On February 22, 1941, the first four Martin B-26s were accepted by the USAAF. First to use the B-26 was the 22nd Bombardment Group (Medium) based at Langley Field, Virginia. The new B-26s replaced the Douglas B-18s that were formerly operated by this unit. The fact that the B-26 weighed two and one half times as much as the B-18 and had a landing speed that was 50 percent higher caused lots of problems for the 22nd BG. A series of failures of the front wheel strut resulted in a delay in bringing the B-26 to full operational status. Although the forward landing gear strut was strengthened in an attempt to correct this problem, the true cause was ultimately traced to an improper weight distribution. The manufacturer had been forced to deliver the first few B-26s to the Army without guns, and had trimmed these planes for delivery flights by carefully loading service tools and spare parts as ballast. When the Army took the planes over, they removed the ballast without replacement and the resultant forward movement of the center of gravity had multiplied the loads on the nosewheel, causing the accidents. The installation of the guns corrected the problem.
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the 22nd Bombardment Group was transferred to California to fly coastal patrols in case the Japanese fleet attempted to raid the American mainland. In February of 1942, the 22nd BG was ordered to Australia. The 22nd Bombardment Group's Marauders were disassembled and loaded aboard ships and left San Francisco on February 6, 1942 bound for Hawaii. The B-26s were unloaded and reassembled at Hickam Field and then flew sea patrol duty until they were fitted with bomb bay ferry tanks and flown to Brisbane where they were based at Amberley Field under the command of Lt. Gen. George H. Brett. By March 22, the first flight of B-26s had arrived in Australia.
Subsequently, the 22nd BG moved northward to bases at Townsville. The B-26 first entered combat on April 5, 1942, when the 22nd Group took off from from Townsville, refuelled at Port Moresby, and then attacked Japanese facilities at Rabaul. Each B-26 had a 250-gallon bomb bay and carried a 2000- pound bombload.
On these missions, the B-26s took off from the mainland loaded with bombs, landed at Port Moresby to be refueled, then taking off again for targets in New Guinea. Targets were attacked with small formations of from two to six aircraft. The aircraft generally carried four 500-pound or twenty 100-pound bombs, which they dropped from medium altitudes of 10,000 to 15,000 feet. Generally, no fighter escort was available and the Marauders were on their own if they encountered enemy fighters. There were two groups equipped with B-26s in this theatre, the 22nd and 38th, with two squadrons of the 38th Bombardment Group (69th and 70th) equipped with B-26s.
In this series of attacks on Japanese-held facilities in the East Indies, the B-26s gained a reputation for speed and ruggedness against strong opposition from Japanese Zero fighters. Attacks on Rabaul ended on May 24, after 80 sorties had flown.
A series of unescorted raids were made on Japanese installations in the Lae area. These raids were vigorously opposed by Zero fighters. In the 84 sorties flown against Lae between April 24 and July 4, 1942, three Marauders were lost.
Elements of the 22nd Group which had been left behind in the US were used to activate the 21st Bombardment Group at Jackson Army Air Base in Mississippi. The 21st would eventually be moved to MacDill Field, Florida to serve as a B-26 OTU.
The Marauder could carry an 18-inch 2000-pound torpedo slung on an external rack underneath the fuselage. On the ground, the torpedo only cleared the ground by about four inches when taxiing. In June, the B-26A made its debut as a torpedo bomber, being used against Japanese warships during the Battle of Midway. Four Marauders were equipped with external torpedo racks underneath the keel and took off on June 4, 1942 in an attempt to attack Japanese carriers. The torpedo runs began at 800 feet altitude, the B-26s then dropping down to only ten feet above the water under heavy attack from Japanese fighters. Two of the Marauders were lost in this action, and the other two were heavily damaged. No hits were made on the Japanese carriers. The B-26 was much too large an aircraft for this type of attack.
After numerous frontal attacks by enemy fighters, it was decided to fit Marauders with additional guns in the nose. A 0.50-inch gun replaced the former 0.30-inch weapon and a pair of flexible 0.30-inch guns were installed on each side of the nose bubble. However, these extra guns caused the bombardier to bump his head for lack of space and were eventually removed.
