A-26C models had a distinction in becoming "lead ships" for solid-nose A-26B models. As lead ships, the A-26C would register its target and drop her bombs, signaling the trailing A-26B's to do the same. This method of bombing proved commonplace for aircraft in the light bombing role such as the A-20 Havoc. A-26C models eventually replaced the specially designed A-20 Havoc lead ships (A-20J's and A-20K's) in this role.
RB-26B and RB-26C represented unarmed photo reconnaissance models modified from existing B-26B and B-26C models respectively whereas trainer B-26's were designated as TB-26B and TB-26C based on their respective letter models. VB-26B served in an administrative role. Post-war production Invaders were to spawn from the proposed A-26Z configuration which would have covered both a solid nose A-26G and glass nose A-26H model. These were never produced. The US Navy utilized a few Douglas Invaders in limited roles and designated them as a target tug series JD-1. Drone directors were known as JD-1D with both redesignated in 1962 as UB-26J and DB-26J respectively. The YB-26K was a highly-modified B-26B model, becoming the B-26K "Counter Invader" and ultimately redesignated back to the A-26A. These two-man aircraft flew with Pratt & Whitney R-2800-103W engines of 2,500 horsepower with water injection and operated in the Vietnam War.
Design of the A-26 Invader was typical of light attack bomber design in the Second World War. The fuselage was streamlined and contained the cockpit, bomb bay and gun positions. The nose on the B-26B was a "solid" nose when utilizing the 6 or 8 x 12.7mm machine gun arrangement. The glassed-in nose found on A-26C models indicated the use of a bombardier/navigator and bombsight controls in place of the nose-mounted guns. An Invader crew of three traditionally consisted of the pilot, navigator/radio operator and gunner, the latter manning dorsal and ventral gun turrets. The C-model featured a bombardier/navigator crewmember along with two nose-mounted 12.7mm machine guns. The airframe proved a well-put together structure as many an Invader was known to receive substantial amounts of damage and still return her crews to home bases. Flying on a single engine was possible, this occurring even with a full bombload. The empennage was traditional and featured the identifiable rounded vertical fin extending from the upper aft fuselage.
The A-26B Invader shined when it came to its armament loadout. More noticeable was the battery of 6 x 12.7mm (.50 caliber) heavy machine guns (early block A-26B models ) all allocated in the nose housing. Later block B-26Bs featured a total of 8 x 12.7mm nose-mounted machine guns. This assembly allowed the Invader to make devastating strafing sweeps on enemy ground targets with usually destructive results, combining the concentrated power of six to eight heavy caliber machine guns into one focal burst of hot lead. In addition to the nose armament, two 12.7mm machine guns were held in a dorsal barbette while another two were featured in a ventral barbette. The ventral barbette was sometimes removed in favor of an additional fuel cell. Invaders could also sport 8 x underwing gun pods and 6 x 12.7mm machine guns mounted in each wing leading edge (three guns to a side) along with blister mounts on the fuselage sides - all concentrated in a forward-firing position. With a single burst of the all machine guns, the entire aircraft would buffet violently rearward, a consideration for the crew to keep in mind in terms of their own safety. In total, a given A-26 could sport as many as 22 x 12.7mm machine guns with up to 6,000 rounds of ammunition.
The Douglas Invader's lethality was furthermore accented by the option of carrying between 4,000 and 8,000lbs of internal and external ordnance in the form of drop bombs or 8 to 14 x 5" rockets (the latter held externally on eight or fourteen underwing pylons - the full 16 rocket deployment was achievable in lieu of the drop tanks and wing mounted bombs). In fact, Invaders were known to be able to carry greater bombloads than that as found on the larger Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses. Endurance could be extended with the addition of 165-gallon underwing drop tanks, increasing the aircraft's range by up to 300 miles. C-model Invaders with the glassed-in nose were fitted with 2 x 12.7mm machine guns in the nose along with the 2 x 12.7mm gun systems in each turret but forward firepower was augmented with the addition of the 6 x wing-mounted machine guns.
Deliveries of the A-26 in the B-26B model form began in August of 1943 and the system instantly became the fastest American bomber of World War 2. The system saw extensive action in varying roles throughout the conflict both in the European Front and along the Pacific Front. A-26's were put into action with the Fifth Air Force in the Pacific Theater and flew their first sortie on June 23rd, 1944. European deliveries occurred in September of 1944 and were stationed with the Ninth Air Force, seeing their first combat sorties just two months later. Invaders served through to the end of the war to which many served in the post-war world with the United States Strategic Air Command and Tactical Air Command. The USAF dropped the "attack" designation of the aircraft in 1948 and officially redesignated the Invader as the B-26 (not to be confused with the World War 2-era Martin B-26 Marauder medium bombers).
