Project engineer Peyton M. Magruder designed the Glenn L. Martin Company's B-26 Marauder in response to an Army Air Corps specification issued in January 1939. This specification also caught the attention of North American Aviation, Inc., and that firm responded with the B-25. War fever caused the Air Corps to forego a prototype test stage and both bombers went from the drawing board straight into production. The consequences were deadly for men flying the Martin bomber. The Army threatened to withdraw the aircraft from combat, but Marauder crews stuck with their airplane. By war's end, they had lost fewer airplanes than almost any other combat unit and compiled a notable war record.
The NASM B-26B-25-MA nicknamed "Flak-Bait" (AAF serial number 41-31773) survived 206 operational missions over Europe, more than any other American aircraft during World War II (A de Havilland Mosquito B. Mk. IX bomber completed 213 missions but this aircraft was destroyed in a crash at Calgary Airport in Canada, two days after V-E Day, see NASM D. H. 98 Mosquito). Workers at the Baltimore factory completed "Flak-Bait" in April 1943, and a crew flew it to England. The AAF assigned it to the 449th Bombardment Squadron, 322nd Bombardment Group (nicknamed the 'Annihilators'), and gave the bomber the fuselage identification codes "PN-O." Lt. James J. Farrell of Greenwich, Connecticut, flew more missions in "Flak-Bait" than any other pilot. He named the bomber after "Flea Bait," his brother's nickname for the family dog.
Project engineer Peyton M. Magruder designed the Glenn L. Martin Company's B-26 Marauder in response to an Army Air Corps specification issued in January 1939. This specification also caught the attention of North American Aviation Inc. and that firm responded with the B-25. War fever caused the Air Corps to forego a prototype test stage and both bombers went from the drawing board straight into production. The consequences were deadly for crews that flew the Martin airplane. To meet the maximum speed targeted in the proposal (520 kph or 323 mph), Martin's design pushed the wing loading to a higher level than that of any other Air Corps airplane. The design looked great on paper and the Air Corps ordered 201 aircraft in September. The first production example flew on November 25, 1940. However, the high wing loading dramatically increased landing and take off speeds. The airplane also suffered from many engine and propeller malfunctions. All these factors combined to cause many accidents in training. Intimidating epithets such as the "Widow Maker" and "One-a-Day-in-Tampa-Bay" served only to add to the bomber's already tarnished reputation, and during the war production was in danger of being halted on several occasions.
The 22nd Bombardment Group (BG) at Langley Field, Virginia, received the first Marauders in February 1941. Many nosewheel strut failures delayed the transition to full operational status but the first airplanes flew combat missions in the Pacific not long after the American entry into World War II. On June 4, 1942, four Army Air Corps Marauders defending Midway island attacked Japanese aircraft carriers with torpedoes but failed to score hits. It was soon obvious that the B-25 Mitchell required less runway for takeoff and had greater range than the B-26 so U. S. Army Air Force (AAF) planners shifted all Marauders to Africa and the European Theater of Operations. The Mitchell became the preferred type in the Pacific. The 319th BG became the first Marauder outfit sent to England. During a familiarization flight, one ex-Tokyo raider crashed and the Group CO (commanding officer) and a Squadron CO became lost over France and were shot down and killed. During this mission, 18 men died, four aircraft were destroyed, and four damaged. The Army Air Forces sent Marauders on to North Africa after the Allies invaded that continent in November 1942. By the 21st of that month, the last 319th B-26 had arrived in Algeria. Out of 57 bombers that left the U. S., only 17 made it to Africa. On December 4, the new 319th Bombardment Group CO flew his first mission with the acting CO. The B-26 was hit by heavy anti-aircraft fire over the target and crashed. All survived and became POWs (prisoners of war). On December 15, the 12th Bomber Command CO, Col. Charles Phillips flew as guest pilot aboard a B-26 flown by a Squadron CO. This bomber was downed by anti-aircraft fire and all aboard perished. Such tragic missions were common during these initial stages of B-26 operations.
Early Marauders were particularly vulnerable after damage to the hydraulic system. When enemy fire holed the system, pressure dropped, gravity and airflow forced the bomb bay doors open, and the resulting drag slowed the bomber down and made it easy prey for fighters.
