B-26 Marauder 320th Bomb Group


Remembrances of the B-Dash-Crash & My Experiences with the 320th
by John (Jack) S. Harpster, 442nd Bomb Squadron


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The B-26 and the Pratt & Whitney R-2800


The B-26 was a twin-engine, mid wing medium bomber; the fastest of it’s kind in those days. It was a beautiful plane, both to look at and to fly as well. The fuselage was very streamlined looking - much like a cigar with stingers. The Glen Martin company in Baltimore, Maryland did an outstanding job in development of this combat aircraft. It had a rugged set of tricycle landing gear, which was tried and tested on many occasions as the ‘26 came in for a landing very fast and hot. The power plant for this bird was that of two Pratt and Whitney engines called R-2800's. These were truly remarkable engines.

I was fortunate to also be propelled by this same power plant in the P-47 with the same resulting reliability. For example, during a dive bombing run in a P-47 on a combat mission, I had two engine cylinders shot out by a direct hit from 20 millimeter German Anti Aircraft guns, resulting in oil pouring all over the canopy. The R-2800 engine non-the-less still provided me with a bumpy, but safe return to home base. These engines, as mounted in the B-26, had a two position engine driven supercharger or blower to give more power when up in the higher altitudes. The P-47 version of the same engine had a constant speed turbo driven super charger that gave excellent power even as you climbed higher and higher. Although most books and references covering the B-26 state that it’s maximum allowable air speed was slightly over 300 mph, I seem to recall indicated air speeds a good deal higher than that. A cruise speed of well into the 200’s was easily attained.  

On the minus side, however, was the fact that the original Curtis Electric propellers had an occasional spat of non-cooperation whereby they would “run away” as it was called and go into higher and higher revolutions per minute. This was hard to control and sometimes resulted in the requirement to shut them down, plus an unscheduled landing. That is if you were able to control it. A runaway prop on take off was a “Flying Elbows” exercise and one with a good potential of making a landing on unfamiliar real estate somewhere just off the airfield boundary.

Showing off: The B-25 that could not keep up


I recall one time in training when I wanted to show off our B-26. We had landed at a base in South Carolina and had to remain overnight for repairs. It was called a RON in those days. The next day after repairs were completed, we were getting ready to head for our Florida home. At Base Operations, a B-25 pilot noted our destination and said he was also going there and suggested we fly formation together. This would be unheard of in today’s Air Force. By that I mean to fly a totally unbriefed and not approved formation flight. Heaven forbid. Anyhow, due to no regulations to the contrary, we agreed and met upstairs. The B-25 was also a very fine aircraft. It did a wonderful job in both theaters of operation and I was fortunate to later on get the chance to fly many hours in the B-25 called the “Mitchell”.

You might recall that 16 B-25’s were the very famous aircraft that General Doolittle and his flight crews flew off of the carrier deck of the Hornet to bomb Tokyo. This very first and historical strike at the Japanese homeland was on April 18, 1942. So, I didn’t want the B-25 pilot to think poorly of our bird. He flew my wing and in light of the above desire to impress him, I left an unusual amount of power on while cruising. We were really eating up the Real Estate and the B-25 pilot called me to please “Reduce power” as he said he was burning up his engines just to stay with us. So, I being all heart, cut back on engine power just to placate him.

There are so many crazy and stupid things young bucks do in their growing up years.

More on Crewing the B-26


In the B-26, the pilot and copilot were sitting side by side. The pilot was semi encased in an individual kind of armor plated coffin like bulkhead. This side by side seating arrangement had lots of advantages. It was a real asset to crew coordination to have the option of visual signals as well as interphone. I later flew many aircraft without that added luxury of visual signals to the right seat pilot and it’s no problem of course, but was nice to have it in the B-26. I recall that later on in combat, the many endless long hours of close formation flight would get extremely tiresome. My copilot and I had a working agreement to each fly exactly 15 minutes by the instrument panel clock at which time it would be the turn of the other pilot. While flying closely tucked in on some one else’s wing, I was fortunate to be able to watch his hands as he dropped the wheel exactly on the second hand stroke of 15 minutes and then resume my turn at the wheel.

Just in front of the pilots, the bombardier was housed in a glass-surrounded greenhouse and behind the pilots were the engineer and radio operator. Next came the bomb bay. In this cradle of death and destruction, we carried up to 4,000 pounds. The load could vary from the 2000 pound bridge busters; on down through the family of bombs to the small 100 pound training units called Blue Boys. I should also mention that the B-26 was the only bomber in the Army Air Corp’s inventory that was designed and capable of carrying a torpedo. There also was the option of Frags (Fragmentation Bombs) and Incendiary bombs. I used to hate flying number four in combat when we were assigned a frag bomb mission. Flying number four meant tucking your airplane just under and very close to the leader. According to the slide rule experts, said Frags were supposed to successfully go straight down upon departing from the aircraft and not fly back in the slip stream and thus be no problem for Nervous Nelly flying in number 4 position. I used to fear, however, that once in a while a frag might not know or want to comply with this slide rule parameter and we would both meet under unplanned and unacceptable terms and conditions. It never did happen to me, however, but I did hear of one crew who brought some hardware from a frag bomb home with him tucked neatly into his vertical stabilizer, or rudder.

Our fuel tanks were of the self-sealing variety and fortunately I never had to confirm that. We could carry close to 1,000 gallons giving us good range to many targets in the War Theater. Fuel management was done by the flight engineer with a fairly simple set of valves and we used high-octane fuel of the 145/130 variety. Later on in combat, we also learned (don’t tell the taxpayers) the value of this fuel as an excellent dry cleaning solution and even more propitious was the option of using it for tent heaters. I will cover this potentially explosive subject and a few sad tales later on. We were also blessed with very good armament in the form of fifty caliber machine guns. There were four so-called “Package Guns”. Two were mounted just outside and under each pilot’s compartment. I was lucky I didn’t get caught one training day in Florida when we were sent out to the lake to practice some ground gunnery on the gunnery targets located in Arbuckle Lake.  Some of my “Practice" consisted of shooting at some low flying transient ducks that were ‘invading’ our target area without proper clearance. Fifty caliber machine guns were just a tad gross for duck hunting! I didn’t get a body count, but did prove to myself that said guns worked very well. The ducks rapidly and successfully departed the area.



Nice view of the top turret

The bombardier also had his own hand held ‘50 to protect us from frontal attacks and just to the rear were waist guns one on each side, both hand held. The tail gunner position also had a pair of .50 caliber guns and it could be a very lonesome location during enemy fighter attacks. No place to hide there! Lastly we had a power operated top turret with a pair of guns on top as shown adjacently.

I’m a little bit ahead of myself, but I have a sad tale to relate on the top turret subject. During an early combat mission we were hit very hard and very often by antiaircraft and enemy fighters. The top turret operator was instantly killed with a devastating head injury and the waist gunner was also wounded with a broken arm. In spite of his injury, he pulled the now deceased turret operator out of his turret and manned the guns himself; a brave action typical of so many of our fine airmen in those and current times as well. The waist gunner was later presented with a very much deserved Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroic action. In my case, I was just happy to come out of it with my skin intact. (Continued)

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