On the ground, with its thick belly and queer stance on the threewheeled undercarriage, the B-24 looks rather like an oversized ugly duckling. In the air it is as graceful as the best of them, a lovely, soaring seventeen-ton beauty, with a performance that measures up to the finest warplanes in the sky today. The Consolidated B-24, or Liberator, of the United States Army Air Forces and Navy, the youngest of our land-based bombers and to date the largest weightcarrier of all United States bombers of which details are available, with a brilliant war record, is typical of American warplanes.
The Liberator is a worthy stable-mate to the Fortress. The basic difference between them is that, while the Fortress today is a job of evolution, made under actual flying conditions, the Liberator is the result of an entirely new concept, particularly in aerodynamics as applied to big bombers. There is no doubt that it is one of the most beautiful ships to look at—lean and graceful, without bumps and bulges. With its tricycle landing gear, ultra-narrow fuselage, and the unique Davis airfoil wing design, it is symbolic of the airliner of the future.
Its pedigree is a long one, going back to 1927, one of the most important years in American aviation. 1927, you will remember, was when a young man named Lindbergh made a solo flight to Paris, and when other airmen began to think of the airplane as a vehicle for long-distance flights. This same year Mr. I. M. Laddon, a designer who was little known outside aeronautical circles, joined the firm of Consolidated Aircraft with the idea of designing long-range planes, for which the United States Navy was asking.
Mr. Laddon was a practical visionary. He began thinking of longdistance flying boats. He consulted with his fellow designers and engineers and began an astonishing record—a record which has never produced a completely bad airplane or a freakish ship. It would be difficult to analyze Mr. Laddon's success, except to say that most of the planes he designed were good basic ideas and capable of modification as well as development. A good airplane begins as a good basic design. To the basic design, as manufacture proceeds and experience produces results, the designers add their modifications. To scrap a design completely and start anew would be a tragedy. Some designers have had to do it, but only when the basic design was found faulty.
The story of these early flying boats which contributed to the development of the Liberator was first told in Plane Talk, the magazine issued by the Consolidated Company, who kindly provided the writer with the material.
The first flying boat Laddon and his fellow designers produced was the Admiral. The Admiral had a wing span of a hundred feet and was at the time the largest flying boat ever built, not including the freak Dornier DoX built by Germany's Dornier Company for the trans-Atlantic service. The Admiral was a practical job, and 'behaved well on its test flights. Certain improvements, however, suggested themselves and the Admiral was modified. The resulting ship was named the Commodore. Fourteen of these were built. Each had a passenger capacity of twenty to thirty people. They were put into service on the airline to South America operating over nine thousand miles through fifteen countries.
The Commodores would seem slow and unwieldy beside the modern Liberator but some of these ships are still flying. Laddon next designed a flying boat (PBY) which won a Navy competition for performance and resulted in an order for twenty-four planes.
These planes had a wing span of one hundred feet and were sixtytwo feet long. With them, in 1934 the Navy made a record nonstop flight from San Francisco to Honolulu.
Consolidated then decided to move from Buffalo to San Diego, because they wanted a harbor free from ice all year round for continuing their research and experiments on flying boats.
In San Diego, in June, 1935, the Navy gave Consolidated what was then considered a huge order. They wanted sixty PBY's, and thus was born one of the most famous of the Consolidated family, the Catalina (PBY-5). The "Cat" was far in advance of its time, and many of the original sixty planes are still in service. Their extraordinary prowess in peace and war resulted in the Navy's placing an order for $30,000,000 worth of them in the spring of 1943.
The Catalinas immediately became well known for records in speed and endurance. Eighty-eight of them flew nonstop from San Diego to Hawaii. Sir Hubert Wilkins covered nineteen thousand miles in one, looking for the lost Russian polar fliers, and Richard Archibald and Russell Rogers flew around the world in their PBY.
