American medium bombers
One of the strangest aspects of United States military aviation is that we went into war not only with the best long-range bombers, but also with a definite superiority in medium and lightweight bombers, in spite of the fact that between wars we were an extremely nonbelligerent nation with the very obvious need for long-range heavies to protect the vast coastline and outlying islands.
American medium bombers are the best in the world. One reason is that they were developed side by side with our commercial airplanes , which had to have speed and range in order to cope with American air transport problems.
For the steady development of its medium bombers, America owes a considerable debt to the late General Billy Mitchell, who in the last war was commander of the largest tactical bombing air force put under a single command at that date. His force consisted of Americans flying British and French machines, as well as British and French squadrons. Mitchell returned from war with very advanced ideas on the potentialities of bombing, and although no Americandesigned bombers had been in action in France during World War I, he fostered the development of the twin-motored bomber.
Mitchell used Glenn Martin bombers in his memorable attempt off the Virginia Capes to prove that the airplane could master the battleship, and it is undoubtedly due to his doctrines that the United States Army continued to press development of these exceedingly useful craft.
In one way the American medium bomber is responsible for the air supremacy of the United Nations. This is a personal opinion, and you must take it for what it is worth, but I am convinced that if the United States had not demonstrated so liberally the possibilities of fast twin-motored bombers between wars, the German Reich might have modeled its Luftwaffe on the British plans, building heavy bombers rather than concentrating on a standard design for all-round bombers such as the two-engined Dornier 217. The Germans are excellent engineers and improvers. They improved the tank beyond measure, and turned it into a highly efficient and deadly weapon, while their airliners followed closely on the designs of the French aircraft.
When faced with the problem of mass-producing an air arm, they looked around carefully. They had always had vast respect for America and American methods. German aircraft engineers and students began flooding into the United States. To Germany they sent or brought reports of the remarkable progress made over here in commercial and military airplanes. Our airliners were appreciably faster than anything Europe was producing, our medium bombers had an edge on the planes of the world. Back to the Fatherland went the snoopers and improvers, with the thought that if America could build such efficient medium bombers, Germany could go them one better.
British planes were good, but slow. Their aero engines were excellent , but in bomber design and in production they seemed far behind.
Goering, Milch, and Udet decided to follow the "American Plan," paying particular attention to the dive bomber perfected by the American Navy and to the Army's medium bomber which had been brought to a high standard of development by Martin, Curtiss, and Douglas.
The medium, or middle-range bomber, call it whichever you wish, is the war's aerial maid-of-all-work. Because of this, it is the most interesting of all planes. Certainly it is the nearest to the perfect airplane dreamed up by designers. To be efficient, it must have a great deal of all the qualities necessary for war: speed, weight capacity, defensive armor, and offensive and defensive armament.
It is the happy medium between the fighter plane and the heavy bomber. Into its make-up designers have crowded all they can of the best of the two types.
In considering airplanes designed for military use, it must be remembered that each is a victim of compromise. The designer of the fighter plane works to achieve speed, altitude, and maneuverability , above all else, and the producer of the heavy bomber strives to enable his product to carry the greatest possible load, with speed and altitude secondary considerations.
In the medium bomber, compromise on any one score is less violent. With increasingly powerful engines at his disposal and augmented knowledge of aerodynamics, absolved from the necessity of designing for excessive high-altitude flying, the designer can get as near to the perfect airplane as is humanly possible.
Three early bomber types were to have a lasting influence on American medium bomber design. They were the Martin bomber designed by Glenn Martin for use in World War I (had it lasted long enough for the machines to be shipped to France), the Curtiss Condor of 1924, and the 100-hp., twin-engined Douglas of 1926.
Two American medium bombers stand out wings and tail above the crowd, including the famed German Dornier 217 held by many writers to be the best bomber in its class. These are the Martin Marauder (B-26) and the North American Mitchell (B-25), hero of the memorable raid on Tokyo.
The Marauder is a pretty thing, lean and deadly with hardly a bump to mar the streamlining of its fuselage. It is a high-winged monoplane powered by two Pratt and Whitney Double Wasps with 1850 hp. each, which enable it to whip along at better than 325 miles per hour carrying some two thousand pounds of bombs.
The secret of the Marauder is undoubtedly a long pedigree developed from a good basic design. It has an exceptionally high wing loading, and its wing span is three feet longer than that of the Dornier 217. It has several distinct advantages over its German rival, one being that it is decidedly more maneuverable and can take off unassisted with full load, whereas the Do-217, which must do duty as a high-altitude bomber, has to be catapulted.
Comparisons between bombers, however, are unprofitable. In the case of these two planes, whereas the Marauder is designed for a particular purpose, medium bombing, the unhappy Dornier is intended for use as a dive bomber, photographic and reconnaissance bomber, a night bomber, and a fighter.
The Marauder comes of a line of airplanes that started with the Martin bomber of 1918 which was fitted with two 400-hp. Liberty engines. Its cousins are the big Martin patrol bombers, the Mariner and the gigantic seventy-ton Mars; the Maryland, a fighter-bomber built for the French; also the Baltimore, which was built specially for the British.
The Army requested the Glenn Martin Company to build a medium bomber that could carry a heavy bomb load as fast as a fighter, and could defend itself and fight like a fighter plane. The specification was a headache, but the Martin engineers tackled it.