After the Battle of Midway, it was concluded that additional forward-firing armament was needed. In the field, several B-26s were fitted with an additional 0.50-inch machine gun mounted on each side of the fuselage on each side of the fuselage just aft of the nosewheel well to be fired by the pilot. At first, no streamlined pod was fitted over the gun. This extra armament was eventually introduced on the B-26B production line.
As the Allies pushed northward in the South Pacific, temporary airfields had to be cut out of the jungle and these runways were generally fairly short. The North American B-25 Mitchell had a shorter takeoff run than the B-26, and it began to take over the medium bomber duties in that theatre. Although it was admitted that the B-26 could take greater punishment, was defensively superior, and could fly faster with a heavier bomb load, the B-25 had better short-field characteristics, good sortie rate, and minimal maintenance requirements. In addition, the B-25 was considerably easier to manufacture and had suffered from fewer developmental problems. At this time, there were more B-25s available for South Pacific duty because it had been decided to send them to the Mediterranean but not to the European theatre. Consequently, it was decided to adopt the B-25 as the standard medium bomber for the entire Pacific theatre, and to use the B-26 exclusively in the Mediterranean and European theatres.
Three of the 22nd Bombardment Group's squadrons switched over to to the B-25 between January and October of 1943, leaving only the 19th Squadron with the Marauder. Eventually, all medium bomber groups in the South Pacific were equipped with the B-25. Some of the B-26 crewmembers stayed with the B-25s when the changeovers took place, some were sent back stateside to aid in the instruction of new B-26 crews, and some went to North Africa for another tour with B-26s. A dwindling number of B-26s would remain in the Pacific for a few more months. The last mission flown by B-26s in the South Pacific was on January 9, 1944.
The following Marauder groups served in the Pacific theatre with the 5th Air Force:
The 28th Composite Group in the Alaskan Air Command of the 11th Air Force was formed in 1941 with one heavy bombardment squadron, two medium bombardment squadrons, and one fighter squadron. The 11th Bombardment Squadron left for Elmendorf Field with 14 B-26s during January of 1942. They carried out numerous raids against Japanese forces involved in the Aleutian campaign. However, in early 1943, the Marauders were withdrawn from the Alaskan theatre, being replaced by B-25s.
The first Marauder group to cross the Atlantic was the 319th, which had moved to Shipdham in England in September of 1942. It moved to Algeria in November. It was soon joined by the 17th Group, which had converted to Marauders from Mitchells in September of 1942. Beginning in November of 1942, the USAAF sent three Marauder-equipped groups (the 17th, the 319th, and the 320th Bombardment Groups) to North Africa, where they were assigned to the 12th Air Force. The 319th Bomb Group was first to become operational, flying its first mission on December 30, 1942, a flight over Tunis. The 320th Bombardment Group entered combat in April of 1943 with the 12th Air Force.
In late December, General Doolittle had ordered the B-26 units under his command to operate at medium altitudes (around 10,000 feet) on all but sea sweeps against enemy shipping. The 319th was equipped with D-8 bombsights, so the few missions it did fly at medium altitudes before being equipped with Norden bombsights were not very successful. The aircraft of the 17th Group left for Africa equipped with the Norden, and later on the 320th would also come over with one out every four of its planes being equipped with a Norden. The D-8 was good enough for low-altitude work, but at medium and high altitudes the Norden was required. Generally, only the leader of each flight carried the Norden, with the remainder dropping their bombs when the leader dropped
USAAF Marauders were particularly effective during the latter stages of the Tunisian campaign, when their heavy armament, high speed, and long range enabled them to intercept Me 323 and Ju 52/3m transports far out over the Mediterranean, shooting them down in droves and cutting off attempts to evacuate the defeated German forces.
As German fighter opposition declined, the Marauder crews in the Mediterranean began removing the four package guns. Sometimes the entire installation was removed, while other removed only the guns, leaving the pod housings intact.
In May of 1943, after the North African campaign was over, a comparison was made between B-25 and B-26 operational statistics. Even though there had been more B-26s in the theatre than B-25s, the figures were as follows: B-25 B-26 Total Sorties Flown 2689 1587 Losses 65 80 Percentage loss per sortie 2.4 5.00 Percentage aborts 3.0 12.0
The B-26 did not look good in comparison to the B-25, and for a third time, serious thought was given to discontinuance of the Marauder. However, improved Marauder performance during the Italian campaign and in the ETO saved the plane. As part of the Ninth Air Force, these Marauder-equipped groups followed the Allied forces from North Africa through Sicily to Italy, Sardinia, Corsica, and into the south of France, and eventually into Germany as the war came to an end.
