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B-26 Marauder: The Bomber that “Separated the Men from the Boys”

DAYTON, Ohio -- Martin B-26G Marauder at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

When learning to fly the Marauder/He heard many wonderful things/All he could see was the engines/’Oh where in the hell are the wings?/Why did I join the Air Corps?/For Mother, dear Mother knew best/Here I lie beneath the wreckage/Marauder all over my chest.”

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That snippet is the opening verse to the song “Marauder,” sung by Dick Jonas (Lt. Col, USAF, Ret.), a Vietnam War F-4 Phantom pilot who later became a professional singer known as “the fighter pilot’s minstrel,” and whose songs I’ve quoted in multiple previous 19FortyFive articles. Lt. Col (Ret.) Jonas, being the former fighter pilot that he is, demonstrates a natural bias in favor of fighter pilots and fighter planes in his songs, whilst concurrently poking (assuredly good-natured) fun at bomber pilots whenever and wherever he can.

So then, when good ol’ Dick – please don’t read any double-entendre or innuendo into that, you sickos(!) – makes an exception to policy and actually dedicates a song paying a compliment to a bomber and its crews, you know that we’re talking about one special warplane.

Say hello to the B-26 Marauder. 

B-26 Marauder Military Matriculation and Specifications

The Martin B-26 Marauder was indeed one bada*s bomber.

Built by the Glenn L. Martin Company – which eventually was merged into what we now know as the Lockheed Martin Corporation – she made her maiden flight on November 25, 1940, and officially entered into service with U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) the following year, just in time for America’s entry into WWII

As noted by Marc Liebman in a June 2022 article for Military History Now, “It broke new ground in bomber design … Peyton Magruder’s design was the first airplane with a perfectly cylindrical fuselage that tapered in the front and rear to reduce drag … The B-26 was the only medium bomber with two bomb bays and theoretically, could carry 5,800 pounds of bombs … The crew varied based on the mission from five to seven. Typically, it consisted of two pilots, a bombardier/navigator, top turret gunner/flight engineer, tail gunner. On some missions, an extra gunner was carried for the ventral .50 caliber machine gun, as well as a radio operator … The B-26 was the first to be equipped with electrically controlled propellers.”

The Marauder sported a fuselage length of 58 feet 6 inches, a wingspan of 71 feet, and a height of 20 feet 3 inches, with a maximum takeoff weight of 37,000 pounds, a cruising speed of 190 miles per hour, and a max airspeed of 285 mph. A total of 5,288 of these warbirds were built between 1941 and 1945. 

“B-26 is the Airplane/That Separates the Men from the Boys …”

The twin-engine – specifically Pratt & Whitney R-2800s of 2,000 horsepower each – Marauder was first “blooded” in combat via an airstrike against the Japanese-controlled stronghold of Rabaul, New Guinea on April 5, 1942. The plane found itself serving in every single theater of the war, not just in the hands of American aviators, but the RAF, South African Air Force, and the Free French Air Force as well.

Ironically, on the one hand, the USAAF lost fewer B-26s than any other Allied bomber it flew—less than one-half of one percent; on the other hand, The high wing loading of the design and the resultant increased landing and take-off speeds caused many accidents in training, leading to morbid monikers such “Widow Maker” and “One-a-Day-in-Tampa-Bay,” not to mention those song lyrics quoted at the beginning of this article. And the low overall combat loss ratio notwithstanding, the Marauder and her crews initially suffered grievous losses when they were employed in harrowing low-level bombing missions against land targets.

Once the B-26 was switched to medium-level attacks, i.e. above 10,000 feet, that the plane really shone. To quote Mr. Liebman again, “The B-26 flew some of its most important missions in that role: in the lead up to Operation Overlord, supporting ground forces during the Normandy campaign and even knocking out V-1 rocket sites.

One British commander, Air Marshal Sir John Slessor praised ‘the astonishing accuracy of the experienced medium bomber groups – particularly the Marauders,’ and called one of his B-26-equipped units, the 42nd Bombardment Group ‘probably the best day-bomber unit in the world.’” 

High praise indeed.

My Personal Interactions with the Marauder Men

Back in late August 2004, whilst I was an active-duty USAF Security Forces 1st Lieutenant stationed at Scott AFB, I took some hard-earned leave to make my way to Washington, D.C. to attend my beloved USC Trojans’ 2004 season opener against the Virginia Tech Hokies at FedEx Field (the Trojans’ first stepping stone en route to the national championship that season). Naturally, like a lot of my fellow fans attending the game, I took time to do the sightseeing around Our Nation’s Capital, with the most significant such touristy venture being my first visit to the World War II Memorial, which had just opened four months earlier. 

As luck would have it, there were a bunch of Marauder crew dogs being honored at the Memorial that day. Naturally, I had to go schmooze with them and pay my respects. By this time, these gentlemen were octogenarians, yet nary a single one of them was showing any signs of senility; to a man, they were still mentally sharp as a whip and full of the same amount of piss and vinegar and moxie that enabled them to survive and triumph those heady days of WWII aerial combat six decades earlier. And when I began serenading them with that Dick Jonas “Marauder” song, they picked right up on it and joined me in the song without skipping a beat.

Such a memorable experience, and a tremendous honor. A special breed, a worthy part of “The Greatest Generation” indeed. 

I don’t know if any of those brave Marauder men are still alive. As for the plane they flew, a mere six of them survive today at various museums, with the lone airworthy specimen hosted by Fantasy of Flight Museum in Polk City, Florida.  

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force Security Forces officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon). Chris holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from American Military University (AMU). He has also been published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of the Naval Order of the United States (NOUS)

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Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Andrew M Winter

    January 5, 2023 at 11:36 am

    Highly recommend the work by Martin Caiden “The Ragged Rugged Warriors” which is an aviation history book that details military aviation from pre World War Two through the year 1942. It is the only full book I know of that details that period.

    One of the last chapters of that book detail the activities of the 22nd bombardment group flying out of Seven Mile Drone New Guinea. They were flying the original B-26, A models with the REALLY short wing. That was the version that earned the aircraft it’s moniker,”The destitute prostitute” because it had no visible means of support!. But it was faster than the later versions.

    It was so fast that they flew unescorted into Rabaul. The Zeros could make intercepts inbound because the pilots had to fly slower to make accurate bomb runs.

    However, once the bombs were gone, they’d drop the nose a little increase throttle to max speed and they could literally out run the Zeros, and did so as a standard exit from the target zone.

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