They clipped the wings of the plane until it looked like a racer. Even experts began to say that it was a suicide affair because of its high landing speed.
While working on the experimental models, the manufacturers were so sold on the quality of their product that they undertook the responsibility of tooling up for mass production, although the Army had only placed an order for a small quantity.
When the machine was delivered to the Army, it justified the confidence of its designers. It underwent tests as a medium-altitude bomber, as a low-flying attack bomber, dropping parachute bombs, as a troop strafer, as a torpedo plane, as a submarine strafer—in fact, an All-American warplane! The Army liked the newcomer and larger orders were placed at once.
The first news we had of Marauders going into action was in April, 1942, when they were used as fighters in the defense of Australia. The heavily armed bombers tangled with the Japanese bombers and fighters and contributed largely to the turning back of the invading squadrons. A month later Marauders were carrying the offensive to the Japs by dumping tons of high explosives on Port Moresby and returning without a single loss. Then came the Japanese invasion of the Aleutians. Land-based Marauders with torpedoes slung under their bellies roared down to attack the Jap fleet that had been spotted by a Catalina. A squadron under Captain M. A. Beth sank a Japanese cruiser and damaged an aircraft carrier.
At Midway, the versatile bombers repeated their performance and assisted Navy dive bombers and torpedo bombers in inflicting severe losses upon the enemy. As deliveries increased, the Marauders began to appear on battlefronts all over the world. In the Pacific they bombed Jap warships from deck level, skip bombed, and strafed. They got Zero after Zero, and the planes survived the most terrible punishment. Three Marauders engaged in a dogfight with twelve Zeros and came through without a loss, while five of the Jap planes were shot down into the sea and the others were hit.
One Marauder returned to its base looking like a flying pepper pot; but still it returned and was soon flying and airworthy again.
When the United Nations unleashed the full might of their aerial offensive against the Germans in North Africa, and later in Tunisia, Marauders attacked in force. They carried 4000-pound bombs to Bengasi, to Tripoli, and Bizerte. Attacked by swarms of Me-109's and FW-190's, they shook them off after inflicting serious damage. When Tunis fell, they carried their bombs to Sicily and Sardinia, and staged a daring daylight raid on Naples, which was described as one of the most successful attacks executed to date by the United States Army Air Forces.
A British spokesman in Cairo described the Marauder as a "lightweight boxer with a heavyweight punch." A German pilot who was shot down by a Martin Marauder and later saw his squadron of Stukas annihilated on the ground by a furious mass attack by the same machines, is said to have lamented, "We never imagined there could be a plane like that." Because of their speed and heavy armament , Marauders in formation are capable of undertaking daylight raids without fighter escort.
In the same class as the Martin B-26 Marauder, is the North American B-2 5 Mitchell, hero of the Tokyo raid. The Mitchell is not such a handsome-looking bomber as the Marauder. It has a larger wing span, twin tail, and what seems an extraordinarily long nose.
Slightly slower than the Martin, it carries a crew of five and is well armed with .5o-caliber guns in the nose and tail, and possibly a belly turret. Like the Marauder, it has a tricycle landing gear, is of rugged construction, and heavily armored.
The Mitchell is a descendant of the NA-21 Dragon bomber which was distinguished by its heavily armed gun turret. The Dragon appeared in 1937, but it was not produced in quantity. Later, North American produced the NA-40 for the Army. Although the NA-40 came well within the Army specifications, it was decided to build a new and better ship. The Army was in a hurry, and the North American staff of designers were given only six weeks to complete their work on the new aircraft design. Eighty-three specifications for the medium bomber were submitted to the Army by various designers, and North American Aviation's design was one of the two awarded the contract.
This was in September, 1939, shortly after the outbreak of war in Europe. The first B-25 was ready for its Army tests on Independence Day, 1940, and it completed its tests on August nineteenth.
The Army immediately placed a substantial order, and as soon as the machine was put into production, modifications of the design were begun. The present B-25 has undergone more than a thousand improvements, some of the most notable being the addition of extra armor plate, the redesigning of the fuel tanks, and modification of the rear fuselage in order to accommodate the power-driven gun turrets.
General Arnold described the Mitchell as "One of the speediest bombers in the world, carrying a very healthy load of bombs, and capable of operating at a high altitude—it can definitely out-perform even the hopped-up version of the Dornier 217 and Heinkel 111K." These Mitchell bombers are now being mass-produced on a scale similar to that employed by General Motors for automobile production . They have been in action on many fronts. In the North African campaign they took part in the terrific onslaught which carved a four-mile bomb barrage through German defenses in Tunisia. In New Guinea, the B-25's were largely responsible for preventing the Japanese from landing troops on the coast of that island. On one raid, they shot down five Zeros, damaged five transports, and scored direct hits on two escorting warships. Later the same outfit located a Japanese destroyer and two smaller ships and sank all three. A picture of a Mitchell operating from a Pacific base shows it bearing four Japanese flags for ships sunk, nine rising suns for Zeros shot down, and seventeen bombs to indicate the number of raids successfully undertaken. According to the United States office of War Information, "No other airplane of its type in friendly or enemy air forces is known to equal it!" That the Mitchells can take punishment is shown by the few stories that come through the stringent censorship on battle performances of individual planes.
