Martin B-26 Marauder
Twin-Engine Medium Bomber Aircraft
After some early setbacks, the Martin B-26 Marauder became a USAAF stalwart and operated with distinction as a medium bomber during World War 2.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
The Martin B-26 Marauder overcame a rocky start to become one of the finest medium bombers of World War 2. The aircraft was designed with speed from the outset and, as such, a few problems emerged from that approach. The Marauder went on to amount an impressive service record and faded from service almost as soon as it had arrived. Nevertheless, the B-26 proved a capable aircraft in the hands of a trained pilot - and a trained pilot would be required to fly the type to its fullest potential considering the amount of knowledge needed to keep the needy bird airborne.
January of 1939 saw the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) issue a new requirement for a long-range light-to-medium bomber of considerable speed with the capability to mount at least 3,000lb of ordnance. The Glen L. Martin Company entered the competition with their B-26 Marauder (then known as the Glen L. Martin "Model 179", detailed elsewhere on this site) design and successfully obtained an initial order for 201 B-26's without so much as a single prototype let alone pre-production aircraft for evaluation. The considerably deteriorating situation in Europe and in the Pacific necessitated the need for speed in production of such a design and thusly the B-26 was put to the assembly lines in little time (covering just two years from paper to working model). Within 12 months, the first B-26 was ready and made her first flight on November 25th, 1940 while 1,131 B-26A and B-26B models were already delivered.
The B-26 design was driven by the simple factor of pure speed. This was accomplished by selecting rather large, powerful engines and incorporating a small wing area with high wing loading. This produced an airframe that surpassed the USAAC requirements and then some, but provided for an aircraft with deadly-fast take-off and landing speeds and generally poor handling at lower speeds. In fact, landing speeds were between 120 and 135 miles per hour increasing the chances of damage to the airframe or injuries and fatalities to the crew substantially. Speeds became such a concern that the aircraft soon earned the nickname of "Widowmaker" due to at least one speed-related accident early on. As such, special military boards met to decide the fate of the Marauder project as a whole, grounding the aircraft in April of 1941 and instituting a few modifications in an effort to keep the type flying. This resulted in a B-26 with an increased wing area and redesigned taller vertical tail fin. Additionally, the Martin-produced powered dorsal turret had yet to be installed on previous models, leading to an imbalance of weight across the airframe, adding to the instability of the aircraft at lower speeds (effectively producing a stall on arrival).
Initial B-26's were fitted with the Pratt & Whitney R-2800-5 radial engine of 1,850 horsepower and produced in a batch of 201 examples. These were followed by the B-26A model series featuring the Pratt & Whitney R-2800-9 or R-2800-39 series engines. A-models were also the first to offer provision for a single internally-held torpedo. In addition to other subtle changes, the B-26A also increased its fuel capacity and therefore endurance. B-26A model production totaled about 139 examples.
The B-26B fitted the Pratt & Whitney R-2800-41 and R-2800-43 radial engines of 2,000 horsepower. These appeared in May of 1942 as a generally improved B-26A. Featured included better armoring and armament with a widened wingspan (642nd production model onwards) and propellers sans the spinners found on A-models. Production of the type numbered some 1,883 examples. The B-model series was in fact broken down into subvariants categorizing various subtle differences in construction. The base B-26B featured twin tail guns instead of one with a ventral gun added. The B-26B-1 was a slightly more improved B-26B model. The B-26B-2 featured the Pratt & Whitney R-2800-41 radial engines. The B-26B-3 was fitted with larger carburetors intakes and Pratt & Whitney R-2800-43 radial engines. The B-26B-4 was nothing more than a slightly improved B-26B-3 model. B-26B-10 throuh B-26B-55 included a myriad of changes covering the wingspan increase, addition of outboard flaps, taller vertical tail fin, a power-operated tail gun, cockpit armor protection and an increase to defensive armament.
The B-26C model was fitted with the Pratt & Whitney R-2800-41 series 2,000 horsepower engines. Like the B-26B before it, the C-model had their wingspan increased by exactly six feet. This was intended to reduced the issue of wing load common in the early B-26 design but was generally negated due to the increase in the wing's weight overall. B-26C's, for all intents and purposes, were generally similar to the B-26B models though constructed at Martin's Omaha subsidiary plant. Production totaled 1,210 examples.
The B-26F was brought online with a new angled wing in an effort to improve performance, particularly during take-off. These were completed in a batch of 300 examples. The B-26G were generally similar to the F-models and produced between 893 and 950 examples (sources differ on the exact total), becoming the last production models of the B-26 Marauder.
Some Marauders were converted as target tugs for gunnery trainer and designated as the AT-23A and AT-23B models. There were later updated with designations of TB-26B and TB-26C respectively. TB-26B conversions totaled 208 while 375 TB-26Cs were known to exist. TB-26C's were later granted for use by the United States Navy as JM-1 models with these totaling 225 on loan.
The Marauder airframe was also designed as an new-build crew trainer in the form of 57 TB-26G's. Like the TB-26C trainers loaned to the USN, the TB-26G was also loaned out as 47 JM-2's.
Marauder's were also sent via Lend-Lease to Britain (as Marauder Mk I, Mk IA, Mk II and Mk III marks) while others made their way into the inventories of Free French Forces and the South African Air Force.
