I didn’t dwell
on it until much later--the pure happen-stance that made Trunk put me on
aircraft One Six with Hubbard, and not on the doomed Zero Six. Eventually, I
realized that when flying in combat, our fate wasn’t decided on the mission. It
was decided the night before, when the operations officer put together the
crews and arranged them in the formation, and the operations clerk typed the
mission assignment sheet. The clerk was typing one man’s Distinguished Flying
Cross and another man’s obituary.
prototype B-26 at the Glenn L. Martin
factory in Baltimore, Maryland. It is
shown here at rest between test flights
(Air Age archives)
Doolittle flew her and respectfully called the B-26 Martin Marauder "an
unforgiving airplane." At MacDill Field in Tampa, Florida, B-26s ditched so often
on takeoff that crews coined the phrase, "One a day in Tampa Bay.” At Laughlin AFB in Del Rio,Texas, nervous instructors called
the “The Flying Coffin” or “The Flying Prostitute.” With those short wings, she
had no visible means of support.
were three main factors that earned the Marauder its bad reputation. A wing
loading of 56 pounds per square foot allowed no safety factor in case of a
single-engine situation; there was "nothing left over.” The glitch-prone
Curtiss electric props malfunctioned frequently, and if it happened on takeoff,
it was often more than a low-time pilot or the airplane could handle. And,
finally, this “hot” airplane went straight from the drawing board to the
flightline. Before even one had been produced, the Air Corps had ordered 1,131
at a cost of $227,000 each. Flight testing was done at training fields and in
combat by young, green pilots.
S. Truman, a senator from Missouri, reviewed the B-26’s
accident rate and twice ordered production halted. But the sleek Marauder
bristled with firepower – 11 .50 caliber machine guns. With her two reliable Pratt
& Whitney R-2800s (2,000hp each), she could carry 4,000 pounds of bombs at
over 200 mph, to a target 500 miles away. A crucial vote of confidence came
from the crews in the southwest Pacific. The Marauder could hold her own
against the Japanese Zeros, and she could take a helluva pounding and still get
you home. The allies needed this plane badly, and production continued.
the end of the War, over 5,000 Marauders had been built, and the B-26 had the lowest
loss rate in combat of any Allied bomber – less than one half of one percent. And
a B-26 named Truman’s Folly flew 164 missions. For those of us lucky enough to
fly her, she gave the best of both worlds: the quickness of a fighter and the
camaraderie of a bomber crew. The ugly duckling had grown into a beautiful swan,
and our blind date with the shady lady had turned into a full-fledged love
In the next
five days, I flew four more missions and then got sidetracked into flying
squadron “errands.” I picked up jeep engines in Naples, flew a
general to Corsica and brought back a planeload of beer
from Algiers. By 14
August, I had only six missions and was still flying right seat. That day was a
stand down, and we had our first ever afternoon briefing, giving us an in-depth
preview of the next day’s operation -- all-out effort in support of the
invasion of Southern France.
“Our job tomorrow is to carpet-bomb the beach
at Baie de Cavalaire to clear the land mines,” Capt. Smith said, pointing to a town
just west of St. Tropez on the Riviera. “We drop at 0715 hours; the troops will hit
the beach at 0800 hours. Takeoff will be at 0430. We got some search-lights we’re
gonna aim down the runway to help you stay in formation on the takeoff. Bomb
load will be 30 100-pound demos.“
“How we gonna carry 30 bombs when we only have
20 shackles?” lead bombardier Bill Garrey asked.
there’s room in the bomb bay to wire extra bombs to bombs, five on each side,”
Smith said, “You won’t want to bring any bombs back .... Wouldn’t be too good
landing on that lumpy runway?” What about taking off with the damned things on
that lumpy runway?
said we were confined to base and, as soon as the briefing was over, there was
a rush to Operations. Two mission sheets were thumbtacked to the bulletin
board, and I was flying copilot for Bob Dinwiddie, lead ship of the third
flight. I had flown two missions with Dinwiddie, and I was happy with my slot.
Happier than “Pappy” Hurd, who was standing beside me, swearing softly. “What's
your problem?” I asked. “I guess he pulled rank, lieutenant,” Pappy said.
“Cap’n Bouchard’s flying in my place with Lt. Trunk.” He showed me where his
name had been penciled out, Bouchard’s written in. Capt. Bouchard was our squadron
“Hey, Pappy; it’s a milk run, and we’re all
goin’ to the same place.”
lieutenant, but I’m flying with a green crew -- back here -- and it’s a night
takeoff. Trunk has over 60 missions; he knows what he’s doing.” Pappy had a
point there. A night-formation takeoff, with an experimental bomb load, bombs
wired to bombs, was not a good time to be flying with a short-timer.