One Mitchell taking part in a daylight raid over Marsala Harbor in Sicily was attacked by a large number of German and Italian fighters.
After the gunners had beaten off the enemy, three of the crew were wounded. The navigator's compartment was on fire, the bomb-bay doors were hanging open, through damage to the hydraulic system.
The right elevator was shot away, and the right aileron resembled a sieve. When the crew had succeeded in putting out the flames in the navigator's cabin, the starboard engine burst into flames. The co-pilot managed to extinguish this by using the automatic fire extinguisher, and the wounded bomber set off for home. Ninety miles from the North African coast another blaze started up in the navigator's compartment. Sergeant Thomas, the radio operator, who had been wounded in both ankles, managed to crawl across the bomb bay and grab an extinguisher. It did not work, and the interior of the plane filled up with choking black smoke as the fire licked up the sides of the fuselage, burning everything inflammable.
Thomas and Sergeant Donahue, the bombardier, who was also wounded, stripped off their jackets and tried to beat out the fire.
They were fighting a desperate battle against time. If the fire gained the upper hand and got to the gasoline tanks, the whole ship would explode. For fifteen or twenty minutes they struggled with everything they had, and finally they managed to overcome the fire.
As they lay exhausted on the sweltering floor of the bomber, the remaining engine began to tire, and the Mitchell lost height rapidly.
The pilot decided to make a crash landing on the beach until he remembered that the bomb-bay doors were dangling. Donahue was still able to move, so he volunteered to wind up the bomb bays with the emergency cranking handle. He crawled over and went to work. When he had closed the doors, the safety catch to secure them was out of order, so the gallant sergeant removed his belt and strapped the crank securely. He went aft, then, to attend to the tail gunner who was unconscious from wounds. The pilot went in to land and in a few seconds the Mitchell was ploughing its way along the soft sand of the beach. When the crew got out and looked at their machine, they could not believe it had flown them back from their target. It was charred and gnawed and frayed, but it had come through.
Another Mitchell, raiding Italy, was caught in a furious antiaircraft barrage. Explosions shattered the conduits housing the throttle and propeller pitch controls. The plane went into a dive, and the pilot found he could not control it. Suddenly he heard a voice over the inter-com phone. "I've got the cables in my hands!" It was the bombardier. "I think I can hold them," he continued.
Then began one of the most extraordinary stories of human endurance. For two hours the pilot gave verbal instructions to his crew mate who was hanging onto the controlling cables and keeping the plane on even keel. By the time the North African coast appeared , the bombardier's hands were bleeding and blistered. Once he lost his grip on the precious life-lines, but he found them again before the ship went out of control and the flight continued until the pilot was able to make a belly landing on an African beach.
Like Marauders, the Mitchells are ideal for low-flying attack, and they can look after themselves when attacked by enemy fighters. They are widely used by the Army antisubmarine patrols and have already piled up a good box score of successes against the undersea raiders.
Soon after it went into action, the Mitchell had the distinction of being the first American land-based plane to sink a Nazi submarine . A Mitchell on patrol duty a hundred miles off the Atlantic coast sighted a submarine and sank it with depth charges. A month later, two more submarines were destroyed by B-25's flown by Brazilian and United States crews off the coast of South America.
Even before the famous raid on Tokyo, the Mitchell had distinguished itself in the Pacific. On April 15, 1942, ten of these bombers took part in the 4000-mile raid from Australia to the Philippine Islands and later returned to their base. Leader of this expedition was Brigadier General Ralph Royce. During the two days in which the planes operated over the target area, they bombed Jap airports, stores, and troop concentrations. They sank four Japanese transports, damaged a large number of other ships, shot down five enemy planes and destroyed quantities on the ground.
They also rescued several persons from the beleaguered islands and returned with human cargo in place of their bomb loads.
B-25's are now operating in Russia and are playing an important part in hammering German tank concentrations. Operating from China's western Yunnan Province, Lieutenant Colonel Vincent led a flight of Mitchells against Japanese stores and brought his sqUadron back without loss after shooting down a number of Zeros.
One of the most thrilling adventures in which the Mitchells figured was when a group attacked a formation of huge German Junkers transport planes over the Mediterranean. The Germans were anxiously pouring troops and supplies into Tunisia, and the American and British air forces were determined to obstruct them at all costs. The Mitchells were returning from a raid on the Italian coast, when the big formation of German planes escorted by fighters hove into sight.
The American squadron leader ordered his men to the attack, and the Mitchells waded into the formation just like fighters, their guns blazing. The German planes were no match for the swift American aircraft, and five of them were shot down in flames, others limping away severely damaged. When the Mitchells broke combat and headed for home, they were attacked by more enemy planes, two of which were shot down. Later they came upon the remnants of the German transport formation and again attacked. Two Allied fighters which had joined in the fray were shot down, but all the Mitchells survived.
Reports on the battle of the Bismarck Sea, in which Allied planes sank an entire convoy of twenty-two ships heading for New Guinea, describe Mitchells as the stars of the show. They attacked in waves from ten in the morning until three in the afternoon. The B-25's were working in co-operation with Flying Fortresses, which deliberately flew high over the battleships in order to draw the Japanese fire. While the Jap gunners were firing at the B-17's, the Mitchells swooped in at masthead height and planted delayed-action bombs on the decks of the ships. Lieutenant Robert Reed of Creston, Iowa, flew in so low that he carried away one ship's radio aerial.