How modification works on good design is demonstrated by the fact that the Catalina is the direct ancester of the PB2Y-3 (the Coronado ), a giant four-engined bomber and transport, which with its thirty-three tons loaded is one of the Navy's largest aircraft. In production, it weighed five tons more than the fully loaded Liberator.
After the Coronado came the PB4Y which is really the Navy's version of the Liberator. Little was heard of this model, the Army version which it sired getting the limelight. However, on June 8, 1943, Winston Churchill revealed to the British House of Commons that a very-long-range plane known as the VLR used with such effectiveness against submarines was the Liberator bomber. These planes, it was later revealed, were used by the Navy to undertake the Bay of Biscay patrol to operate against enemy shipping and submarines , and were prominent on the North Atlantic patrol as submarine destroyers. Their excessive range made it possible for them to continue on their flight across the Atlantic if the weather became unfavorable at their own bases, and land for refueling, making a shuttle patrol the next day. Navy pilots who formerly undertook long patrols in Catalinas are now flying these PB4Y's. It was a Liberator patrol that enabled the British Navy to sink two German destroyers off the west coast of France early in 1944.
The Army saw that Consolidated's reputation in building longrange flying boats was firmly established, and at the outbreak of war in Europe, they asked Consolidated if their designers could do anything in the way of providing the Army with a four-engined bomber. By this time, the Army was fully sold on the idea of fourengined bombers, fortunately, but it had only the Fortress, which as we have seen was a comparatively old aircraft. The Fortress at that time had not undergone its process of rejuvenation, so the Army was looking for something new.
Laddon and Tom Girdler went to work. They started from scratch with a great deal in their favor. Experience in aerodynamics and design had made much progress since 1927, and they found they could give this bomber greater speed, more range, and a heavier loading capacity than any other plane in the air, even while fulfilling necessary Army specifications for armor and armament.
The Army had very definite ideas on the problem facing it. General Arnold and his aides knew that global war was not very far off. They had the latest data from both Britain and Germany with which to work, plus their own ideas of what a long-range bomber should accomplish. The Consolidated designers went to work in January of 1939 and produced the Liberator bomber in record time for such a large ship. They had not built a big landplane before, but they decided they could build the bomber that was needed—and build it quickly. On January 20, 1939, Major Reuben Fleet and I.
M. Laddon instructed the engineers to start on the mock-up of the new plane. Then they left for Dayton, Ohio, to discuss the allimportant contract with the Army.
On January twenty-third, the engineering department finished their rough preview drawings and inboard profile and began constructing the mock-up. Two weeks later it was finished. It consisted of a wooden fuselage and one-half of the wing, with two engine nacelles. The fuselage was complete, with plywood bulkheads , plywood skin, undercarriage and tail surfaces. There was even an instrument panel with pictures of instruments pasted on it.
On March twenty-first, still working against time, the engineering department finished its preliminary detail specifications for the new bomber, and they were mailed to Dayton for examination by the Army. Still dubious, but with growing interest, the Army decided to send a mock-up board to San Diego. Members of the board arrived, approved of what they saw, and on March thirtieth a contract for the first B-24's was signed. March thirtieth is the date from which the Consolidated engineers count their nine months' construction time for the Liberator. The plane did not go on the drafting boards until then because the Army insisted on complete revision of the mock-up and equipment, which meant that most of their early work had to be thrown out.
This revision took twelve more days, and the Army's board then returned to Dayton, satisfied. From then on the real work of building the Liberator went forward with a rush. Once they had made up their minds, the Army wanted the plane in a hurryl Wind-tunnel tests and changes in design indicated by these tests took up most of April and June. The last of the changes was made on the tail assembly June twenty-second. As work on the B-24 progressed steadily, the mock-up was always one jump ahead. One by one, controls, cables, and plumbing went into the huge machine, were tested, and were finally installed in the plane itself.
The job proceeded so fast that various parts were often lofted without making the drawings until long after they were installed.
