Martin B-26 Marauder & Douglas A-26 Invader in Combat over Europe

The Martin B-26 Marauder had a long and troubled introduction to combat service. On four successive occasions various investigation boards recommended that production of the design should be cancelled due to its high rate of training accidents.

Indeed, the B-26 was deemed difficult to handle, mainly because of its relatively small wing area. The resulting high wing loading dictated an unusually long take-off run and high landing speed. The Marauder touched down at about 115 mph – which was higher than the landing speed of any contemporary fighter. Its high stalling speed only made matters worse.


Despite its terrible reputation for being a ‘widow maker’, the Marauder eventually proved its worth. By 1944, the B-26s of the U.S. 9th Air Force had recorded the lowest loss rate of any American aircraft in the ETO performing operational missions, at less than one half of one percent. Over Europe the B-26 was the workhorse of the USAAF medium bomber force. It was sparsely employed in other theatres of operations, notably in the Pacific – not that it was unwanted there. Gen. George Kenney, the commanding general of the U.S. 5th Air Force, wrote as follows to the USAAF Headquarters in Washington, D.C.:

A Marauder of 575th BS / 391st BG moments after bombing a railway bridge over Weser at Bad Öynhausen, 40 miles southwest of Hannover, on 21st February 1945. [NARA]

“I know you have set me up for the B-25s but the B-26 is a much better combat job. While the B-26 may be frowned upon in some circles at home, the boys here prefer it to the B-25 every time. The B-26 has a better bomb load, more range, is faster, more manoeuvrable and stands up much better in a crack-up. We will take all you have. In peacetime the boys would probably prefer the B-25, as it is considerably easier to fly, but when they’re shooting for keeps, the B-26 takes care of itself and comes home” (quoted after: Kenneth T. Brown, Marauder Man, New York 2001).

Design Development
In July 1939 the U.S. Army Air Corps was presented with a project for a new, high-speed medium bomber, designed by the Glenn L. Martin company of Middle River (near Baltimore), Maryland. The USAAC was impressed by the expected performance and ordered the aircraft ‘straight off the drawing board’ (there was no prototype). The first B-26 (s/n 40-1361) took off on its maiden flight on 25th November 1940. It was powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-2800-5 Double Wasp radial engines, rated at 1850 hp each, which were the most powerful engines available at the time. The first B-26s were accepted by the USAAC in February 1941. They were issued to 22nd BG (Bombardment Group) stationed at Langley Field, Virginia. In October 1941 the Martin production line shifted over to the B-26A, which introduced additional armour plating and self-sealing fuel tanks, among other features. Reportedly around that time the aircraft was assigned the name ‘Marauder’.

 This B-26B-55 (s/n 42-96165) coded ‘6B-T’, better known as the Big Hairy Bird, initially served with 599th BS / 397th BG. At the war’s end it was transferred to 387th BG, where it carried ‘KX-T’ code letters.  [NARA]

The B-26B appeared in May 1942, and it became the most numerous version of the Marauder. The alarming rate of training accidents made it necessary to increase the wing area of the design in order to lower its wing loading and reduce the takeoff and landing speeds. A new wing was introduced on the B-26B-10 production block, which first appeared in early 1943. The wingspan was increased from 65 to 71 feet and the wing area increased from 602 to 658 square feet. A taller fin and rudder was introduced to maintain stability with the larger wing. The advantages of the reduced wing loading were offset by an increase in the aircraft’s overall weight, since in the meantime the B-26 had been upgunned to carry a total of twelve 0.50-inch machine guns. On the B-26B-20 and later blocks, the hand-held twin tail guns were replaced by a power-operated turret. Additional armour was introduced on the B-26B-30. Early models of the B-26 had two separate bomb bays. After a pair of flexible 0.50-inch machine guns had been installed in the waist window area, the space formerly occupied by the rear bomb bay was used for storing ammunition boxes. Hence, from the B-26B-45 onwards the aft bomb bay was sealed shut. The application of camouflage paint was discontinued during the production run of the B-26B-55 version. The last of 1,883 B-26Bs was delivered in February 1944.