The Widow Maker Made Good
by Budd Davisson
Letís say itís 1943. Youíre twenty years old and you are sitting at the end of the runway with your hand wrapped around two throttles that control four-thousand horsepower. You know that fighters like the new P-51 Mustang carry 35 pounds for each square foot of wing area and they are considered ìhotî airplanes. However, the short-winged Marauder youíre flying carries well over 50 pounds per square foot. In fact, the wings are so short and heavily loaded that your airplane is known as the ìflying prostituteî because it has no visible means of support
In that kind of situation, would you be scared? Of course, not. Youíre twenty years old, remember? And, youíre immortal. Accidents only happen to the other guys. Unfortunately, when the Martin Marauder first went into squadron service, accidents happened to a lot of immortal twenty-year olds.
Unbelievably, considering the obvious high performance promised by the B-26, the airplane was ordered by the government without a prototype ever being built. They ordered the airplane right off the paper drawings.
The net result of skipping the usual prototype/testing phase was that the teething problems always associated with any new design were worked out by squadron pilots. These young men were taught to fly this startling new airplane by other young pilots who didnít know much more about the airplane then they did. The results were inevitable.
The early accidents that marred the airplaneís reputation were a function of fielding a high performance machine that not only hadnít been completely sorted out but lacked the proper training environment, as well.
Although the Marauder (a named given it by the British) had a shaky beginning it began to earn its stripes immediately. Put into squadron service in February of 1941, barely three months after the airplaneís first flight, B-26ís were dispatched to Australia the day after Pearl Harbor. Where the airplane really became a legend, however, was in pounding targets in Europe and the Mediterranean.
Considering that the airplane was often referred to as a widow maker, when the facts were all totaled up after the war, the Marauder stood at the top of the heapóit had the best combat survival record of any Allied airplane. Less than one-half of one percent were lost. It quickly became the airplane of choice, if you wanted to return from a mission.
One B-26, ìFlak Baitî flew more missions (202) than any other Allied airplane in WWII. This airplane is preserved in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington.
Like the B-25 in the Pacific, the B-26 evolved into a flying gun platform, eventually carrying as many as twelve fifty-caliber machine guns and its young pilots began strafing targets as if they were flying fighters. Although it dropped far more than its share of bombs, the sight of a pair of Marauders at treetop level chewing up trains and convoys became commonplace.
Did it earn the name ìWidow Maker?î If you were the enemy, it certainly did.