Mr. Laddon appointed Frank W. Fink, Consolidated's chief production engineer, as project engineer for the B-24. He estimates that about 125,000 engineering man hours went into the work on the new model. More than four thousand sheets of drawings were made, illustrating twenty thousand parts—twenty thousand square feet of drawings—nearly ten acres of blueprints! On July twenty-second, engineering completed its work on the wing. Six days later the fuselage was done. On August tenth, the Army sent another large order for B-24's, incorporating certain minor changes—all this before the first model had made its test flight.
On September twelfth, 98 per cent of the drawings and engineering was completed. Engineers who had been putting in from fifty to fifty-five hours every week at last had a chance to breathe. The great machine was ahead of its engines. The designers got on the telephone and arrangements were made for the engines to be flown to San Diego. The first two arrived October thirteenth, the second pair five days later, and on October twenty-eighth, wings and fuselage of the big bomber were joined together.
The engines were run for the first time on December twenty-sixth. Trouble developed with the fuel pumps and the fitters worked feverishly to correct the difficulty.
On December twenty-ninth came the big day. Nine months, less one day, from the time the giant plane was given the go-ahead by the Army, the finished product roared down the runway at Lindbergh Field and took off for its test flight.
The Army had ordered forty-six, and, almost immediately, it wanted more. Once the Liberator was in the air, the problem was how its production could be multiplied, not in months but in weeks.
A few hours' journey from San Diego, in a suburb of Los Angeles, was the Vultee Aircraft Corporation, which had been taken over by the Consolidated Company and was producing the basic trainers that were required in great numbers at this time to supply the urgent need for pilots.
Using an entirely new production principle, the Vultee Corporation had been able to deliver trainers in hundreds instead of dozens. It was decided that the same methods could be applied to the production of the huge Liberator bombers.
The job was a stiff one. It meant the reorganization of the supply of raw material, rearrangement of man hours, special training of production experts, and application of speed-up methods to the last detail. The plan worked, however, and soon Liberator bombers went into mechanized production.
The assembly line at the San Diego plant is an astonishing demonstration of mass production. It consists of an oval track on which partly finished planes travel the whole length of the assembly plant and back, out onto the airfield where the machines take off on their test flights. The main sections of Liberators are fabricated in advance , as sub-assemblies, and brought to the assembly line for mounting . The fuselage is made up of two parts, the tail and nose. First step on the assembly line is to join these two parts with the center wing section, already mounted on the track by a crane.
A jig, or scaffolding, is fitted over this to hold the parts in position while they are being riveted. Still in the jig, the assembled parts move on slowly to the next station, where bomb-bay side panels, bomb racks, catwalk, and bulkhead segments are added.
This unit passes on, round the curve, gathering tail planes, and other parts. On the second half, engines, stabilizers, and rudders are fitted. Another short move, and the outer wing sections are joined, giving the new-born monster a wing spread of well over a hundred feet. After this the bomber is tilted to an angle of forty-five degrees to save space and continues its trip in this diagonal position.
You begin to see the problem facing the planners of the assembly line when you realize that each Liberator contains approximately 102,000 parts, not including the 85,00o nuts and bolts, and 400,000 rivets. Before it reaches the end of the assembly line, it must be ready for its test flight. That means that every wire, tube, hydraulic conduit , and instrument line has to be correctly joined to its mate.
Tanks must be ready to take in gas and oil; and every detail must be in place according to the blueprint.
Sub-assembly of the nose section is as complicated a job as you could wish to find. It contains some 700,000 parts, including 3000 feet of wiring, 2000 electrical and plumbing connections, and 2000 feet of tubing. It contains all the thousand and one gadgets needed by the pilot, the navigator, and the radio operator, as well as the controls and lighting needed by the bombardier.