The following B-26 Groups were active in the Mediterranean theatre with the 12th Air Force:
It was to be in the European theatre where the Marauder was to achieve its greatest success. In the United Kingdom, the Marauder formed the basis of the medium bomber forces of the Eighth Air Force. The first B-26s arrived in the United Kingdom in February of 1943. They were to be used in low-level missions against German military targets on the Continent. These B-26Bs were not equipped with the Norden bombsight, but carried instead a modified N-6 gunsight mounted in the cockpit for the copilot to use in releasing the bombs. The first operational raid took place on On May 14, 1943. Flying through heavy flak at altitudes of 100 to 300 feet, Marauders from the 322nd Bombardment Group dropped a group 500-pound delayed-fuse bombs on the Velsen generating station at Ijmuiden in the Netherlands. All planes returned safely to base. However, the delayed fuse bombs which allowed Dutch workmen to escape also gave the Germans enough time to defuse or remove them. It is probable that the 322nd only escaped the attention of Luftwaffe fighters because of a battle taking place elsewhere with 8th Air Force heavy bombers.
On May 17, 1943, eleven Marauders returned at low level to attack German installations at Ijmuiden and Haarlem in the Netherlands. This time the Luftwaffe was ready, and the raid was a disaster, with all but one aircraft (which had aborted due to an electrical failure) being shot down by flak and fighters.
The disastrous raid at Ijmuiden proved that the B-26 was totally unsuited for low-level operations over Europe, where enemy flak was heavy and accurate and enemy fighters were numerous and particularly effective. After the Ijmuiden raid, low-level operations by Marauders over Europe were discontinued, and for a fourth time thought was given to withdrawing the type from combat. In the meantime, the B-26 equipped units stood down to retrain for attacks against strategic targets from medium altitudes (10,000-14,000 feet) with heavy fighter escort.
In July of 1943, some consideration was given to adapting the B-26 as a escort fighter for the Flying Fortress heavy bombers of the 8th Air Force which were at that time experiencing heavy losses to German fighters. This suggestion was immediately dropped, since the Marauder had an entirely different performance envelope from the Fortress and in addition had proven that it was itself unable to survive without fighter escort in hostile European skies.
The B-26 did not return to action over Europe until July 17, 1943. This time, the B-26 was more successful in its new role of medium-altitude bombing, and proposals to withdraw the Marauder from combat over Europe were quietly shelved. Marauders developed tight formation flying tactics to ensure a close pattern of bombs on the target and to protect themselves against fighter attacks. Because of the tremendous concentration of defensive firepower that the B-26 offered, the Luftwaffe was reluctant to press home attacks on Marauder formations. However, in the European theatre fighter escort was absolutely essential to defend against determined German fighter attacks. The German 88-mm antiaircraft guns were most accurate at the altitudes at which the Marauder normally operated, and it was determined that a straight and level flight for as little as 30 seconds gave the German radar gun detectors sufficient time to track the formation and place shots right in its midst. Consequently, evasive actions every 15 or 20 seconds was absolutely necessary to minimize flak losses. However, once committed to the bomb run, there was no evasive action possible and runs of 25 seconds or longer were considered quite dangerous.
Medium-altitude pinpoint bombing became routine with the Marauders of the 9th Air Force. Prior to D-Day, typical targets were bridges, airfields, railroad marshaling yards, gun positions, ammunition and oil storage dumps, and V-1 flying bomb sites. In November of 1943, all Eighth Air Force B-26 groups were transferred to the re-formed Ninth Air Force. By May of 1944, the 9th Air Force had eight B-26 groups.
The groups which prepared the way for the invasion of Normandy were the 322nd, 3234d, 344th, 386th, 387th, 391st, 394th, and 397th Bombardment Groups. The 335th and 336th Bombardment Groups were replacement training units based back in the States until they were disbanded in May of 1944.
