Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Crusaders

Click to enlarge.

Here is Stan Stokes' tribute to the Crusdaders of the 386th Bomb Group. The art depicts the B-26 "Sexation" being attacked by a German FW-190 on November 26, 1943.

Situation: The B-26 Marauder, dubbed the "widow maker" by its detractors, was developed by the Glen L. Martin Company beginning in 1939. The first B-26 was completed in November of 1940. The early models had very high wing loading, and were tricky to fly. Added armament increased weight even further leading to an alarming rate of accidents during training. Increasing engine power, wingspan and rudder height solved many of the problems. The B-26 was capable of speeds in excess of 320-MPH, and with a normal crew compliment of six and a bomb load of 4,000 pounds the aircraft, had a range in excess of 1100 miles. Despite the controversy surrounding the B-26, the aircraft served admirably during WW II, and in fact had the lowest loss ratio of any American aircraft. The 386th Bomb Group was organized on December 1, 1942 under the command of Lt. Col. Lester J. Maitland. The 386th, known as "The Crusaders," trained at MacDill Field near Tampa Florida. The accident rate during training of earlier B-26 units was alarmingly high, leading to the phrase "one a day in Tampa Bay." With improved training methods for both flight and maintenance crews, and with improvements to the B-26's engines and electrical systems, the accident rate began to decline, and the 386th attained 10,000 flight hours of training without an accident. The Crusaders went to Lake Charles, Louisiana for the second phase of their training. On April 20, 1943 the Crusaders completed their training and crews were dispatched to either Selfridge Field in Michigan or the Martin plant in Omaha to pick-up their B-26Bs and Cs for the long flight to England. The 386th had an incredible combat record, flying 409 combat missions against Axis targets such as bridges, railroad yards, and other tactical targets. Most bombing missions were done at an altitude of 10,000-13,000 feet. On 11/29/43 the Crusaders flew a mission which was very memorable for the crew of Sexation. As depicted in Stan Stokes painting, appropriately entitled Mauled by Marauders, the Sexation was attacked by several German Fw-190 and Bf-109 fighters. With the loss of one engine, significant wing damage, and hydraulic system failure, Sexation was a sitting duck. However, Bill Norris, the tail gunner on the B-26, kept the fighters at bay, shooting down 3 enemy fighters and one probable on the mission. This made Norris the "top gun" of the 386th. The crew was able to nurse the aircraft back to England where they made a belly landing. Both Norris and the aircraft's commander, Pete LaFramboise, received the Silver Star for this mission. This print is dedicated to the memory of Col. Maitland and the 191 Crusaders who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country during WW II.


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