The first part of the nose section to be assembled, on a mezzanine above the main assembly line, is the flight deck, where sit the pilot and co-pilot, at the terminal point of the bomber's controls. The flight deck divides the nose in half if you look at the machine in sections. When it is assembled with all its parts, it is sent to a portion of the sub-assembly plant where the bulkheads and belt frames are riveted into place. From another section is brought the Plexiglas forward section, the assembled radio cabin, and the nose wheel assembly . These are joined together and swung by crane to the assembly line. Then a strange thing happens. The nose is cut into five sections —top, two sides, bottom, and flooring—to permit the installation of thousands of pulleys, wires, buttons, valves, and conduits. The five parts move along the assembly line, gathering pieces of equipment , and are finally merged, complete to the last piece of soundproofing—the "brains" room of the great bomber. It sounds like magic, but it works.
The Consolidated-Vultee people can well be pleased with the results of their assembly. In the first nine months of operation, they were able to produce 2.3 planes for every one produced at the early stage of production, and a year later they effected a 60 per cent decrease in the man hours required to produce the bomber. All the time, however, modifications were being made. Planes that began on the assembly lines and that were designed to be like six others farther along the line would emerge into daylight of the testing field slightly more up to date. How quickly the Army modifies planes according to combat requirements is shown by the fact that during 1942 more than two hundred construction changes were effected without interruption of the steady flow of planes.
Output at San Diego increased, and a second plant was put into production at Fort Worth. Later, factories at Dallas and Willow Run undertook to manufacture Liberators from Consolidated's blueprints.
The Liberator is primarily designed for high-altitude day bombing at excessively long-range, and for precision work using the Norden and Sperry bombsights. It is a good example of precision thinking.
Liberators are not only employed as bombers. They soon demonstrated themselves to be the fastest and most economical means of air transport both for personnel and supplies. One of the best-known Liberators in the air today is the one which has flown England's Prime Minister, Mr. Winston Churchill, on many of his journeys.
This ship is called the Commando and is piloted by Captain Bill Vanderkloot and Captain Jack Ruggles, both of whom joined the R.A.F. Ferry Command before the United States entered the war.
The Commando is especially equipped as an airliner. In its bunks, located in a compartment above the bomb bay, many famous people have slept, including General Smuts of South Africa, Lord and Lady Halifax, Premier Sikorsky of Poland, and Wellington Koo of China.
It recently brought Anthony Eden to Washington for a visit. In fact, the Commando has probably covered more of the routes that will be the airlines of the future than any other machine. Vanderkloot and Ruggles, who were recently decorated by the British government , estimate that they have flown over 200,000 miles in their plane without any serious trouble.
Mr. Wendell Willkie made his One World journey in a Liberator, and General Arnold recently flew from Australia to the United States in a Liberator, in the record time of thirty-five hours. One Liberator took the Averill Harriman mission to Moscow and then continued on around the world, piling up an astonishing mileage of 24,700 miles.
Another, piloted by Captain G. R. Buxton of the British Overseas Airways, now operating with the R.A.F. Transport Command, flew from England to Canada in six hours and twelve minutes in the spring of 1943.
The United States Army decided that a certain percentage of the output of Liberators should be used for transports, and the modified plane went into service with the Air Transport Command to fly regularly over the extensive range of its territory. The conversion was simple. The top turret was removed and a hatch put in its place.
All armor and armament were taken out. A big door was fitted in the side, and even the bombardier's Plexiglas nose was converted into cargo space. As the C-87, or Liberator "Express," the B-24 became the heaviest weight carrier in service. Its load is said to be in excess of ten tons, with which weight it can travel four thousand miles at over 30,000 feet, carrying a crew of four men, two pilots, a navigator , and flight engineer.
Consolidated designers and engineers are not satisfied by any means that the Liberator in its present form cannot be improved. They state with considerable confidence that there is no foreseeable limit to the size of land-based aircraft. Says Laddon: "Every plane is a definite answer to a question: What do we want it to do? Once we know that, we can design the plane to meet the problem." Laddon is now working on a mock-up of a full-size wooden model for a transport plane which will be the biggest ever. It is designed to carry four hundred passengers. When they showed this colossus to Major General Doolittle, he looked at it and said, "I don't believe it. It is just a He." Consolidated engineers know better.
