B-26 Marauder 320th Bomb Group


  "Balls of Fire!!!" Alias "Fletcher's Folly!!!"
by Ben West, 443rd Bomb Squadron


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#1 As a copilot at the time, I was along more for the ride – “wheels up” & that sort of thing and there as backup pilot. Oh yes, also I was there to absorb any stray flak that might enter the right side of the cockpit and threaten the pilot¹s safety. Why else was the pilot’s station practically entombed with armor plate while the copilot’s station was completely exposed except for bottom side of the family jewels. If the body was to be transformed into a sieve what earthly good is the latter?

#2 Decimomannu field had six, parallel strips which were used for formation takeoff and formation landings which greatly increased the time available for enemy penetrations. However, these operations were hazardous should an aircraft blow a tire or other mishap occur. The 320th group operated alternating three ships abreast while the 319th used six ships abreast. Either way it was a flyers delight to see such operations with B-26 airplanes!

#3 Such did occur several times on a mission I flew on August 15th, 1944 involving our bombing to support our ground forces in their D-Day landings on the beaches of southern France at Baie De Cavalaire.

#4 A story told in the bars was about a new copilot observing the seasoned veteran’s actions during take off in a B-26. After the veteran pushes the throttles wide open he folds his arms seemingly letting the ship do whatever it may. After the plane gets in the air the new copilot observes the veteran placing his hands again on the control column while solemnly saying, “Thank you Lord, I’ll take over from here!”

There’s a large measure of truth there indeed. After all, they didn’t call the B-26 the “Baltimore Whore” or “Widow Maker” for nothing. It’s wings were so short it appeared to have no visible means of support.

From design drawings the B-26 was ordered with new innovations and without a prototype test plane having been built. With excessive accident rates congressional committees debated endeavoring to force the military to cancel their contracts.

With better maintenance and the solving of mechanical problems, the aircraft later proved to be the safest to fly in combat, but only after it was used at medium altitudes instead of at low levels that it was designed for.

It was indeed a very solidly built aircraft that could take a real beating from flak and enemy fighters and still get home. On crash landings the main structure often held together well, permitting it’s crew to often get away before it caught fire and exploded.

#5 German intelligence was so detailed “they even knew who were members of my crew” according to Buelow ,my bombardier who was shot down a few weeks later when he filled in temporarily on another crew. This he learned during his interrogation as a prisoner of war. He informed me of this when on pure chance I ran into him while taking a picture of the Arch of Triumph in Paris nine months later ,just after his liberation by allied armies from a prisoner of war camp.

#6 PDI= Pilot Direction Indicator Instrument.

#7 IP = Initial point; a recognizable point on the ground, about 25 miles away from the target to fly over just prior to the bomb run so that the approach would provide the best opportunity for the bomb strikes to destroy the target.

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