During the raid, the B-25's were frequently attacked by Zeros which they knocked off without loss to themselves. When their bombs had gone, the Mitchells emptied their cannon and machine guns on the decks of the enemy ships. Later in the engagement, in company with R.A.F. Beaufighters, they destroyed all remaining small shipping in the area.
Mitchell crews in the Mediterranean had been especially trained in skip bombing, which is a modified form of dive bombing. One morning in March, 1943, a Mitchell bomber surprised an enemy troopship with two merchant vessels and destroyed them all. Said Captain Clayton Heinlin of Cleveland, Ohio: "Skip bombing works this way—you aim the first bomb at the hull of the ship, right at the water line, as you come up to the ship from the side. Then you just let a string of bombs walk right up the side of the ship and over it." In operations against enemy shipping, the speed of the Mitchells proved to be a high safety factor. The bombers would come in fast, drop their bombs, and be out of range often before the enemy could man the ship's guns.
B-25's would seem to be the most popular medium bombers of General Chennault's air force in China. On May 8, 1943, a squadron of Mitchells took part in a raid on Canton. They were accompanied by Liberators who assisted in dropping more than 80,000 pounds of bombs on the harbor installations of this Japanese-held port and on Canton's airfields. The Japs were caught flatfooted and when finally they managed to get their fighter planes in the air, sixteen of them were rapidly shot down.
One squadron of Mitchells operating in the Australian theater of war piled up what seems to be an all-time record for long-distance reconnaissance. A report from Australia states that Dutch crews flying B-25's conducted a reconnaissance mission of over 650,000 miles—the longest single operation ever undertaken by a single group of aircraft. The flight ranged through Australia, Java, and Dutch New Guinea. On almost every day the pilots were bombing or fighting and they paid visits to sectors of the Japanese line never before visited.
The Mitchell B-25 has the distinction of being the first bomber to carry a 7 5-mm. gun in this war, the first plane bomber so equipped being a French Caudron in World War I. The planes fitted with this terrific fire punch have been used to sink Japanese war vessels and supply ships in the Pacific. Future uses may be against enemy tanks, and land fortifications. The guns fire shells twenty-six inches in length weighing twenty pounds each. These projectiles will penetrate both sides of a medium tank, and if of the highexplosive shrapnel type would put an entire antiaircraft battery out of action with a direct hit.
Installing the new armament was a headache for the North American designers. It involved fitting a new and shorter nose to the bomber, the rearrangement of the pilot's compartment and controls, as well as the navigator's office, and the fitting of additional armor plate.
Special attention had to be given to the absorption of recoil. It would seem that such a heavy recoil would make the bomber literally hang in the air at the moment of discharge. Gun recoil has always been the bugbear of fighter plane design. For instance, when the eight guns of a Spitfire fighter are discharged, the machine loses considerable speed and is prone to drop its nose, for which the pilot must allow at the moment of pressing his gun teat. The recoil of the 7 5-mm. cannon in the B-25 is taken up by a special hydromatic spring device, which is said to be entirely successful. A pilot who has flown the machine and used the gun described the gun firing sensation as similar to the vibration of an automobile engine coughing on a cold morning.
Lengthy tests had to be undertaken before the gun was taken into the air. The engineers took an entire section of the B-25 forward of the wings and used it as a trial horse. They transported it to a range, installed the cannon, and worked for two months to get the stage of perfection needed for combat. The final installation of the cannon demanded 13,551 man hours and 380 new drawings.
The cannon itself, which is built on a mount assembly, is installed in what was formerly a passageway beneath the left side of the pilot's compartment. The muzzle projects through a tube in the lower nose section, and the breach is on the left side of the newly placed navigator 's cabin. The cannon and the two .50-caliber machine guns supporting it placed in the nose above the cannon are charged and fired by the pilot. No details are available as to the rate of fire of the 75 mm., but it should be remembered that as a field gun this particular weapon has always been noted for the excellence of its performance as a rapid firer.
The gun and its ammunition added 2000 pounds to the airplane's gross loaded weight, but the North American Aviation Company announced that the new installation has not affected the B-25's bomb-bay capacity or speed.
The first B-25 fitted with the new cannon was called Lil' Fox. Lil' Fox first fired her cannon against a Japanese air transport which was landing on the runway of an airfield. The transport disintegrated . The next target chosen was a bunch of Japanese mechanics running for shelter. "Their troubles ended right there," said a North American service representative. Lil' Fox then attacked the hangars, and blasted them, returning in triumph, having fired ninety rounds of cannon shells.
Her next mission was for larger game. Accompanying a B-25 mission to bomb Jap warships the new aerial destroyer slid down to attack a Japanese destroyer that was beating it for home. The gun scored five direct hits on the enemy craft, which limped away burning fiercely. The next morning Lil' Fox found the destroyer beached.
She went into attack, her big gun thumping lustily. More direct hits, bang went the vessel's smoke stack, smash went the bridge. Lil' Fox turned, and went in again through a pelting fire from the vessel's antiaircraft guns. Three more shells hit, and this time one of them caused an explosion somewhere inside the vessel, which heeled over.