To build the new plane will be a tremendous task, the greatest ever undertaken by the aircraft industry. Blueprints alone for building one model would cover sixteen acres of ground if laid out flat. The footprint of one tire covers ten square feet. Oil for one filling of the tanks is as much as five average families would use in a lifetime. The heating facilities of this plane would warm a forty-room house. Its cargo capacity is such that a squadron of them could evacuate the whole population of Fort Worth to Kansas City in three days.
The Liberator owes its appropriate name to the R.A.F., whose crews like to name their machines instead of using numbers, as was the previous practice in the United States. Unlike us, however, the R.A.F. does not usually name individual planes, which are known by letters, such as "F" for Freddy, and "B" for Beer. American bomber crews name their planes according to whim, after their home towns, their girl friends, or whatever takes their fancy.
The first B-24's arrived in England in the dark days when Germany was threatening invasion, and submarines and long-range bombers were making the sea crossing of the Atlantic extremely perilous. The grateful British welcomed the monster bomber with open arms and coined the name "Liberator." After some slight modifications in armament, the B-24 went into action as a Coastal Command patrol bomber and quickly showed its mettle. Since its debut on the Atlantic patrol, the Liberator has piled up an astonishing record of victories over submarines.
The British fitted 20-mm. cannon in the noses of their Liberators and sent them out after the submarines and the huge German FockeWulf Condors, or Kuriers. The first clash between the converted German trans-Atlantic airliner and the Liberator took place a few hundred miles off the coast of Ireland. The crew of the German bomber were taken by surprise at the appearance of the unfamiliar ship. They surmised it was a bomber being ferried over from America and roared in to attack.
The Liberator's pilot immediately turned its nose toward the huge, but slow, assailant and the gunner blazed away. The first burst of fire knocked off the long nose of the Kurier, and from the cockpit fell two of her crew. The German pilot was unhurt and managed to get his machine into a tight turn. The Liberator tail gunner then got in his burst and set one of the German engines on fire.
Then the American bomber climbed above the Kurier and dived to give the nose gunner another shot. That burst was the end of the German aircraft that until the arrival of the Liberator had been the terror of convoys and master of the air above the high seas, except when unlucky enough to run into a freighter fitted with a Hurricane or Spitfire "Catafighter." One winter's morning in 1941, the rear gunner of a B-24 on routine patrol spotted a German Heinkel seaplane flying toward the French coast at a very low altitude.
"Tally ho!" called the pilot cheerfully in answer to the gunner's warning. He put his machine into a steep dive and attacked the Heinkel. "He never fired a shot," relates the pilot, "although we raked him with every gun we had. One of our bursts knocked off great chunks from his fuselage, and another set fire to his engines." The Liberator was regaining height, when the rear gunner cried out, "There's a big ship down there. It's a Hun!" The pilot banked to have a look. There below them was not only a German light cruiser, but also a submarine, surfaced beside her. The Liberator went down again and raked the submarine with its machine guns and cannon. As the pilot pulled out of his dive, the bomb aimer dropped a stick of bombs that burst in the water close beside the submarine.
The U-boat dived, but left a thick patch of oil on the surface. The crew then decided to have a crack at the warship. "We blasted her with everything we had, and we came so low that we could see our shells and bullets chipping fragments from her deck," said the pilot. "It was real fun while it lasted, but we were disturbed by another Heinkel. He was a persistent beggar. He attacked us four times while we were attacking that ship; each time we drove him off, knocking pieces out of him, but he came back again. The last time he flew into us head on. I thought he was going to ram us, but just as he got within a few feet, he pulled up and turned away. I could see our bullets hitting him. He didn't get far. A piece of his wing came away and one of his floats was dangling in the wind, like the broken leg of a doll. With both engines smoking, he suddenly stalled and dived almost to sea level. The last we saw of him, he was crabbing along, smoking like a pair of factory chimneys. He didn't look as if he could last more than a few minutes.