A few Marauders were converted for Pathfinder missions for bad weather actions. These planes were equipped to work with the OBOE system, which consisted of a series of ground transmission stations which broadcasted narrow radio beams which directed the aircraft to their targets during those times when the weather was so bad that the ground could not be seen. It was arranged that beams from two separate stations would intersect immediately over the target. The receiver aboard the aircraft transmitted a tone to the pilot in the form of a Morse code E if he was to the left of course and a T when he was to the right. A steady hum was heard when he was on course. A separate panel on the pilot's instrument panel (which was duplicated at the bombardier's position) directed when the bombs should be dropped. The system had a CEP of only 300 feet. OBOE-equipped B-26s could be distinguished by by the presence of an antenna which consisted of a plexiglas tube sticking out of the belly just forward of the waist windows. The OBOE system was mostly of British design and was of course highly classified. When Pathfinder Marauders were parked on their airfields, there was always an armed guard posted, and there was a destruct mechanism installed to prevent the system from falling into enemy hands. The system was still in its infancy during the war, and the slightest malfunction in any portion of the equipment would usually cause the entire mission to be scrubbed.
Soon after V-E Day, some B-26 groups were demobilized, but others moved to Germany to serve with the occupation forces.
The following Bombardment Groups flew the B-26 Marauder with the 9th AF in the European theatre:
After the war in Europe was over, most of the Marauder-equipped units were quickly disbanded and their planes were scrapped. In the late fall of 1945, all of some 500 Marauders operating in the ETO were ferried to a disposal site near Landsberg, Germany where they were all scrapped. In the fall of 1945, a gigantic aircraft disposal operation began at Walnut Ridge, Arkansas and handled the disposal of nearly 1000 surplus USAAF Marauders In the beginning, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation handled the disposal task, but this was later taken over by the General Services Administration. The surplus aircraft were first offered for sale and many were bought by France, China, and South American countries for military or airline use. The remainder were scrapped.
A few Marauders were sold on the commercial market and were converted as executive transports.
Because of the massive scrapping effort immediately after the war, very few Marauders survive today. I am aware of only three Marauders that are still in existence today.
Flak Bait, a B-26 serial number 41-31773 of the 449th Squadron of the 322nd Bombardment Group was the first Allied bomber in the ETO to fly 200 combat sorties. Its nose section is now on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. The rest of the plane is presumably somewhere in storage within the Paul Garber restoration facility at Suitland, Maryland.
B-26G-10 serial number 43-34581 was given to the French Air Force during World War 2. After the war, it went into storage at Mont de Marsan. In 1951, it was turned over to Air France as a ground-based aircraft for use in training mechanics. In 1965, 43-34581 was donated to the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, where it is currently displayed painted as a 387th Bombardment Group B-26B-50 serial number 42-95857.
On January 3, 1942, three B-26 Marauders of the 77th BS were forced to crash-land in British Columbia while in transit to Alaska. The crewmen were all rescued, but the aircraft were forced to remain. In 1971, an expedition was mounted to recover these planes, headed by David C. Tallichet, president of the Military Aircraft Restoration Corporation, a subsidiary of Specialty Restaurants Corporation. which was based in Chino, California. The three Marauders were dismantled and flown out by helicopter. Once back in Chino, the best airframe of the three (40-1459) was restored to flying condition, using parts scavenged from the other two. It took to the air for the first time in July of 1992. In 1996, the plane was sold to Kermit Weeks of Kissimmee, Florida, and it now carries the civilian registration N4297J.
B-26C-20-MO serial number 41-35071 had been delivered to the USAAF on May 24, 1943. Following the end of the war, it was purchased from the Walnut Ridge disposal operation by a commercial operator. It went through a succession of operators, including the Tennessee Gas Corporation which converted it as an executive transport. In 1967, the Confederate Air Force bought the plane and attempted to restore it to flying condition, no mean feat since no structural B-26 parts were then available anywhere in the world and all B-26 engineering and production data had been destroyed in a fire at Martin's Baltimore plant. Restoration began in 1976, but progress was slow since most needed components had to be made by hand. The first flight did not take place until 1984. The aircraft was named Carolyn in honor of a generous contributor, and carried the civilian registration number N5546N. It was a popular participant in Confederate Air Force shows. Tragically, Carolyn crashed near Midland, Texas on September 28, 1995, killing all five people onboard.