Martin B-26 Marauder in the Pacific

The Martin B-26 Marauder had a short combat career in the Pacific. After playing a part in the early fighting on New Guinea, at Guadalcanal and even at Midway the type was withdraw from the Pacific during 1943, but this early combat experience did help overcome the aircraft's poor reputation.

The first American unit to take the Marauder into combat was the 22nd Bombardment Group. In December 1941 and January 1942 it used its B-26s to fly anti-submarine patrols off the US west coast, before moving to Australia with a mix of B-26s and B-26As to join the new US Fifth Air Force. The group's first combat mission came on 5 April 1942, when it attacked the Japanese base on Rabaul. On 21 July 1942 a group of Marauders from the 22nd were the only Allied aircraft to attach the Japanese convoy heading for Buna, and after the Japanese landings the group took part in the fighting around Gona and on the Kokada trail.

The 22nd made a number of minor changes to the Marauder. An extra .50in gun was added on a ball mounting in the nose, and mountings were added for extra guns in the waist hatches – a feature that would soon become standard on the Marauder. The transparent tail fairing was removed from the tail gunner's position. The group used the B-26 exclusively until October 1943, by which time the number of aircraft available was so low that they could only equip a single squadron. The rest of the group converted to the B-25, before in February 1944 the entire group converted to the B-24 to become a heavy bomber group.

During 1943 the 22nd used its B-26s to attack targets on New Guinea and New Britain. On 13 August they made up part of a force that dropped 175 tons of bombs around Salamaua, in the biggest single strike yet made by the Fifth Air Force. On 16 September they attacked Lae, just prior to the Australian invasion. In September-December they were active around Finshafen, supporting the Allied invasion of 22 September and on 29 December they attacked Cape Gloucester, New Britain, to support the US Marines who were attacking the airfield.

The B-26 played a minor part in the battle of Midway. The 18th Reconnaissance Squadron and 69th Bombardment Squadrons, both passing through Hawaii on their way to the South Pacific, both provided two torpedo carrying aircraft (the first time the USAAF used torpedoes in action). The four aircraft took off a dawn on 4 June 1942, and did find the Japanese carriers, but two were shot down before making their attacks and the two torpedoes that were launched missed their targets (both pilots claimed probable hits). One Zero was shot down by a B-26 – the only concrete success achieved by the USAAF during the battle, but the two surviving Marauders were both written off after suffering heavy battle damage. Both pilots were rewarded with the Distinguished Service Cross.

A small number of B-26s (peaking at 29 in June 1942) fought on the Aleutian Islands. On 3 June half a dozen Marauders attempted to find the Japanese carriers that had just attacked Dutch Harbor as part of the wider Midway campaign. On the following day five Marauders and two B-17s attacked the cruiser Takao, but without success. Most of the Marauder's time was spent on reconnaissance missions, but they were involved in the attack on Kiska on 14 December, attacked Attu on the following day and Kiska again in 16 October.

Two squadrons of B-26s were involved in the fighting on Guadalcanal – the 69th and 70th Bombardment Squadrons of the 38th Bombardment Group. In mid-November both squadrons moved to Espiritu, and on 13 November the first three B-26s arrived on Henderson field. By the end of 14 November 10 aircraft from the 69th BS were based on Guadalcanal, although this was a temporary assignment and the squadron didn't move permanently to Henderson until 31 December 1942. The two squadrons continued to take part in the fighting on the Solomon Islands, but not with the B-26s, which in April 1943 were replaced with B-25s as part of a process that saw the B-26 removed from the Pacific theatre.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (5 May 2009), Martin B-26 Marauder in the Pacific , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_B-26_Pacific.html

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