The B-26 was noted for its tubular rounded fuselage, earning the press nickname of "Flying Torpedo" in the process. The pilot and co-pilot were positioned in the cockpit with windowed views to the front, sides and above. Engines could easily be kept a watchful eye on thanks to their forward placement on the wings. The nose assembly also contained a glazed windowed position for a single crew member acting as bombardier. Other positions included a dorsal turret gunner whose position was held near the tail vertical fin. The tail gunner occupied the aft-most position. Some Marauders fitted a ventral gun station while still others were seen with gun mounts on the fuselage sides, just behind and underneath the cockpit. Wings were shoulder-mounted monoplanes containing each engine nacelle. The nacelles extended beyond the leading edge and continued past the tailing edge to a point, adding to the types sleek look. The empennage was completed with a rounded vertical tail fin and high-mounted and rounded horizontal planes. The undercarriage was a unique tricycle type with main landing gears and a nose wheel - a departure from traditional main landing gears and a tail wheel. In all, the Marauder appeared every bit the impressive design with only years of war ahead of it to put the machine through its paces.
Typical armament for the Marauder consisted of well-placed defensive machine gun positions throughout the fuselage. No fewer than twelve heavy 0.50 caliber machine guns could defend the aircraft from nose to tail. The rear-mounted dorsal turret contained a pair of 0.50 caliber machine guns as did the tail gun position - the former position possibly offering up the best view of the action above while the latter position charged with the very important task of fending off rear attackers. A ventral gun position - fitting a 0.30 caliber or 0.50 caliber machine gun - was found on some models while, traditionally, this was replaced by twin beam gun pod positions located on either side of the lower front fuselage, a move that would bring the gun total to 12 and allow for lethal strafing runs. A nose gun position was also commonplace and could fit either a 0.30 caliber or 0.50 caliber machine gun as needed. Internally, the Marauder could carry upwards of 4,000 to 5,000lb of ordnance in the form of drop bombs or traditional strike sorties or a single torpedo for anti-shipping duty.
The cockpit was noted as having a utilitarian look and feel - sparse in contrast to other American bombers - consisting of all the necessary controls and gauges in a neatly organized arrangement. The pilot sat in an armored-plated position with access to all controls while the instrument panel ran about three quarters of the width of the cockpit, stopping at about the co-pilot's left knee. As may be expected, both pilot positions had control columns situated before them. A center console held the throttle, propeller and mixture controls within easy reach of both pilot and co-pilot. Landing gear and flap controls were positioned to the rear of the console.
The 22nd Bomb Group was the first American air group to receive the B-26, this at Langley Field in February of 1941. This initial group consisted of B-26 and B-26A models. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the official declaration of war on the Empire by America, the 22nd was the only group with B-26's in stock and were expectedly pressed into service in the South West Pacific. The 22nd BG arrived in Brisbane, Australia after a short stop in Muroc, California, becoming part of the US Fifth Air Force, and was soon put to task with engaging Japanese targets beginning with Rabaul on April 5th, 1942. Other attacks followed and a flight of four B-26A's took part in the Battle of Midway, providing an offensive punch via torpedo strikes on enemy vessels. Despite its usefulness, the North American B-25 Mitchell - a similar twin-engine medium bomber - was finding more success and therefore more use in the theater than the B-26's. The 22nd BG was eventually upgraded with B-26B models by May of 1942. These improved Marauders allowed for continued use of the type that even included actions in along the Aleutian Island chain in 1942. During its first year of action, B-26's were generally restricted to the Pacific Theater but eventually saw extended use - and better results - in Europe and the Mediterranean.
Marauders were used in anger during the Operation Torch landings in North Africa. In this action, Marauders proved their worth, flying with bomb group elements of the 12th Air Force. The B-26 under the RAF Middle East Command in North Africa were noted by their designation of Marauder Mk I (B-26A), Marauder Mk IA (B-26B), Marauder Mk II (B-26C/B-26F) and Marauder Mk III (B-26G). The RAF, which fielded no more than two complete squadrons of Marauders (No. 14 and No. 39) received a batch of 52 Mk I and Mk IA models while totals of Mk II's and Mk III's topped 250 and 150 respectively.
American B-26 units arrived in England by March of 1943, Though results were initially poor with low-level bombing runs, the type saw new life in medium- and high-altitude attacks. In one such case, the complete 322nd Bomber Group flying at low-level was eliminated by ground and aircraft fire in an attempted strike on Ijmuiden, forcing the hand of Allied warplanners to make changes in their approach when utilizing the potent B-26. After adoption of higher-flying bombing techniques, the B-26 was repositioned as a proven and valued stalwart of the Allied bombing campaigns throughout the rest of the war in Europe though phasing out of the type began in 1945.
In the end, the B-26 proved to be a fitting addition to the Allied air arsenal, posting an impeccable service record. B-26's went on to have the lowest combat loss rate of any American aircraft in the conflict, owing something to its stellar design but more to the crews who flew her through her 110,000 sorties.
The B-26 was produced to the tune of some 4,708 to 5,288 total examples when production ceased in 1945. Despite its rough origins, the Marauder was otherwise an excellent medium bomber on par with the North American B-25 Mitchells which starred in the Pacific. The B-26 was undoubtedly fast, adequately armed and could carried an excellent bombload for an aircraft of this type. Marauders and their fighting men served well in their limited role in the Pacific but more than made up for their presence in the volatile fronts of Europe and North Africa, truly becoming one of America's finest warbirds of the conflict.