May 14, 1943, saw B-26s fly the first bombing mission against German forces in Europe. However, three days later the second mission took a disastrous turn. Eleven Marauders flew to Ijmuiden, Holland, to knock out a power station that they had failed to hit three days earlier. Flying the same route, in one of the costliest missions of the war, ten bombers were lost and one aborted. But as time went on, the Marauders were to redeem themselves and achieve a record of successes that more than compensated for earlier shortcomings. In June military planners ordered a halt to low-altitude bombing. Henceforth, all medium bombers would fly at medium altitudes, about 3,000 m (10,000 ft). During July 1943, the 3rd Bomb Wing flew the first Marauder missions without losses, thanks largely to escorting Spitfires that were employed in a 4 to 1 ratio of fighters to bombers. In fact the fighters could order the bombers to scrub a mission if conditions became too unfavorable. Marauders also operated in the Mediterranean and made their first mission on June 5, 1943. The 319th BG pioneered 3-ship and later 6-ship abreast formation takeoffs while operating from Decimomannu, Sardinia, during October 1943. During February 1944, the 319th and 320th bombed the Abbey di Monte Cassino. The first Marauder to reach 100 missions, "Hell's Belle II," flew with the 319th BG and completed this milestone during May 1944. Despite its initial problems, the AAF lost fewer Marauders than any Allied bomber it flew--less than one-half of one percent.
The NASM B-26B-25-MA nicknamed "Flak-Bait" (AAF serial number 41-31773) survived 206 operational missions over Europe, more than any other American aircraft during World War II (A de Havilland Mosquito B. Mk. IX bomber completed 213 missions but this aircraft was destroyed in a crash at Calgary Airport in Canada, two days after V-E Day, see NASM D. H. 98 Mosquito). Workers at the Baltimore factory completed "Flak-Bait" in April 1943 and a crew flew it to England. The AAF assigned it to the 449th Bombardment Squadron, 322nd Bombardment Group (nicknamed the 'Annihilators'), and gave the bomber the fuselage identification codes "PN-O." Lt. James J. Farrell of Greenwich, Connecticut, flew more missions in "Flak-Bait" than any other pilot. He named the bomber after "Flea Bait," his brother's nickname for the family dog.
This Marauder earned its nickname after just a few missions. Other bombers returned unscathed but "Flak-Bait" invariably returned full of holes. "It was hit plenty of times, hit all the time," recalls Farrell. "I guess it was hit more than any other plane in the group." "Flak-Bait" completed 100 missions by June 1, 1944, making it the third Marauder based in Britain to hit the century-mission mark. The bomber soaked up 700 metal splinters on mission 180 in March 1945. On September 10, 1943, during a mission to Amiens, France, a Messerschmitt Bf 109 approached unseen with the sun at its back. The German pilot attacked "Flak-Bait" and a 20-mm cannon shell penetrated the Plexiglas nose, wounding the bombardier, and exploded against the back of the instrument panel. Despite having his instruments knocked out, and a metal fragment lodged in his leg, Farrell brought "Flak-Bait" back to England. "It was the best landing I ever saw the boss make," commented Sgt. Don Tyler, tail gunner. During other missions, "Flak-Bait" gunners downed at least three German aircraft but only one was officially credited to the bomber.
The first crew returned to the United States in July 1944, and the airplane was assigned to Lt. Graydon K. Eubank of San Antonio, Texas. Soon afterward, the bomber was reassigned to Lt. Henry "Hank" Bozarth of Shreveport, Louisiana. "Everybody was afraid of the damn thing," remembers McDonald Darnell, Jr., Bozarth's radio operator, "but she always got back for us. We always had faith in her."
"Flak-Bait's" hour of glory came on April 17, 1945, when it completed its 200th mission, leading the entire 322nd BG to Magdeburg and back. In its career, this bomber flew from four airfields-two of them on the continent after D-Day-and logged 725 hours of combat time. It returned twice on one engine and once with an engine on fire, suffered complete electrical failure twice and lost the hydraulic system on one mission. The bomber also bombed coastal targets, flew three missions on D-Day and twenty-one missions against V-1 flying bomb launch sites in the Pas de Calais area of France, and attacked targets in Holland and Belgium. The 322nd was the first American bombardment group in the European Theater to bomb in force at night. "Flak-Bait" flew three night bombing missions and a black bomb symbol painted on the left fuselage below the cockpit represents one of these night missions.
Few Marauders survive today. One is preserved at the Air Force Museum, Dayton, Ohio, and another can be seen at the Musée de l'Air. Because it has a special history, General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold selected "Flak-Bait" to include in a collection of World War II aircraft from different countries that the general set aside for the National Aeronautical Collection. The Air Force transferred the bomber to the National Air Museum in May 1949 but it was not moved to the suburbs of Washington, D. C., until 1960. More than a thousand patched flak holes bear witness to the fact that this famous Marauder was indeed appropriately named.