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Glenn L. Martin

Martin Aircraft

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Martin Models 179, 182, 190 and 205

B-26 Marauder Medium Bomber, XB-27 Pressurized Medium Bomber, B-33 Super Marauder, B-35 Flying Wing

The B-26 Marauder is the most famous Martin plane, and the one manufactured in the largest numbers. It is also a plane that has attracted both fervent devotion and bitter opposition - along with an extensive and colorful body of books, articles, films, and anecdotes. Like the Martin 167, it had its origin in the development of the attack bomber in 1938 and 1939. Impressed by the new design features incorporated in the attack bomber prototypes, especially the Douglas DB-7, the Air Corps issued new specifications for medium bombers in January 1939. These included speeds up to 350 mph with bombloads of 4,000 pounds. Time being at a premium, only a design competition was scheduled. The prize would be an order for 385 planes.

Stung by the loss of the attack-bomber contract, Martin entrusted its entry in the new competition to a design team that included the young engineer Peyton Magruder. They were given the green light to incorporate as many advanced design features as possible. These included tricycle landing gear, shoulder-mounted wings, underslung engine nacelles, tailplane dihedral, an all-plexiglass nose cone, all-electric bomb-release system, powered gun turret, four-bladed propellers, and the latest Pratt and Whitney R-2800 engines. Magruder recalled measuring the bomb-bay of a B-17 at Wright Field, then duplicating it within the big round fuselage of the new design, and adding for good measure a second smaller bomb-bay aft. Martin engineers also noticed that the Air Corps had not specified wing loadings or landing speeds. In the interests of increasing speed, they designed unusually small wings, giving their Model 179 an unheard-of wing loading of 51 pounds per square foot. The new plane was designed for rapid production. Spot welding and large aluminum forgings replaced a number of riveted parts; Magruder persuaded Martin to buy stretch presses of the sort used in automobile factories to reduce the amount of drop-hammer work on complex skin fairings.

The competition attracted bids from Stearman, Consolidated, Vought-Sikorsky, Burnelli, Douglas, and North American besides Martin. The three leading contenders were the Martin 179; the North American NA-62, an enlarged version of that firm's attack bomber; and the Douglas B-23, an update of the B-18. The 179 won handily, with 813.6 quality points to 673.6 for the NA-62 and 610.3 for the B-23. Much to Magruder's disappointment, Martin declared that only 201 Model 179's, now designated B-26, could be delivered in the specified twenty-four months. The remaining 184 medium bombers went to the runner-up, which became the B-25 Mitchell. Still, at $16 million, the order to Martin was the largest ever made by the Air Corps.

War broke out in Europe two weeks later, and combat experience soon began to suggest improvements in the design. In May 1940 Martin agreed to add a full-powered gun turret in place of the partially powered one originally specified, armor plate for the crew, and self-sealing fuel tanks. In return, Martin received a four-month delay in deliveries and permission to accept a $44 million Anglo-French order for 400 Baltimores (see next page). In the autumn of 1940, before the first B-26 had ever flown, another 990 were ordered as part of President Roosevelt's "50,000-plane" program. They were to be built at a new government-financed Plant No. 2 at Middle River. In the interests of dispersing defense production from the coasts and utilizing automobile plants to supply components, still another Martin plant was erected by the Army outside Omaha; 1200 B-26's were ordered from there in 1941.

In November 1940 the first B-26 was wheeled out and flown. Its size, speed, and futuristic appearance impressed all observers. The British immediately asked for 459 of them; it was they who named the plane "Marauder." Although the RAF did not receive any Marauders until 1942, this name stuck in preference to the Martin Company's proposed "Martian." After a very short course of testing, Marauder deliveries began in February 1941 to the 22nd Bomb Group at Langley Field, Virginia. Not surprisingly, the new design suffered from a series of problems: nosewheel struts collapsed, hydraulic lines leaked, fuel lines clogged, and electric pitch controls failed on the as-yet-untested four-bladed propellers. The power turret was not ready in time.

While these were methodically fixed, more difficult problems arose in the shape of material shortages in the rapidly expanding defense industry. Alcoa was late in supplying the large aluminum forgings. So was Curtiss with new electric propellers. Completed but prop-less Marauders accumulated by the score outside the factory during the summer and autumn of 1941. A number were transferred to Langley Field using propellers that then were removed and trucked back to Baltimore for another trip. Nevertheless the entire order of 201 B-26's plus 60 more B-26A's were accepted by the Air Corps by the end of December 1941, compared to only 177 of the B-25's ordered at the same time.

