Douglas A-26 Invader against Japan

Although the Douglas A-26 Invader made its combat debut in the Pacific it only played a small part in the war against Japan. In July 1944 four early A-26s were sent to the Fifth Air Force for evaluation. The Third Bomb Group, based on New Guinea, flew them on a number of low-level operations, and was not impressed with the new aircraft.

Their A-26s were early models, with a cockpit canopy that was flush with the top of the fuselage. Visibility was poor, as the pilot was level with the front of the engine nacelles. This made low-level formation flight difficult, and also made it difficult to spot targets in the jungle environment. The 3rd Bombardment Group crews also removed the under-wing gun pods, which they felt reduced the aircraft's speed too much, leaving only the six fixed forward firing guns. They then complained about the aircraft's lack of firepower. After these early tests General George Kenney, the commander of the Fifth Air Force, stated that 'We do not want the A-26 under any circumstances as a replacement for anything'.

Douglas A-26 Invader of the 3rd Attack Group
Douglas A-26 Invader
of the 3rd Attack Group

Somewhat ironically Kenney was only able to stick to this policy because a significant number of Ninth Air Force A-20s became available when they were replaced by the A-26. By the time this source of aircraft ran out Kenney was happy with the modified A-26, and in July 1945 it was officially decided that the A-26 would replace all other medium bombers in the Pacific, although the war ended before this decision could be implemented.

Douglas responded to these criticisms in two ways. The under-wing gun pods were removed and three .50in guns were built into each wing. More importantly a new raised canopy was installed, which gave the pilot a rather better view. When the commander of the Third Bomb Group tested the modified A-26 in the autumn of 1944 he declared it suitable for operations in the South West Pacific. In June 1945 the 3rd Bombardment Group finally began to convert to the A-26, and flew a small number of missions with the new aircraft. The group used the A-26 on five missions against Formosa, and then moved to Okinawa and used its A-26s alongside its A-20s in a handful of missions against Japan (including one on the day that the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki).

In February 1944 the Joint Chief of Staffs had approved a plan to have thirteen A-26 groups operating from China by January 1945. Production delays and the changing situation in China meant that this ambitious plan never came close to being fulfilled. At the end of July 1945 the Tenth Air Force had 38 A-26s and the Fourteen Air Force had 22, but the only unit to have received the aircraft was the 12th Bombardment Group of the Tenth Air Force, which was still converting to the new type when the war ended.

The only unit to use the A-26 in anger on a large scale in the Pacific was the 319th Bombardment Group, of the Seventh Air Force, the last VII Bomber Command unit to reach Okinawa. This group served in Italy during 1944, before returning to the United States in January 1945 to convert to the A-26 (making it the only unit to be withdraw, re-equipped with the new aircraft and then returned to combat). Between April and July 1945 it moved to Okinawa, and on 16 July it flew its first combat mission with its new aircraft, attacking targets in Japan, normally in the company of other aircraft from the Seventh Air Force.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (2 June 2009), Douglas A-26 Invader against Japan , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_A-26_against_japan.html

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