The A-26B and A-26C saw extended use in the upcoming Korean War with at least 37 aircraft in hand on June 25, 1950. Elements of the 3rd Bombardment Group (8th, 13th and 90th Squadrons) were some of the first units put into action in the conflict, launching from Japanese bases to strike targets on the peninsula. Later that year, group strength increased to 90 aircraft. These Invaders could be counted on to operate at low levels in the dark of night, maneuvering over and around the dangerous mountain terrain in Korea. Invaders would be credited with thousands of enemy vehicles destroyed by the end of the war, totaling some 232,000 flight hours and close to 20 million rounds of 12.7mm ammunition fired. Initially, Invaders stationed in Japan were intended to provide cover fire for US citizens evacuating the South Korean capital of Seoul. But by June 29, 1950, the aircraft was directly hitting North Korea targets as required. The B-26 proved an invaluable asset in the disruption of supply lines running along known roads where the Invader could bring the brunt of its firepower to bear on unarmored targets. Tactics changed with operational experience and Invader crews learned to bomb with precision those moving targets that they may have - in past sorties - attempted to strafe with their guns. Invaders targeted airfields with equal fervor, utilizing their formidable bombloads (including napalm) along with their machine guns and rockets against targets of opportunity. The A-26 itself proved a success in its night missions though the foe proved undoubtedly resilient, able to change their routing patterns on the ground in reaction to American attack patterns.
B-26 aircraft would also be the last USAF aircraft to drop ordnance in the conflict before the cessation of hostilities. After the war, a North Korean general would admit that the B-26 was one of the most feared weapons of the conflict - such was its terrorizing reach on ground targets at night. At least 7 B-26 squadrons were stationed for action in the Korean War including one RB-26 element. American B-26 models were temporarily removed from service in 1958 and served in strictly liaison mission and staff transportation roles.
France became another Invader operator, utilizing the USAF on lease in their Indo-China conflict of the 1950's. These carried the unofficial designation of B-26N and were based on B-26C models with AI Mk X radar systems from old Meteor NF.11 jet-powered night-fighters. French systems operated their Invaders with gun pods and underwing rockets.
American B-26B systems were called to action once again, this time in 1961 with the USAF as tactical bombers in the early years of the Vietnam War. President John F. Kennedy's assistance initiative called the aircraft back into action from storage and the Invader was brought online in reconnaissance and attack roles. This action was short-lived, however, as the systems fought from 1961 through 1964. Aircraft taking part in this early action actually fought with South Vietnamese markings and under RB-26 reconnaissance designations but were fully combat ready. Missions of the aircraft soon grew to include escort and close air support along with traditional attack roles. By this time, the war-weary B-26's began to show their age. Years of operational use began to take their toll on airframes as constant operation decreased the overall safety of the type. The B-26B was soon withdrawn from service for safety's sake, as the crash of at least two such aircraft from structural failure necessitated the move.
In 1963, at least 40 B-26 aircraft became the two-seat B-26K "Counter Invader" model for the USAF following the successful trials of the YB-26K program. The YB-26 featured water injection Pratt & Whitney R-2800-103W engines of 2,500 horsepower, 8x 12.7mm nose machine guns, 6 x 12.7mm wing machine guns with external pylons for up to 8,000lbs of ordnance, an internal capacity of 4,000lbs and dual cockpit controls with updated avionics.
With modification handled by On Mark Engineering Company, these aircraft appeared in production form with Pratt & Whitney R-2800-52W engines with water injection, reversible propellers, reinforced wings with modified wing flaps, rebuilt tail section with larger rudder and wingtip fuel tanks for increased endurance. Additionally, these B-26K models had their 6 x 12.7mm wing-mounted machine guns removed but retained the formidable 8 x 12.7mm formation in the solid nose assembly. These Invaders, like their Korean brethren, were charged with disruption of enemy supply lines. In 1966, these B-26K models were now officially redesignated as A-26A. in Counter Invaders operated in Southeast Asia up until 1969 before retirement from the USAF. By this time, the role of the A-26A was overtaken by the cannon-laden Lockheed AC-130 Hercules gunships among other more capable aircraft. Production of the B-26K/A-26A occurred between 1963 and 1964 at a unit cost of $577,000.
The final A-26 was retired from service in 1969 and the entire line was removed from service by 1972. Some 2,452 Invaders were produced. In all, 18 different countries operated the Invader at one time in civilian and military guises.
A-26's also served with US Air National Guard units, becoming some of the final American users of the aircraft. ANG units received their Invaders in the post-war years. This was abruptly abandoned at the start of the Korea Conflict as B-26's were earmarked for war once again. With the jet age progressing and the Korean War drawing to a close, A-26 deliveries continued to the ANG which operated the type throughout the 1950's. The B-26 would see its last noticeable ANG occurrence in early 1970 as a converted staff transport.
The Douglas A-26/B-26 lived a very long and productive operational life considering her origins in a World War 2 requirement. Not only taking part in that conflict, the Invader saw prolonged use and unnatural long life for a bomber in the ensuing Korean and Vietnam Wars. In any case, the Invader retained many of the qualities that her crews admired - speed, survivability and offensive firepower. The system endured for decades since its inception and went on to prove her mettle in conflicts that tested most any other machine in the skies - leaving the fabled Invader to pass with flying colors.