Martin B-26 Marauder: The Accident-Prone Medium Bomber That Went On to Become One of the Most Successful of WWII

Photo Credit: USAAF / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Photo Credit: USAAF / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The Martin B-26 Marauder was an American twin-engine medium bomber that saw service during World War II. Taking part in action in all theaters of the conflict, it suffered a high accident rate with its early models that was rectified through retrained crews and much-needed modifications. This allowed the over 5,200 production B-26s to serve until the end of the war with American and Allied air forces.

Development of the Martin B-26 Marauder

Martin B-26 Marauder in flight
Martin B-26 Marauder with the 596th Bombardment Squadron, 397th Bombardment Group, 98th Bombardment Wing, 9th Bombardment Command, Ninth Air Force, 1944. (Photo Credit: Charles E. Brown / USAAF / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

In March 1939, the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) published requirements for a twin-engined medium bomber. The aircraft needed to have a maximum speed of 350 MPH, a range of 3,000 miles and the ability to carry up to 2,000 pounds of ordnance.

On July 5, the Glenn L. Martin Company submitted its design, the Martin Model 179. It was decided the aircraft was the greatest submission, and Martin was given a contract for 201 units, to be referred to as B-26 Mauraders. It took approximately two years for the bomber to become operational. Despite this, another order for an additional 930 was placed in September 1940.

The first flight of the B-26 took place on November 25, 1940, and the USAAC received its first in February 1941. In March of that year, the service began testing the B-26 at Patterson Field, Ohio.

An accident-prone aircraft

Martin B-26 Marauder shrouded in flames
Martin B-26 Marauder with the 497th Bombardment Squadron, 344th Bombardment Group, Ninth Air Force after it was struk by flak, 1945. (Photo Credit: USAAF / Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Initially, the B-26 Marauder was an accident-prone aircraft. At MacDill Field, Florida, 15 crashed over the course of 30 days. This led to the saying, “One a day in Tampa Bay.” In addition to the crashes at MacDill, another 13 B-26s crashed in Tampa Bay over the course of 14 months. This led crews to give the bomber a number of rather unfortunate nicknames, including “Widowmaker,” “Martin Murderer,” “Flying Coffin” and “B-Dash-Crash.”

In 1942, then-Missouri Sen. Harry S. Truman was chairman of the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program – also known as the “Truman Committee.” During one hearing, he asked Martin representatives why so many B-26s had crashed or had issues. Their answer was that the wings were too short.

Truman replied that, if such negligence continued, the contract would be canceled. Ensuring it wasn’t, Martin added six feet to the wingspan, along with upgraded engines, more armor and heavier guns. Pilots were also retrained to understand the unique flying requirements of the B-26.

By February 1943, the bombers being produced were problem free.

Martin B-26 Marauder specs

Martin B-26 Marauder dropping bombs mid-flight
Martin B-26 Marauder on a practice bombing run at Eglin Field, Florida, 1942. (Photo Credit: USAAF / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The B-26 Marauder was a shoulder-winged monoplane with an all-metal construction. The aircraft featured two bomb bays at mid-fuselage, and while a full bomb load would see both filled, in practice the forward bay was used for ordnance while the aft held additional fuel tanks.

Overall, the B-26 was 58 feet, six inches long and had a wingspan of 71 feet. The bomber’s weight was 37,000 pounds, and later models were armed with eleven .50-cal. M2 Browning machine guns and up to 4,000 pounds of bombs. While 5,800 pounds of ordnance could be carried, this created a reduction in the aircraft’s range.

Two Pratt & Whitney R-2800-43 Double Wasp radial engines, producing between 2,000 and 2,200 horsepower each, powered the B-26. These allowed the bomber to maintain a cruising speed of 190 MPH and reach a maximum of 285 MPH. It had a range of 1,100 miles and a ceiling of 19,800 feet.

Sending the Martin B-26 Marauder to the Pacific

Martin B-26 Marauder in flight
Martin B-26 Marauder with the 37th Bombardment Squadron, 17th Bombardment Group suffering heavy flak damage, 1943. (Photo Credit: USAAF / Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The B-26 Marauder saw service in all theaters of war, although it was used primarily in Europe. Despite its early accident record, the aircraft went on to become one of the most successful American medium-range bombers. By the end of WWII, it’d been flown by the Americans, British, South Africans and Free French on more than 110,000 sorties.

The first B-26s arrived in the Pacific in February 1941, replacing the Douglas B-18 Bolo. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, more were sent to the South West Pacific.

During the Battle of Midway, two B-26s were stationed at Midway Island to attack the Japanese fleet. While the torpedoes they dropped didn’t hit any ships, they did kill two sailors aboard the aircraft carrier Akagi with their machine guns and shoot down a Mitsubishi A6M Zero.

In 1943, the B-26 began to be replaced in the Pacific by the North American B-25 Mitchell. This process took a while, with the final B-26 combat mission taking place on January 9, 1944.

Martin B-26 Marauder in the Mediterranean

Five Martin B-26 Marauders in flight
Martin B-26 Marauders with the 555th Bombardment Squadron, 386th Bombardment Group, 1944. (Photo Credit: R.H. Denison / USAAF / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

While a lesser part of the B-26 Marauder’s history, the bomber’s service during Operation Torch and in the Mediterranean is still notable. During the Allied invasion, three bombardment groups were deployed, which lost 80 aircraft over 1,587 combat sorties. Outside of North Africa, the B-26 flew with the Twelfth Air Force during operations in Sicily, southern France and Italy, providing much-needed aid for the various Allied advances.

It was during these missions that the bomber received its biggest praise, with Air Marshal John Slessor, Deputy Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean Allied Air Forces, commenting on the B-26’s “astonishing accuracy.”

Service in the European Theater

View of a Martin B-26C Marauder crew through the cockpit window
Martin B-26C Marauder with the 450th Bombardment Squadron, 322nd Bombardment Group, Ninth Air Force, 1944. (Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

In Europe, the first B-26 Marauders began fighting with the Eighth Air Force in early 1943. One of the first attacks made by the bombers was an unescorted attack against a power station in the Netherlands. The whole of the attacking force, 11 B-26s, fell victim to Luftwaffe-flown Focke Wulf Fw 190s and anti-aircraft fire.

B-26 missions were far more successful when Allied fighters accompanied them and they bombed targets at a medium altitude. In this improved situation, the aircraft proved to be very successful. Flying with the Ninth Air Force, the B-26 experienced the lowest loss rate in the European Theater of any aircraft, at less than 0.5 percent.

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The B-26 was also used throughout the Second World War by the Royal Air Force, South African Air Force, the Balkan Air Force and the Free French Air Force. The French were the last to operate the bomber, with two remaining in service as a testbed until 1958.

Ryan McLachlan

Ryan McLachlan is a historian and content writer for Hive Media. He received his Bachelor of Arts in History and Classical Studies and his Master of Arts in History from the University of Western Ontario. Ryan’s research focused on military history, and he is particularly interested in the conflicts fought by the United Kingdom from the Napoleonic Wars to the Falklands War.

Ryan’s other historical interests include naval and maritime history, the history of aviation, the British Empire, and the British Monarchy. He is also interested in the lives of Sir Winston Churchill and Admiral Lord Nelson. Ryan enjoys teaching, reading, writing, and sharing history with anyone who will listen.

In his spare time, he enjoys watching period dramas such as Murdoch Mysteries and Ripper Street and also enjoys reading classical literature and Shakespeare. He also plays football and is an afternoon tea connoisseur.