set a B-26 on fire. One crew member bailed out. The pilot, Lieutenant George Snyder managed to keep control of the aircraft and belly landed his Marauder in England.[xiv]
The last 8th Air Force B-26 mission was on October 9. The mission was 72 sorties. There were no casualties or plane losses though 26 planes suffered damage. The Marauders were then transferred to the 9th Air Force. [xv]
In the lead up to the D-Day invasion B-26s became the first USAAF aircraft in Europe to fly night missions. The Marauders carried out attacks against bridges and transports. [xvi] On June 6, 1944 Marauders dropped 1 million pounds of bombs on Utah beach.[xvii] When the allies advanced into France Marauders operated from Continental airstrips. From these airstrips they flew 29,000 sorties dropping 46,300 tons of bombs. The 9th Air Force lost 139 Marauders. [xviii]
In April 1945 B-26s faced a new challenge, air-air rocket armed jet fighters. On April 16 a salvo of R4M rockets fired from an Me 262 flown by Generalleutnant Adolf Galland shot down two Marauders. On the 19th another B-26 fell to a jet fighter. The next day three Marauders fell to jet fighters. Two of these B-26s fell to a salvo of rockets fired by Unteroffizer Johann-Karl Müller. One Me 262 was lost when it’s pilot, Unteroffizer Eduard Schallmoser, crashed into a Marauder. The damaged B-26 apparently made it back to base. Schallmoser bailed out of his jet and landed in his parents’ yard.[xix] Another B-26 fell to a jet fighter on April 24. On April 26 a Franco-American B-26 force suffered a jet attack. The attack claimed 4 Marauders.[xx]
The B-26’s had the lowest loss rate of any aircraft in the 9th Air Force inventory. Marauders flew over 110,000 sorties and dropped 150,000 tons of bombs. They flew for the USAAF, RAF, and the Free French, Australian, Canadian, and South African Air Forces.[xxi]
[i] Vintage Aircraft Recognition Guide, by Tony Holmes, © HarperCollins Publishers, 2005.P.191.
[ii] Aviation History, http://www.aviation-history.com/martin/b26.html, last accessed 6/5/2020.
[iii] Aviation History, http://www.aviation-history.com/martin/b26.html, last accessed 6/5/2020.
[iv] WWII Women Pilots, https://www.wwii-women-pilots.org/the-38.html, last accessed 6/4/2020.
[v] Aviation History, http://www.aviation-history.com/martin/b26.html, last accessed 6/5/2020.
[vi] Aviation History, http://www.aviation-history.com/martin/b26.html, last accessed 6/5/2020.
[vii] Aviation History, http://www.aviation-history.com/martin/b26.html, last accessed 6/5/2020.
[viii] Mighty Eighth War Diaries, by Roger A Freeman, © 1981. P. 58.
[ix] Mighty Eighth War Diaries, by Roger A Freeman, © 1981. P. 60.
[x] Mighty Eighth War Diaries, by Roger A Freeman, © 1981. P. 79-82.
[xi] JG 26: Top Guns of the Luftwaffe, by Donald L. Caldwell, © 1991.
[xii] Mighty Eighth War Diaries, by Roger A Freeman, © 1981. P. 84.
[xiii] Mighty Eighth War Diaries, by Roger A Freeman, © 1981. P. 89-92.
[xiv] Mighty Eighth War Diaries, by Roger A Freeman, © 1981. P. 89-92.
[xv] Mighty Eighth War Diaries, by Roger A Freeman, © 1981. P. 124.
[xvi] Aviation History, http://www.aviation-history.com/martin/b26.html, last accessed 6/5/2020.
[xvii] Air & Space Magazine, https://www.airspacemag.com/military-aviation/low-blow-180954074/, last accessed 6/6/2020.
[xviii] Aviation History, http://www.aviation-history.com/martin/b26.html, last accessed 6/5/2020.
[xix] This was the third American aircraft he crashed into within 3 weeks. The other pilots in his unit, JV 44, gave him the nickname “jet rammer”.
[xx] German Jet Aces of World War 2, by Hugh Morgan and John Weal, © 1998 Osprey Publishing Limited.
[xxi] Aviation History, http://www.aviation-history.com/martin/b26.html, last accessed 6/5/2020.
