As the curator for the Museum’s Martin B-26B Marauder, I’ve become obsessed with the proper way to designate the name given to it by its first pilot Jim Farrell in August 1943. It all centers on the pesky use of a hyphen. Is it Flak Bait or Flak-Bait? You see both in archival documents, historical references and books, and all over the internet. Which one is correct? In my quest to get that one detail right, I learned that the use of the term “flak bait” referred to more than just the name of the World War II, medium bomber that is now undergoing preservation treatment in the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. American aircrew that were going into combat would describe themselves as “flak bait,” meaning they were at the mercy of enemy anti-aircraft artillery. “Flak,” which was short for the German fliegerabwehrkanone, or literally “flyer defense cannon,” was the primary threat to bomber crews over their targets. U.S. Army Air Forces Ninth Air Force medium bomber crews, specifically those flying the B-26 Marauder, adopted that name collectively for themselves as they risked their lives over Nazi-occupied Europe.
The black splotches that you see in this 1944 image of two B-26s over Germany are flak bursts. The bigger one in front of the lower Marauder is especially frightening because it is very close to the B-26 from which this photograph was taken.
At least three other American aircraft went into battle over Europe with the name Flak Bait in World War II. A Douglas C-47 Dakota in the 437th Troop Carrier Group of the Ninth was one. Lt. Bill Barlow of the 353rd Fighter Group in the Eighth Air Force named his Republic P-47D Thunderbolt Flak Bait because it always came back from a mission with a few holes somewhere on the airframe. I also found one mention of an Eighth Air Force Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress that carried the name. Does anyone have a personal connection with these aircraft, have any more details, or know of any other World War II aircraft that flew with the name Flak Bait? How did the Museum’s B-26 get its name? Pilot Jim Farrell took inspiration from the nickname his brother gave to Boots the family dog back home, “Flea Bait,” and adapted it to reflect the combat environment over Western Europe.
With the approval of the crew, Farrell took those two words and sketched them popping out of a flak burst. Squadron artist Ted Simonaitis painted the now iconic nose art in yellow, red, and white on the left forward fuselage. See the narrow hyphen between “Flak” and “Bait?” While combat crews rightly called themselves “flak bait” and there were other aircraft that carried the name, there is only one Flak-Bait, the airplane that flew more missions than any other American aircraft during World War II. Jeremy Kinney is a curator in the Aeronautics Department at the National Air and Space Museum.