"Then we had a smack at the warship again, but our ammunition gave out, and we had to set a course for home." On that particular patrol, the Liberator crew had been in the air for more than fifteen hours.
One Liberator while on Atlantic patrol attacked two Nazi Kuriers as they were attempting to attack a convoy. The pilot was Captain H. D. Maxwell of Pink Hill, North Carolina. Captain Maxwell and his crew closed with the two enemy planes as they were going into the bomb runs over the Allied ships. Visibility was poor. The first sight of the enemy was merely a dark shape in the mist. Maxwell turned his big plane and gave his engines the gun. He was pumping the enemy with all available guns when another Kurier appeared and got on his tail. The three big planes then began a rat-race, each trying to get a position of advantage. On the decks of the ships the sailors stood and cheered. The Liberator was the first of the contestants to be disabled. It landed on the sea, with every man of its crew of seven wounded, its ammunition exhausted and the barrels of the guns red-hot. There must have been heavy hearts among the watchers, but suddenly cheers swelled from every throat. The German plane that the Liberator had first attacked crashed into the sea out of control leaving only a plume of smoke to mark its end, and far away on the horizon the other Kurier also settled to its doom. The American plane had vanquished two of its enemies. All the crew were saved by the merchant ships of the convoy.
A Navy Liberator pilot, First Lieutenant Frederick McKinnon Jr., of West Roxbury, Massachusetts, caught a Kurier sneaking up on a convoy, and his gunners filled it so full of lead that it limped away at 150 feet altitude with its engines smoking.
The present Liberator, which has gone through a series of modifications until it has reached series E, is generously armed with .50caliber guns. Its four Pratt and Whitney Twin Wasps are turbosupercharged for increased altitude. The Liberator is of all-metal construction, with stressed light alloy skin and flush riveting throughout. The most interesting feature is the Davis airfoil, which because of its narrow frontal area is considered to produce 25 per cent less drag, as compared with other bomber wings. If you will look carefully at pictures of the Liberator and the Fortress, you will be able to judge the difference between the two wings.
Many conjectures have been made as to the speed of the Liberator. Latest figures credit it with batting along at something better than 335 miles per hour at 16,000 feet, with a service ceiling of 36,000 feet. Its range with full load at cruising speed is approximately three thousand miles, and it is generally accepted as our greatest long-range weight carrier. The arrangement of .50-caliber guns now on the Liberator makes it just as formidable as the Fortress, and with its high speed and extreme nippiness, this B-24 is quite capable of taking care of itself in daylight raids.
Over New Guinea a squadron of unescorted Liberators was attacked by twenty-five Japanese Zeros. The American gunners acquitted themselves well, scoring a hit on every Jap fighter and knocking down at least six.
Another Liberator, on a mission over France, was engaged by twelve German Messerschmitt 109's and shot down three of them in a twenty-minute fight, driving off the entire squadron without being damaged itself.
The first reported battle test of the Liberators carrying the United States Army Air Forces' insignia over Europe was the huge daylight raid on Lille on October 9, 1942. Escorted by five hundred fighter planes, and in company with Fortresses, the big bombers poured tons of bombs on the great Fives steel works at Lille, which were turning out main-line locomotives for the Nazis. The factories were in full blast, but after the massed bombers had passed over the great sprawling industrial center at 30,000 feet, it was blanketed with the smoke of countless fires.
How many Liberators were lost on that raid was not disclosed, but out of more than a hundred bombers in all, only four did not return. Said Major Kenneth Cool, leader of one Liberator squadron: "I'm ready to go back any time with our Liberators. We gave 'em hell. There must have been forty or fifty German fighters around us at one time. Our gunners were really getting them." It was said that this particular squadron had downed at least seven of the FW-190's, and the figures were later amended favorably.
The net result of the raid proved that the Liberator with its high speed and new armament could undoubtedly hold its own against German fighters. Precision bombing, however, rather than fighting, is the Liberator's specialty. Its crew aim to get to their target faster and drop more bombs nearer than any other plane in the air.