Douglas B-26 Invader
Douglas planned a successor to the A-20 Havoc. The USAAC ordered XA-26 prototypes in May 1941. There were three different noses for the prototypes. One type had a 75 mm gun in front. Another type had a radar nose with 4 forward firing 20mm guns and a quad-gun turret. The third type had optical sighting equipment and two machine-gun turrets. The first XA-26 made its first flight on May 10, 1942. The plane was designated the A-26 Invader.[i]
The A-26 first entered combat in July 1944 with the 5th Air Force at New Guinea.[ii] Four Invaders were sent to New Guinea for evaluation. The 13th Squadron of the 3rd Bomb Group found the pilot visibility was bad for low level attacks and it had inadequate forward-firing armament. Commander of the Far East Air Forces, General George Kenney was blunt about the A-26; “We do not want the A-26 under any circumstances as a replacement for anything.”[iii] The Invaders returned to the Far East in the summer of 1945. These Invaders had clam shell doors on the canopy to improve visibility and forward firing armament was increased to 14x0.50 caliber (12.7 mm) machineguns. These A-26s only flew a few dozen missions. [iv]
Invaders entered combat in Europe on November 19, 1944.[v] On January 23, 1945 six A-26s were sent on a ground attack mission. The Invaders dropped fragmentation bombs then went on strafing runs. Groundfire shot down 5 of the A-26s. This proved the Invaders were unsuitable for low-level attack missions. The Invaders did perform well on medium level bombing missions. In Italy they destroyed many vehicles on night intruder missions. [vi]
In 1948 the newly created United States Air Force (USAF) dropped the “A – Attack” designation. The USAF retired the B-26 Marauders and designated the Invaders the B-26.
The Invaders were used in Korea. Invaders were among the aircraft used in the first attack on an airfield near the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. This first attack took place 4 days after North Korea invaded South Korea. The USAF credited B-26s with destroying 25 aircraft on the ground and a Yak 3 in the air. [vii] Reconnaissance versions of the B-26, RB-26, flew missions. They were sometimes paired B-26Bs as hunter-killer units. The RB-26 would find the targets and the B-26Bs would kill the targets.[viii] Another hunter-killer tactic was for the hunter to fly in on vehicle convoys. The truck drivers would turn their headlights off. When they turned their lights back on the killer B-26 would make the kills. [ix] Night intruder missions had many more hazards than daylight missions. Korea is a mountainous country, this added to the difficulty. Among the dangers was mid-air collision. On one mission returning B-26s went through the same portal at the same time as outgoing B-26s. An outgoing and a returning B-26 collided. They both returned safely. Neither crew realized they collided until the saw the damage the next morning.[x] On other occasions the colliding aircrews weren’t so lucky. Invaders also flew anti-radar missions. These were the forerunners of the “wild weasel” missions that gained fame during the Vietnam Conflict. On July 27, 1953 B-26s flew the last combat mission of the Korean War. [xi] Invaders flew over 53,000 sorties, 80% of them at night. The USAF credited B-26s with destroying over 39,000 vehicles, 4,000 rail cars, 506 locomotives, 168 bridges, and 7 air-air victories. [xii]
In January 1951 the U.S. loaned 111 B-26s to France for operations in Indo-China.[xiii] These Invaders flew their first combat mission on February 7, 1951.[xiv] After the French defeat France returned 85 Invaders to the United States. [xv] France also used Invaders for counter-insurgency operations in Algeria. The French Air Force modified one B-26 for night-fighter operations. This B-26 wasn’t ready until the conflict was nearly over. The aircraft was credited with 9 air-air victories.[xvi]
In 1958 the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) sent 6 B-26 Invaders to support the rebels in Indonesia in an attempt to overthrow President Sukarno. Anti-aircraft damaged an Invader. P-51 Mustang pilot Captain Ignatius Dewanto shot down the Invader. Indonesian forces captured the Invader pilot, Allen Lawrence Pope. This brought an end to CIA involvement.[xvii] Indonesia became one of the nine countries that were operating Invaders into the mid-1970s.