Lil' Fox then went after the antiaircraft guns on the beach, and whether the shells killed the crews or they ran for shelter, the report does not say. Whatever happened the guns stopped firing. The bomber captain then decided to make a sieve of the airplane landing strip and accordingly sewed it up and down with holes, rendering it unusable. Lil' Fox returned to her base, with a few shrapnel holes and a bullet wound in her upper turret. Commented the North American service representative: "The plane stood up to the job very well. No structural failures occurred in or round the cannon area." The use of the 75-mm. cannon may prove to be extremely effectual should the Germans or the Japanese succeed in getting into the air a heavily armored bomber of the Fortress type, which has constantly been threatened by Goering and expected by the Allies. The 75-mm. cannon with its reasonably high muzzle velocity is infinitely superior to the rocket gun employed by German fighters, and is considerably more accurate at greater range.
The Mitchells and Marauders are likely to be the most overworked of the medium bombers of this war because they have already proven their all-round excellence, and even if the Mitchells are not the next American bombers to visit Tokyo, there is no doubt that they will make a reappearance over the Japanese mainland. Certainly they will fly over Berlin as our invasion forces draw near the capital.
Mitchells are already in India, China, and Russia. An international soldier of fortune and one of the most famous and "widely traveled" of American bombers is the Martin Maryland . This plane was originally designed to be a fighter-bomber and to be a companion to the machines of this type being produced in France prior to the outbreak of war.
The Maryland, built to French specifications, may be said to be the guinea pig for the design of the Baltimore, built for the British, and of the Marauder. It had the unique feature (for a bomber) of having forward-firing guns fixed in the wings and flexible guns to defend the tail. Several squadrons of the French Armee de I'Air were equipped with these slim-fuselaged fighter bombers, and after the fall of France a number of them passed into R.A.F. service to be flown by French pilots. When the United States Naval Air Force attacked Casablanca as a preliminary to the North African landings , large numbers of these nimble craft were destroyed on the ground.
When France fell, the R.A.F. took over the outstanding orders for Marylands, fitted their own armor and armament and operated them over Libya. During the Mediterranean operations, the Marylands flew thousands of hours. To Marylands was handed the assignment of making topmast photographs of the Italian fleet in the harbor of Taranto. Marylands also made a photographic reconnaissance of the island of Sardinia. Their speed of 294 miles per hour outflies the Italian fighters.
On one occasion, a squadron of them was attacked by twelve Italian Macchi C. 202's. After they had shot down three of the attackers , the others broke combat. "Let's chase them," said the Maryland squadron leader. The bombers set off after the fighters, caught up with them, and quickly disposed of every single one, thus eliminating an entire Italian fighter squadron, a record of which any bomber squadron could well be proud.
The Martin Baltimore, a larger, sturdier machine than the Maryland , with two 1700-hp. Wright Double Cyclones, somewhat resembles the Maryland, with the exception that it has a thicker fuselage . The Baltimore was built to British design for desert warfare, and it has endeared itself to the hearts of the R.A.F. pilots flying it in North Africa.
The Baltimore has four fixed guns in the wings, and a fourgunned power turret to defend the tail. Its first use seems to have been aiding in the defense of Malta by striking at enemy airfields and shipping. On its first sortie, a squadron of Baltimores chalked up three victories against the Italian fighters and shot down a Breda medium bomber. The British give its top speed as 320 miles per hour.
This aircraft is used for photography, submarine patrol, reconnaissance and night bombing, and has done everything asked of it with considerable reliability. Squadrons of these machines flying with Mitchells, Marauders, Bostons, Bisleys, Blenheims, and Mosquitoes , helped to maintain the round-the-clock air blitz that battered Rommel's Afrika Korps and its satellite Italian divisions to surrender.
Early in 1938, the British became aware of their desperate need for bombers and looked to the United States to make up the deficiency . The American aircraft industry in those days was making few military machines and those that were coming from the production line were needed for the Army and Navy. One commercial machine caught the British fancy, because of its speed and range.
This was the Lockheed 14, then in use as an airliner. The British saw the military potentiality of the plump, stocky twin-motored greyhound of the peace skies and supplied suggestions for its military conversion. The resulting plane they called the Hudson, and from the beginning of the war this converted airliner began to pile up a reputation second to none.
The pedigree of the Hudson is as interesting as its war record. It is descended from a line of record-breaking planes which have flown round the world and conquered the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Wiley Post made the first solo flight round the world in a Lockheed, and Amelia Earhart flew the Pacific and the Atlantic in a Lockheed Vega. Wherever planes were known, the names of the Sirrus, Vega, and Altair were known and respected.
When these distinguished American civilians arrived in Europe, the R.A.F. immediately put them to work on a variety of jobs, the most important of which was the antisubmarine patrol round the shores of England. With its long range and high speed, the Hudson was ideal for the task. R.A.F. aircrews in Hudsons were soon sinking submarines all up and down the coast.
After a few brushes with the enemy fighters and seaplanes, Hudsons proved themselves ideal as all-round bomber-fighters. Repeatedly attacked by Me-109 fighters and Arado seaplanes off the coast of Norway, they piled up victory after victory. They earned the name of Old Boomerang, because they always came back.