One of the most outstanding Liberator exploits was the bombing of the vital-to-the-Axis oilfields at Ploesti, Rumania. This raid was carefully rehearsed and executed. Some two hundred of the big bombers made the attack from tree-top level. The raid involved a round-trip flight of 2400 miles, and the use of a special low-altitude bombsight. Two thousand United States airmen participated, and enormous damage was done. The value of that raid is best told in the words of General "Hap" Arnold. Discussing it at his press conference he said: "We have known for a long time that oil was a very critical item so far as Germany was concerned. We made one attack on Ploesti sometime back which wasn't so hot. This time, after a very careful preparation, and months of drilling, we sent many B-24's against the Ploesti refinery areas, which covers some forty miles by about twenty miles. Thirty per cent of the Axis requirements of oil comes from Rumania. There are nine refineries there. We hit six of them.
The total production of the nine refineries is about 9,000,000 tons a year. We destroyed 42 per cent of the Rumanian refinery capacity; 3,900,000 tons was the capacity that we destroyed, for a period of at least six months. Three of the refineries will never be able to operate until after the war, when they can get additional equipment.
"Incidentally, we lost some airplanes—but that is merely incidental . The damage is there. They don't get that oil production, and they can't get it until the war is over—which will be too late." Liberators have been in action in practically every theater of war.
These were the bombers that made the 2000-mile round trip from Pacific bases to drop 24,000 pounds of bombs on Japanese-held Wake.
From Australia, Liberators carried 2000-pound block busters to Rabaul, and during the Aleutians campaign, Liberator pilots carried out more than twenty raids on the island of Kiska.
The Liberator gunners have been particularly successful against the Japanese Zero fighters in the Pacific. On one mission a group of Liberators shot down thirteen Zeros and damaged six more without loss or damage to any of their number.
One Liberator which was shadowing eight Japanese destroyers was attacked by fourteen Zeros. The pilot climbed from 6000 to 9000 feet and prepared to stand off the attackers. The Japs must have thought they had an easy thing for they closed in from all angles. Within a few seconds some of the Japanese pilots changed their minds and broke away before getting in close enough to open fire. Those who did come in suffered severely. The Navy report said: "The Zeros made individual runs on either quarter, but few closed to effective range. One closed in and had his tail blown apart from about 500 feet. Others appeared astern and at least four were hit.
One pulled up to a stall and quickly exploded and disintegrated under the combined fire of bow and tail turrets. Another Zero was hit by the top turret, tail turret and belly guns and burst into flames. The others broke combat and the Liberator completed its mission and returned safely to base."
In the Pacific the Liberators have been tangling with a twinengined Jap plane which the Navy pilots call "Betty," as well as with the Zeros. Betty, a torpedo plane, has been getting distinctly the worst of the encounters, so much so that Liberator pilots are sorely tempted to use their craft as interceptors whenever Betty makes an appearance. One Liberator squadron chalked up a record of shooting down four Betty's in four consecutive days. One Betty put up a terrific battle, and the Jap rear gunner succeeded in shooting out one of the Liberator's engines. The Liberator gunners, however, retaliated with good effect, and the torpedo bomber dived into the sea in flames after the pilot tried unsuccessfully to ram the American ship. Another Liberator chased a Betty for four hours in a cloud bank. The end of the battle came when both emerged from the cloud a mere 800 feet above the sea. The Liberator's .50-caliber guns did a good job on this particular Betty and then it exploded.
In midsummer of 1942, when the British were faced with the formidable task of driving Rommel from his positions perilously near the Suez Canal, the "throat of India," Major General Lewis Brereton sent several squadrons of B-24's to assist in the task of blasting Rommel's supply lines. The British were delighted. "Send us more of these big beauties," said an R.A.F. spokesman. "We can do with them!" Liberators immediately began a "milk run" to Bengasi. They piled bomb after bomb on the hapless port, alternating day and night with the British Lancasters. On one raid, ten Liberators sank or damaged every ship in the harbor and also managed to disperse repeated attacks by Italian Macchi fighter planes.