It was still
pitch dark when the trucks dropped us off at our aircraft at 0400. To avoid
confusion, crew chiefs had positioned the planes the evening before in their
order of takeoff. Eighty marauders, more than a mile of airplanes, were lined
up wingtip to wingtip on each side of the field, and the six. Hollywood-style
searchlights were already beamed down the runways. With their Plexiglas turrets
and .50-caliber machine guns glinting, the majestic rows of 320th and 319th
bombers facing each other from opposite sides of the field looked like armored
knights ready to joust.
author in "Miss Manchester"
Dinwiddie started the engines, and after a few minutes, the plane on our right
moved out and we rolled in behind. We were still taxiing toward the end of the
runways when takeoffs in flights of three began. The searchlights behind them
cast long, eerie shadows down the runway, and the planes were rim-lighted silhouettes
until they hurtled past. When we took off, Dinwiddie held it on the ground a
little longer than usual, then added 10mph to our climb airspeed, trying to
give our wingmen a little wider envelope of control.
we took off, a red glare filled our cockpit and we heard a muffled explosion.
Dinwiddie, concentrating on the instrument panel, shrugged his shoulders. We
climbed on course toward Isla de Asinara on the north tip of Sardinia, and in the
plum-blue dawn, the flights of three rendezvoused into squadrons of nine. When
we moved in low and on the left of our squadron lead, his left wingman was
missing – Trunk’s slot Capt. Berge called for a spare to fill in, and a plane
slid in over us from our left, close enough for me to return the tail gunner’s
wave. Where was Trunk? I wondered; but the invasion fleet started to appear
below us, and I was mesmerized.
there was nothing, then they were everywhere. We were flying in sunlight, but
two miles below us, the ships were chalking parallel white lines across a
leaden sea. There were carriers, battleships, cruisers, strings of C-47s and
fighter formations darting between the holes in the clouds, too fast to
identify. I couldn’t grasp that we were part of this; I had a detached feeling,
as though I was watching a newsreel. Over the target there was 7/10 cloud cover.
It had been briefed as a “milk run” -- no flak, no fighters -- so our squadron
bombardier made a second run on the target to make sure he had the beach where
he wanted it in the crosshairs of his Norden sight. When we dropped, I watched
two “wired” bombs from the lead ship clang together, nose and tail, and when
their arming vanes spun off, they exploded in a beautiful red, yellow and black
fireball. Jagged fragments of the bomb casings ripped through our flight.
Nobody hurt but, damn, we almost got shot down by our own bombs. Our strike was
a good one, and we started the long glide back to Sardinia thinking
maybe we had done some good for the GIs who, in minutes, would be hitting the
climbed down out of the plane at Decimo, our grim-faced crew chief said, “Trunk
bought the farm.” The red glare we had seen right after takeoff was Zero Two,
Paul Trunk’s plane, flying into the side of a low hill not far off the end of
it?” Dinwiddie asked.
damage to Zero Three
shook his head. “Afraid not, lieutenant. They’re finito.”
Paul Trunk was
flying his 62nd mission. Just three more and he would have rotated home to his
wife and daughter, Paula, in Shippenville, Pennsylvania. He was as
good a pilot as we had, and in addition to the six-man crew, there were two
“stowaways” on Trunk’s plane. Everybody had wanted to see the big show. There
was never any explanation why Trunk had made the difficult formation takeoff
smoothly then banked gently down and left into Mt. Azza, a hill less than 600
At the end of
September, the 320th reluctantly left Sardinia Allied ground
forces had pushed ahead, and their battle lines were getting to the edge of the
B-26’s range. We moved north to Corsica to be closer
to the action. Flying off Corsica was
challenging: a short, slippery, steel-mat runway situated in the turbulent lee
of a mountain. On my last flight out of Sardinia, I took a
last look back at Decimo’s long, forgiving runways. They had allowed me to make
mistakes and stay alive while was learning to fly a B-26 with a load of bombs
and ammo. Decimo had nursed me through my short-timer days, and I would always
||The author and his dog, Short-timer. At 21, he was C.O. of the 441st Bomb Squadron in the 320th Bomb Group—probably the youngest bomber squadron commander in the ETO. He flew 71 missions, 26 as group or squadron lead or mission commander.
Editors' note: This
article was originally published in the
February 1998 issue of Flight Journal and
is an excerpt from "Blue Battlefields,"
Chuck's book about his exploits as a
B-26 pilot during WWII. It
is presented here by permission from the
author, Charles O'Mahony and the folks at
Flight Joural. Back issues are available.
Click on the image to link to the Flight
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