Pilots of the R.A.F. Coastal Command have a legion of almost incredible stories of Hudsons that have flown back on less than a wing and a prayer.
One Hudson that was engaged by four Messerschmitts over Stavanger in Norway returned to its English base nothing more than a flaming torch. It had flown on one engine for the greater part of the trip home, then the other engine gave out. The pilot glided down to what seemed a certain crash landing in the sea. Suddenly the engine picked up again, and the Hudson continued to fly, crabbing along with what the pilot humorously described as "a following wind." Landing on the airfield was an adventure. The undercarriage had been shot away, and only one elevator was left. As the machine touched the ground, in a belly landing, there was an explosion and a new fire broke out which finally demolished the machine, but not before the crew had got away safely.
On Coastal Command work, Hudsons have piled up an astonishing record of miles flown. Day and night since the outbreak of war, they have patrolled the North Sea and the Atlantic. During the dark days of Dunkirk, a number of them engaged in a ferry service to evacuate the British expeditionary force.
One Hudson is credited with having captured a German submarine . The aircraft was cruising on routine patrol when the pilot saw the sub's periscope. He dropped his bombs. Instead of the usual oil slick, up came the submarine itself. The German crew immediately manned their gun and opened fire on the Hudson, which went in to attack. The Hudson gunners raked the deck of the submarine with their .30 calibers. Two Germans jumped for safety into the sea; the others were killed. Then the submarine's commander appeared and displayed a white flag. The Hudson circled round and signaled that it accepted the surrender. The pilot ordered the submarine to proceed on a certain course and called a destroyer to complete the capture.
To Hudsons went the honor of being the first planes to drop bombs on Germany's Ruhr at the beginning of the R.A.F.'s effort to strike at German industry. Over Dieppe and Brest they were used as dive bombers. Over Rouen, a squadron of Hudsons executed a low-flying attack that completely put out of action a vital target which had withstood the efforts of all night and high-level bombers.
Such versatility was hard going for the aircraft, but still the Hudson lived up to its reputation of being a "boomerang." All kinds of jobs fell to the Hudsons on Coastal patrol. One cold winter's night in 1941, the air over the North Sea was crackling with distress signals given out by a Wellington bomber returning from a raid over Germany. The Wellington had been on fire, its radio was failing, and it could not get a "fix" from its home station. Suddenly the signals failed entirely, as a magnetic storm finished off the damaged radio and put the compass out of order. The plight of the bomber's crew was complete. The sky was overcast, making celestial navigation impossible. There was under an hour's gasoline left in the tanks.
Somewhere in England a telephone operator was busy. The bomber 's headquarters had heard the SOS. They had answered, but had received no reply. The operator was flashing a message to Coastal Command. Somewhere in the North Sea was a Wellington, hopelessly lost. Coastal Command radioed to one of the Hudsons on routine patrol: "Look for a Wellington in your area." The Hudson pilot accepted the challenge and probably wondered how in blue heaven he was to spot a Wellington on a dark night, with visibility less than arm's length, as it always seems on a soupy night.
What must have seemed a miracle happened. Starboard to the Hudson appeared the dark bulk of an airplane. It was the missing Wellington. The Hudson pilot began to circle round the crippled bomber. His radio man got busy with a blinker. Back came the message, "Where are we? Show me the way to go home." "Follow me," replied the Hudson. "What airfield would you like?"
The Wellington captain gave the information, and the Hudson laid a course, flying ahead of the bomber, keeping in constant touch with its blinker. When the bomber had been delivered to its home base, the Hudson returned to its patrol. A week later, the Hudson squadron got a note of thanks from the Wellington's crew and an invitation to come over and have a drink.
One of the most thrilling air battles in which Hudsons have taken part was an encounter between two Hudsons and a German fourengined commerce raider far out in the Atlantic with a pair of merchant ships joining in the fray. The two Hudsons were returning from convoy duty when the pilot of one spotted the German plane sneaking up from the south under the cover of low-hanging clouds.
All the pilot could see was the dim shape of wings showing gray in the mist. He decided to follow, and signaled to his companion to do likewise . For half an hour the two Hudsons stalked the German raider, and just as they were closing in, the German ship dived through the clouds to attack two ships below. The ships' gunners put up a blaze of antiaircraft fire, some of which hit the German. The majority of fire hit the first Hudson, however, which the ships' gunners had mistaken for another enemy plane. The pilot of the second Hudson was low on gas, but he opened the throttles of his 1o00-hpi Cyclones to the fullest extent and charged into the big German raider. The Hudson's fire was accurate. As the R.A.F. plane soared above the German, the tail gunner saw a body falling into the sea. They had shot one of the German crew right out of his machine.
The Hudson's tail gunner then set fire to one of the German's engines. The Germans were game fighters. The Nazi pilot turned his big machine and made for the crippled Hudson, now flying one wing down and showing signs of distress. The tail gunner was in his power turret, waiting. He opened fire with his twin guns and sewed a seam of bullets up the belly of the German plane. The fire opened the German plane's bomb bay that had not yet discharged its bombs, and as the German soared above the damaged Hudson, it began spewing its bombs willy-nilly. None of them hit the R.A.F. plane, but they came uncomfortably near. In the meantime, the second Hudson was chasing the German plane, and a battle royal ensued.