The B-26 was thus in the first line of American forces in the desperate days after Pearl Harbor. The 22nd Bombardment Group was immediately ordered to the Pacific, arriving in Australia with 44 planes in February 1942. The only complete bomber unit in that nearly defenseless country, the 22nd's Marauders flew a wide variety of combat missions, often fighting their way in without fighter escort for low-level attacks on enemy ships and airfields. Other Marauders were soon involved in similar actions at Midway and the Aleutians. These operations led to a number of field modifications, many of which were later incorporated at the Martin plants. The B-26B and C models included more armor protection, torpedo racks, and more machine guns - including twin tail guns, waist guns on both sides, and - most notably - more guns facing forward. Modifications were tracked at the factories by a complex system of production "block numbers" that differentiated groups of B-26B's manufactured at Baltimore (suffix "MA") and B-26C's from Omaha (suffix "MO").

The Marauder's fine performance early in the war was upstaged, however, by two other phenomena. One was the Doolittle Raid on Japan, flown by B-25 Mitchells. The smaller medium bomber, just able to take off from a carrier deck, gained instant celebrity. The other phenomenon was the Marauder's notorious reputation at stateside bases, particularly McDill Field in Tampa, where newly formed bombardment groups were training. High wing loading gave the B-26 a high landing speed, which could pose problems for even experienced pilots. Modifications designed to make the planes more formidable in combat also made them heavier. This lowered the margin for error still further, particularly if one engine failed. After a number of fatal crashes - often with full crews aboard - remarks began to circulate about the tiny wings of "the Baltimore whore - no visible means of support," causing "one a day in Tampa Bay." Trainees began to fear "the widow maker" and to complain if assigned to it. Arriving at the Avon Park Bombing Range to see two crashed Marauders still burning, Senator Truman's committee investigating war industry began to ask critical questions.

A number of steps were taken in response. Jimmy Doolittle was ordered to the training fields to demonstrate personally that a B-26 could actually stay aloft on one engine. Two-engine advanced trainers like the Cessna AT-8 and Curtiss AT-9 were developed to help fledgling pilots' transition from single-engine planes. Martin designed a number of improvements, including a longer nosewheel strut to increase the angle of incidence on take-off and slotted leading-edge flaps. In early 1943 the B-26B-10-MA and B-26C-6-MO began to be built with taller rudders and longer wings. The accumulation of extra combat equipment was so great, however, that even the addition of an extra 58 square feet of wing surface wing did no more than stabilize wing loading at 58 pounds per square foot. Whatever the combination of causes, Marauder training accidents dropped off sharply, from 162 per 100,000 flying hours in 1942 to 65 in 1943. By the end of the war the overall accident rate for B-26's stood at 55, higher than the B-25's 33 but considerably lower than the A-20's 131.

Three B-26 bombardment groups were dispatched to the invasion of North Africa in November 1942, where different problems arose. Serviceability was low compared to B-25 units, and the low-level attack missions that had been so successful in the Pacific (and for which the B-26B's were now equipped) proved to be much more hazardous against German anti-aircraft fire. Marauders suffered a higher rate of combat losses than did B-25's. As North Africa was finally secured, other Marauder groups were sent to Britain. Their second combat mission, a low-level attack on the power station at Ijmuiden, Holland, on May 17, 1943, was a famous disaster. All ten planes were lost.

Dissatisfaction with Martin, long simmering in the War Department and Materiel Command, now came to a boil. Already the company had been passed over for future designs. In 1940 the Martin 182 finished behind the North American XB-27 in a competition for a high-altitude medium bomber with a pressurized cabin. The following year Martin came back with a pressurized Model 190 "Super Marauder," to be powered by two of the huge R-3350 engines used on the Mars. The Materiel Command rejected Martin's initial innovative "tail first" design, ordering instead 402 more conventional planes that could be produced more quickly. Martin's designers proved unable, however, to deliver an interim high-altitude heavy bomber before the Boeing B-29. In November 1942 the $300 million B-33 contract was converted into an order for 200 B-35 "flying wing" intercontinental bombers to be designed by Northrop Aircraft but built by Martin as Model 205. Coordination between Northrop in California and Martin in Baltimore was poor; before long disputes broke out among the two companies and Army Air Forces procurement officers. Delays mounted. Meanwhile, starting up the Martin-Nebraska plant in 1942 involved another set of disputes among officials and subcontractors, and long delays in B-26 deliveries.

Against this backdrop the fate of the B-26 program was supposedly settled in mid 1943. With the concurrence of former B-26 supporters like Generals Arnold, Kenney, and Doolittle, the decision was made to phase out Marauder production in 1944. The Baltimore plant would shift over to the B-35, Omaha to the B-29. Until then most of the planes built would be stripped-down training or target-tow models. In an apparent attempt to conceal their notoriety, these were designated AT-23's, (JM-1 in Navy service). The British, who had earlier received 52 B-26's (Marauder I's) and 19 B-26B's (Marauder IA's) now were allocated 123 combat B-26B's and C's (Marauder II's).