The U.S. supplied B-26s to the Cuban exiles for the Bay of Pigs invasion. On April 15, 1961 Invaders flew from Nicaragua to strike Cuban airfields. The attack destroyed at least one T-33A on the ground. The Cuban pilots weren’t able to intercept any of the B-26s. The exile B-26s didn’t have any gun turrets to protect their rear. The exile Invaders didn’t return until April 17. T-33 pilot Lieutenant Alberto Fernández shot down an exile B-26, crewed by Matías Farías and Eddie González. Captain Prendes shot down a B-26. The Invader crash landed in Nicaragua. Captain Alvaro Prendes almost shot down a friendly B-26. Lieutenant Rafael Del Pino shot down a B-26 with his T-33A. Captain Prendes shot down his second B-26 after he survived a head-on pass with another Invader. Lieutenant Del Pino severely damaged another B-26. Lieutenant Douglas Rudd finished off that B-26 with his Sea Fury. Two U.S. Navy A-4 Skyhawks were unable to put themselves between Rudd’s Sea Fury and the stricken Invader. On the 19th Captains Carreras and Prendes each shot down a B-26. Cuban government pilots shot down at least 8 B-26s. Groundfire shot down one B-26 and severely damaged another. Five Cuban government Invaders flew Bay of Pigs missions. Captain Luis Silva Flew, flying a B-26 for the Cuban government, made a successful anti-shipping mission. Groundfire shot him down on his second mission. Captain Silva and his crew died in the crash.[xviii]
B-26 Invaders flew USAF missions in Vietnam, initially with South Vietnamese markings. The B-26 had metal fatigue problems, which caused at least 2 crashes. [xix] The first B-26 combat loss in the Vietnam war was an Invader of detachment 2A, 1st ACG, serial number 44-35530. It was shot down on the night of 4/5 November 1962. All 3 crew members died. The last invader loss was on the night of 7/8 July 1969 over Laos. Both crew members died.
The USAF brought back the “A’ designation. In 1966 the Invader’s designation changed back to A-26.[xx] The US military retired the A-26 in 1972. The last military to operate the A-26 was the Columbian Air Force, which retired the A-26 in 1980.
[i] Vintage Aircraft Recognition Guide by Tony Holmes, © HarperCollins Publishers, 2005, P.154.
[ii] Aviation History, http://www.aviation-history.com/douglas/a26.html, last accessed 6/6/2020.
[iii] Aviation History, http://www.aviation-history.com/douglas/a26.html, last accessed 6/6/2020.
[iv] Aviation History, http://www.aviation-history.com/douglas/a26.html, last accessed 6/6/2020.
[v] Vintage Aircraft Recognition Guide by Tony Holmes, © HarperCollins Publishers, 2005, P.154.
[vi] Aviation History, http://www.aviation-history.com/douglas/a26.html, last accessed 6/6/2020.
[vii] Aviation History, http://www.aviation-history.com/douglas/a26.html, last accessed 6/6/2020.
[viii] Air War Over Korea by Larry Davis © 1982 Squadron/Signal Publications.
[ix] Air War Over Korea by Larry Davis © 1982 Squadron/Signal Publications.
[x] Air War Over Korea by Larry Davis © 1982 Squadron/Signal Publications.
[xi] Aviation History, http://www.aviation-history.com/douglas/a26.html, last accessed 6/6/2020.
[xii] Air War Over Korea by Larry Davis © 1982 Squadron/Signal Publications.
[xiii] Aviation History, http://www.aviation-history.com/douglas/a26.html, last accessed 6/9/2020.
[xiv] The New York Times, B-26’s Used in Indo-China, February 8, 1951.
[xv] Aviation History, http://www.aviation-history.com/douglas/a26.html, last accessed 6/9/2020.
[xvi] The Drive, France Turned the B-26 Invader Into a Colonial Night-Fighter, https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/9767/france-turned-the-b-26-invader-into-a-colonial-night-fighter, last accessed 6/9/2020.
[xvii] Nusantara History World Press, https://nusantarahistory.wordpress.com/tag/ignatius-dewanto/, last accessed 6/11/2020.
[xviii] LAAHS.COM, https://www.laahs.com/bay-of-pigs/, Bay of Pigs – The Men And Aircraft Of The Cuban Revolutionary Air Force by Doug MacPhail, last accessed 6/9/2020.
[xix] Military Aircraft Factory, The Douglas A-26 Invader ultimately proved a success in World War 2, the Koran War, and the early stages of the Vietnam Conflict, by Dan Alex, 10/19/2018, https://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/detail.asp?aircraft_id=91, last accessed 6/9/2020.
[xx] Military Factory, https://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/detail.asp?aircraft_id=91, last accessed 6/10/2020.
Marauder - Invader Comparison
320 mph (500 kmh)
1,400 Miles (2,253 km)
1,150 Miles (1,850 km)
Bomb Load Max
6,000 lb (2,325 kg)
5,200 lb (2,539 kg)
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