Unable to escape the faster American bomber, the German pilot put his aircraft into a tight turn and while his gunners opened fire with their 20-mm. cannon and heavy caliber machine guns, an explosive shell smashed into the nose of the Hudson, wounding the pilot. The navigator took over and flew the machine, while the pilot crawled back to work one of the side guns. For ten minutes the two machines circled round, with the damaged Hudson taking an occasional shot, and the crews of the two merchant ships crowded the decks to watch the combat.
The end came suddenly. The Hudson's tail gunner directed a burst of fire at the burning engine of the German bomber. He swept his gun inward and hit the other engine. There was an explosion and the huge four-engined German, probably a Fock-Wulf Kurier, heeled over and slipped vertically on one wing into the sea.
"Thank you," said the pilot of the crippled Hudson to his wingmate . "I'm going to land beside that little boat. My petrol is out." The victorious Hudson set off for home, but like its companion, it was forced to land in the sea—a few miles from land. The R.A.F.
rescue service dispatched a boat to pick up the crew, and a lighter was sent to salvage the aircraft. According to legend, this particular boomerang was in the air soon afterwards, but that may be just legend.
The R.A.F. faith in the Old Boomerang is such that they will shoot a line about this American-built plane in preference to singing the praises of their own bombers. One Hudson taking part in a raid over Brest was severely damaged by antiaircraft fire. The fuselage caught fire, the landing gear was shot away, and there were about three feet of wing missing on the starboard side. The pilot spoke to his four companions. "Chaps, you know what they say about this machine ... it always gets home." "The Boomerang is short a tail, Captain," reported the rear gunner . "But we'll get home." "That's what I was thinking,'" added the navigator. "We'll get home all right." The radio operator was sitting near a huge gash in the fuselage made by a shell splinter. "Nice breeze tonight," he commented.
"Quite wakes a fellow up." "I'll bet a dollar we make it," said the pilot grimly, heading for home. As he spoke, the port engine cut out. "I'll raise it to two dollars ," he said.
"I'll make it three," called the rear gunner. "I've always believed in tailless airplanes." Joking and bantering, they made for home. Halfway over the Channel, German night fighters took a pot shot at them. The bullets streamed past the tail. "If we'd had a tail," laughed the rear gunner later, "he'd have hit us." The German fighter turned to follow the Hudson home, a favorite ruse of night fighters on both sides. The Hudson's gunner waited until he was almost within what he called "arm's length," and opened fire. The German disappeared with a splutter of sparks. The Hudson toiled on. Finally the welcome coast of England appeared.
Without any undercarriage or tail, landing was impossible. The pilot headed the machine toward the sea, plugged in "George," the automatic pilot, and told the crew to bail out. This is how he describes the end of his adventure.
"You couldn't see anything but whiteness about because we were still in thick clouds. With my rip cord in one hand and cap in the other, I jumped. I don't remember pulling the rip cord, but I suddenly found it loose and I was swinging gently from side to side in the clouds. It was the most marvelous sensation—so peaceful and quiet after all the racket in the aircraft. I had no sensation at all of falling—only of moving gently about in the air, with a soft breeze brushing my face.
"It was a tremendous relief to see the aircraft disappear into the clouds about a hundred yards away. I thought the others would be somewhere around so I gave a shout, but no one answered. Then I looked up at the parachute. It seemed very small. I stuck the rip cord in my pocket—they like you to bring these back—tucked my cap safely in under my harness and went on floating through the air.
"Suddenly just below me I saw a surface with a long white line running across it. For a split second I thought it was the sea. Then I realized it was a stone wall. The next moment I had bumped on the ground. I don't think I ever enjoyed a bump so much." Said the rear gunner, "It broke my heart to think of our old Boomerang flying out to sea without us. I wouldn't have been a bit surprised if she had turned up on the tarmack at breakfast next morning—but she never did." How many submarines have been sunk by Hudsons of the Coastal patrol will not be revealed until after the war, but the score is steadily mounting.
Crossing the Atlantic in a merchant liner, I had the unique experience of seeing a pair of Hudsons at work. The ship on which I was traveling was fast enough to look after herself, and after a preliminary brush with German aerial commerce raiders, which were beaten off, the convoy scattered and we headed for mid-Atlantic at full speed. Occasionally one of the Hudsons would fly past us, while the other circled in the distance.
While the crew manned the guns, those of us allocated as submarine watchers scanned the surface of the sea for the sea raiders.
Suddenly from out of the west there came a roar of plane engines. Two more Hudsons! They swooped down on the surface of the sea.
One dropped something. It was a smoke float. The other circled and climbed, and then seemed to dive. A plume of water shot up. The other plane followed suit. Another plume, and an explosion. Away to the right, another Hudson was nosing here and there over the surface of the sea, rather like a terrier hunting a rat. The pilot must have signaled to the original Hudson which had been our escort, because it left its position ahead of us and hared off to join its mate.
Another smoke float. Three more depth charges. Our ship then changed course violently and with engines at full speed churned its way out of the danger area.