During the North African campaign, Liberators flown by U.S.A.A.F. and R.A.F. pilots put in more than twenty-one thousand flying hours, dropping more than 8,500,000 pounds of bombs in over five thousand sorties. They were credited definitely with sinking forty-nine ships, with twenty-five more probably sunk, and twenty-eight severely damaged.
For duty in the South Pacific and in China, the Liberator is likely to be used more than any other heavy bomber. General Chennault's Fourteenth Air Force is already equipped with a number of Liberators , and on one of their first raids on the Japanese-held harbor of Canton, they dropped 80,000 pounds of explosive and incendiary bombs on harbor installations. In the Pacific, Liberator pilots participated in an attack on a huge Japanese convoy making its way toward Australia. It was during this attack that ten warships were disabled, twelve transports wiped out, and fifteen thousand enemy troops drowned.
In the Aleutians, the giant Liberators did a giant's job in handing out a beating to the Japs who were trying to consolidate their toehold on Uncle Sam's finger of territory which points so menacingly at the heart of Japan. The weather at Kiska is never a picnic. It alternates between soupy fogs and raging rain and snow storms, with the winds at gale speed. The only way to manage precision bombing under such circumstances is to fly low under the clouds and drop the eggs right on the nest.
The job was handed to a section of Liberators whose crews had just been transferred from Fortresses. The bombers roared through the thick clouds in formation and came in over Kiska Harbor at about fifty feet above the water. The bombardiers opened their bomb bays simultaneously, laying a terrible pattern on the ships and dock installations as they passed.
Said one of the bombardiers, describing the action: "I could see the explosions beneath us and feel the heat of the fire bombs pouring in through the open bomb doors. A sea of smoking flame began to spread and flow all over the target. The bombs seemed to have dropped everywhere. Every ship in the formation had unloaded at once. It was an incredible sight. Then the delayed-action explosions began behind us. That was some noise." This was probably the lowest altitude from which Liberators had operated, but they came through with flying colors and no losses.
Kiska Sal, one of the Liberators concerned, repeated the operation several times and now has a healthy record of Japanese ships sunk and Zero fighters pulverized.
Two Liberators in the Mediterranean gave a good account of themselves at high altitude. They were Alice the Goon and The Witch. Over Greece a squadron of Me-109's and Macchi 202's swooped down to attack their group of Liberators. One Messerschmitt got close in to The Witch and literally filled her full of lead.
A shell hit a gas turret. The Witch's guns began blazing, while her gasoline caught fire and bullets continued pouring at her, severing the gun mountings and smashing a bulkhead support. The Witch flew on, as if nothing were happening.
The pilot called back to the rear, "Anybody hurt?" "Yep," answered the rear gunner. "All of us, but we got him." The German fighter plane was rolling over and over with flames belching from its greenhouse. Another Messerschmitt attacked.
Alice the Goon gave it a burst, and down it went. Next a Macchi appeared, and slid down until it was almost on The Witch's back.
It was the most foolish thing the pilot could have done. As if timed by a stop-watch, the turret gunners of all nine Liberators opened fire on the hapless wood and metal fighter. Every gun was giving it something. The Macchi disintegrated suddenly as if pulled to pieces by giant invisible hands tugging at the wings, tail, and nose. The pilot bailed out, miraculously still alive. The remaining fighters made for home.
If bombers carried battleflags, the B-24 Liberators would have twelve campaigns on theirs, for since the outbreak of war these big "babies" of bombardment have dropped their calling cards on such places as Wake Island, Kiska, Burma, the Solomons, North Africa, Germany, France, South Pacific, Italy, Sicily, the Middle East, and China. Quite a record for our newest heavyweight.
The Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation announced at the end of 1943 that three versions of the Liberator would be built in 1944, the B-24E, the PB4Y, and the C-87, stating that these three versions would be in operation in greater numbers than any other four-engined aircraft.