Ironically the decision to end B-26 production came just as the Martin plants were reaching their maximum output, with Baltimore and Omaha each turning out 120 planes a month. The average number of hours required to build a B-26 at Middle River had fallen from 28,873 in late 1941 to 18,104 in June 1943. Productivity followed a learning curve that improved the longer a plane was in production. At Omaha, building a B-26 took 37,342 hours in June 1943. At Boeing it took 24,947 hours to build a B-17 (licensees Douglas and Lockheed took 36,119 and 40,284 hours, respectiviely). North American assembled a B-25 in 13,550 hours at its home plant in California; it took 16,787 hours in Kansas City.

Employment in Baltimore reached over 53,000 early in 1943; Omaha topped 14,000 later in the same year. Thousands of new workers migrated into both cities, causing severe overcrowding. New housing projects sprang up around the Middle River plant: "Aero Acres" and "Victory Villa" boasted appropriate street names like Fueslage Avenue and Right and Left Wing Drives. Overcrowding was also relieved by the recruitment of local women and African Americans, hitherto excluded from production jobs at Martin. But tensions remained. Workers' morale was lowered in July 1943 by the publication of the Truman Committee's report critical of the B-26. As heat mounted that summer in the crowded Baltimore factories (protective camouflage had blocked ventilation systems), two massive union organizing drives took place. Over the objections of Martin management, the United Auto Workers-CIO won the largest single-plant union election yet held in the U.S.A.

It was just at this point that the Marauder's fortunes began to change. Medium bombardment groups in England and the Mediterranean largely abandoned low-level bombing in favor of the British practice of formation attacks from 8-12,000 feet, escorted by fighters. Norden bombsights, now in adequate supply, replaced low-level D-8's, and bombing effectiveness improved quickly. Flying higher also improved the loss rate. In 6,700 Marauder sorties flown between July and December 1943, only .3 per cent were lost, better than any other plane type. This low loss-rate persisted for the rest of the war. Flak replaced German fighters as the chief danger, and against it the B-26 design, which included an internal keel similar to the PBM's, proved especially sturdy. Marauders attacked German rocket sites, airfields, and military communications in France and the Low Countries, the retreating German armies in Italy, the invasion beaches on D-Day, and finally Germany itself from captured fields on the continent.

Meanwhile back in Baltimore Martin engineers devised a number of improvements to the design, most noticeably a "twisted wing" with a 3 1/2-degree up angle to make take-offs safer, a solid nose with two 37 mm cannons and two .50 caliber machine guns, and a horn-balanced rudder. Acting without authority from procurement officials, the company modified three "dog ships" kept at the factory as "B-26-E"'s. They were flown down to Washington for demonstration to General Arnold and his staff, who were duly impressed. Although lower-ranking procurement officers were livid, they approved the wing change in another B-26 model, which they insisted should be the B-26F. On the assembly line in Baltimore stripped "Gypsy Rose" planes gave way to the new F model late in 1943. Never enthusiastic about the flying wing, which in any case had design problems at Northrop, Martin executives argued the company out of the B-35 contract and accepted orders for another 950 B-26G's to be built in 1944 and 1945.

Most went as replacements to the U.S. Ninth Air Force in England and Twelfth Air Force in Italy. Three hundred fifty RAF Marauder III's went to replace Douglas A-20 Bostons, Martin Baltimores, Beaufighters, and Lockheed Venturas in two RAF and five South African squadrons, also in Italy. Other B-26F's and G's went to re-equip the French Air Force. As a measure of how dramatically the Marauder's reputation had changed even the AT-23 training planes were redesignated TB-26 (Navy JM-2).

At the close of the war the Marauder was officially declared obsolete. Most surviving planes were scrapped - though several were used to test new equipment, like the bicycle landing gear proposed for the first generation of jet bombers. In 1948 the last Marauders were removed from the Air Force list, and, in a step that still causes indignation among "Marauder Men," the designation "B-26" was transferred to the former Douglas A-26 Invader attack bomber. Only a few of the 5,266 Marauders built survived the scrapyard including a former French B-26G-10-MA which has been restored for display at the Air Force Museum. An original 1941 B-26, rescued from a crash site in northern British Columbia, has been restored by David Tallichet's Aircraft Restoration Corporation of Chino, California. Another French B-26 is undergoing restoration at Le Bourget Airport, Paris. Several more planes exist in pieces, including B-26B-25-MA "Flak Bait," a 202-mission veteran, in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution (the nose section is on display at the National Air and Space Museum), and two awaiting restoration at the Empire State Aerosciences Museum in Schenectady.

First B-26

Marauder iA

B-26B Production


© 2006 The Glenn L. Martin Maryland Aviation Museum
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