Later one of our protectors flew over us at masthead height and the rear gunner waved his hand through the open window of his turret . Said the ship's second officer whose watch position I was sharing : "If those fellows could come with us all the way, we'd be as safe as on dryland!" During their Atlantic patrols the Hudson crews have been responsible for the rescue of many passengers and crews of torpedoed ships, who have been adrift for days with little hope of rescue.
Whenever news of a ship being torpedoed within reach of land comes in, the Hudsons go out to scan the ocean for survivors. They are equipped with emergency kits of food, water, and medical supplies , which are immediately dropped near the boats.
Coastal patrol involves encounter with enemy surface vessels as well as aircraft. The R.A.F. Coastal Command Hudsons have become the terror of the coastal convoys which the Germans from time to time endeavor to slip along from Norway to occupied Europe.
Whether the convoys go by day or by night, the Hudsons have harried them without let-up. Three Hudsons surprised a convoy of eight ships escorted by destroyers, and left four of them burning.
Another Hudson attacked a German flak ship being towed into position off the coast of Norway and dropped a heavy bomb amidships. "It was quite a fireworks display," wrote the Hudson captain in his combat report.
If for nothing else, the Hudsons will be remembered by the British for their part in sending to the bottom the German battleship Bismarck . One morning in May, 1941, a Hudson squadron was on patrol in the North Sea. Through a gap in the clouds, the navigator of one saw two unfamiliar battleships in the Bergen harbor. That afternoon a photographic plane was dispatched and the results showed that the two vessels were the Bismarck and the Prinz Eugen, which were then popularly supposed to be safe in the Kiel Canal.
Next morning the Hudsons returned. The huge ships had put to sea, and immediately the Royal Navy set out to look for them, knowing well that they were headed for the North Atlantic convoy route.
The Hudson is perhaps the best known of all American planes to the British public, perhaps because it was the first to be ferried across the Atlantic, perhaps because the British gave it more publicity than any of the other Yanks in R.A.F. uniform. With its reputation for safety, reliability, speed, and ability to fight as well as bomb, the Hudson was given the honor of becoming the personal plane of King George of England. Fitted with special armor and armament, a Hudson is always available to take the monarch on his war trips.
There are probably more Hudsons in use by the British than any other American plane, and certainly no plane in the R.A.F. has undertaken so many diverse jobs. When Hudsons were included in the first thousand-plane raid on Essen, the British public accepted it as a matter-of-fact action, and one newspaper went so far as to exclaim that a thousand Hudsons would win the war. Some of the missions on which Hudsons have been dispatched are still very secret and cannot even be mentioned.
How high is the R.A.F. opinion of this converted airliner is shown by the fact that Hudsons are operating in Australia with the Royal Australian Air Force, in Burma, and in North Africa, as well as on the European front.
With such a dazzling war record in Europe, the Hudson was destined to be drafted for the United States Army and Navy. The American public first learned of the Hudson's American success when in January, 1942, Ensign Donald Mason sent the laconic message from his patrol bomber, "Sighted sub. Sank same." Others followed , and the Hudsons soon helped drive the U-boat away from American coastal waters.
The R.A.F. showed its appreciation of the qualities of the Hudson by clamoring for more planes of the Lockheed breed. They especially wanted a bigger version that could carry more armor and more bombs. In the Lockheed stable was ideal material, a larger version of the Lockheed 14, known as the Lodestar, fitted with two 2000-hp. engines and designed for transport purposes. The R.A.F.
had modifications to suggest, such as the fitting of additional guns, an improvement in fuselage design, and rearrangement of the interior.
The new machine, which the United States Army calls the B-34, proved to be an outstanding success. Carrying its bigger bomb load, and packing a fire power proportionately heavier than any bomber of its weight, the Ventura has already been employed on daylight raids over occupied Europe and has struck heavy blows at enemy shipping in the Mediterranean. The United States Army version is said to carry .50-caliber guns in five different positions, and it carries a crew of five.
The Ventura's top speed is said to be in excess of that of the Hudson, but it has the remarkable quality of being able to land at under 80 miles per hour. Carrying a load which is probably 50 per cent greater than its smaller brother, its range is considerably greater. A recent statement issued by the makers inferred that by using detachable gas tanks that can be jettisoned when empty its range exceeds that of any other high-speed plane.
The Hudson and Ventura both have the egg-shaped twin tail fins and rudders and sharply tapered wings, with the same plump teardrop fuselages.
All things considered, its speed, load capacity, and ability to take off and get down in small areas, may destine the Ventura to play a very important part in subsequent events in the Pacific. It would be a useful plane for the Russians to use in defense of Vladivostok, it would be invaluable in China, and it might well be the plane chosen to follow the Mitchells over Tokyo, especially as its heavy fire power makes it more than capable of defending itself.
These medium bombers have played and will continue to play a great part in the ultimate victory we expect to come through our combined air, land, and sea power. In a cable from London, Peter Masefield, an aircraft designer turned writer and radio commentator , summed up: "One of the most useful types of American aircraft is the medium bomber, the Hudson, the Maryland, and Baltimore , the Mitchell, and the Marauder. They have flown tens of thousands of hours and millions of miles over the sea and over enemy territory, and have dropped thousands of bombs which have caused immense destruction . . . these medium bombers are the most formidable weapons coming from America, and there is nothing 'medium ' about their punch." With which I heartily agree.