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Liberator. Combat Use

Vladimir Kotelnikov

B-24J Liberator from 44th Bomb Group before takeoff

B-24J Liberator from 44th Bomb Group before takeoff

First Experience of Combat Use

It was the aircraft of the B-24D modification that were first used on a large scale on the fronts of the Second World War. The first operations for both British and American Liberators were flights to search for submarines in the Atlantic. The aircraft was well suited for this task. Long range and duration of flight, significant bomb load, the ability to carry depth charges recommended it in the best way. The crews managed to sink several submarines and even shoot down several aircraft monitoring the movement of convoys across the ocean. On one occasion, a B-24 was attacked by six German Ju88s. Defending themselves, the Liberator's riflemen shot down one Junkers and damaged three more. According to their testimony, one of these three hardly managed to reach the base.

The B-24D was first used against targets in Europe in the summer of 1942. Colonel Halverson led a hastily assembled group of crews that received brand new aircraft. Initially, it was prepared for raids on Japan from China. But the military situation in North Africa worsened. Rommel's corps moved towards the Suez Canal. Halverson's group (it had no official number) was redirected to Egypt. In early June 1942, her planes landed at the Fayyd airfield, and already on June 12 they went on their first mission. The target was the oil complex in Ploiesti (Romania) - the most important center for the production of fuel for Germany.

Of the 13 B-24s that flew, a dozen successfully bombed designated targets, but only seven made it to their designated landing site in Iraq. The losses were very high - almost 50%. But it was necessary to take into account the well-organized air defense of the city of Ploiesti, the protection of which was given great importance by both the Germans and the Romanians.

Another, 93rd bomber group was sent to England. On October 9, 1942, her planes bombed Lille. Then, for seven months, the main targets for her were the "submarine and shipyard bases in Lorian, Brest, Saint-Nazaire and Wilhelmshaven. On May 17, the 93rd and 44th groups (both on" Liberators ") jointly attacked Bordeaux. the gateway to the Garonne and make a few direct hits to the workshop of the engine plant.

Around the same time, Liberators appeared in China. The first combat sortie of aircraft of the 436th group took place on October 21, 1942 from Chengtu. The significant radius of action made it possible to achieve goals that were previously considered unattainable. So, on May 4, 1943, 18 B-24s crossed the Gulf of Tonkin and struck the island of Hainan.

The operation of heavy bombers in China was very difficult - fuel, ammunition, spare parts were delivered only by air through the Himalayas.

December 22, 1942 26 B-24Ds of Colonel Matheny made an unexpected raid for the Japanese on Wake Island. The planes bombed with almost no anti-aircraft fire - only two holes were brought back to the entire group. Later "Liberators" in this theater supported the landing in the Marshall Islands. With bombs of large calibers, they disabled the enemy's fortifications. Many times B-24 flew to bomb Rabaul on the island of New Britain - the main base of the Japanese in the vicinity of New Guinea. On October 12, 1943, it was attacked simultaneously by two B-24 groups, a B-25 group and fighters with bombs.

In October 1942, the 376th Bomber Group, also armed with B-24D, arrived in the Middle East. She absorbed what was left of Halverson's group. This unit was stationed in Lydda, Palestine. At the end of the month, another group of Liberators, the 98th, was sent to the Mediterranean Theater. Haifa became its base. These two groups were included in the 9th Bomber Command in November and tasked with attacking the routes along which the German and Italian troops were supplied in Africa. The planes began bombing road junctions, bridges, warehouses and ports.

In the spring of 1943, in preparation for the landing in Sicily, the 9th command began operations over the southern regions of Europe. Thus, the 98th and 376th groups made several raids from Benghazi on Naples and Messina, and later on Rome

The work of the Ploiesti refineries still haunted the generals at the Allied headquarters. But now it was decided to inflict a much more powerful blow on them. In the summer of 1943, from the American 8th Air Army in England, three groups flying on the Liberators - 44th, 93rd and 389th - were temporarily transferred to the Middle East. This made it possible to gather the necessary forces. The point is that the Ploiesti oil fields were a rather difficult target. Seven oil refineries and numerous storage facilities were located on a large area. Two groups, 93rd and 98th, received two factories as targets, the rest - one each.

After the previous raid, Halverson's groups of Ploiesti's air defense were reinforced. Plants and oil storage facilities were covered by numerous batteries of anti-aircraft guns with caliber from 20 to 1 50 mm, squadrons of German and Romanian fighters. General Brereton estimated the estimated losses of his bombers at 50%.

The raid was scheduled for August 1, 1943. Five B-24 groups had to fly more than 3000 km - 14 hours in the air after leaving North Africa. To ensure surprise, they decided to fly very low.

At 7 am on August 1, a Wongo-Vongo bomber, the leader of the 376th group and the entire formation, took off from the runway at the Burke-2 site. The Liberators pursued troubles one after another. The pilot of the lead aircraft, the Wongo-Wongo, made a reckless movement and the car crashed into the waves. With her, the entire crew died, including the flag navigator of the compound. The bomber with the chief navigator's understudy did not leave the base at all due to breakdowns. In a hurry, they began to decide who would lead the connection further. They found a candidate, but as it turned out later, it was not very successful.

After crossing the coastline of Greece, the bombers spotted German observation posts. The fighters began to rise into the air, the crews ran out on alarm on anti-aircraft batteries.

The weather over Greece was disgusting. The unit broke formation and dispersed. In addition, the new leader made the mistake of changing course at the wrong point. Because of this, the planes went directly to Bucharest. Anti-aircraft batteries, covering the Romanian capital, immediately opened fierce fire.

At about two o'clock in the afternoon, the "Liberators" finally appeared over Ploiesti. But they did not graduate from the courses that were planned. The pre-scheduled order of attacking targets was violated. Subdivisions and individual crews began to choose targets themselves - they simply bombed what turned up.

Anti-aircraft fire destroyed the remnants of the formation, the squadrons lost their commanders. Full amateur performance began. The height of 80-100 m chosen for bombing led to the destruction of aircraft with all types of weapons. There were cases when the "Liberators" shooters entered into a firefight with the crews of anti-aircraft batteries. From the burning oil, flames and smoke rose above the flying planes. Bombers walked through them and exited smoky.

Only 27 minutes passed from the first bomb to the last one. Then followed the long way home, accompanied by enemy fighters attacking from all sides. The losses of the 9th command turned out to be huge, although they did not reach the pessimistic assessment of Brereton. Of the 164 aircraft that took off in the morning, 53 were shot down or crashed along the way, 23 were forced to land in different places, 88 returned to their bases. Colonel Kane's 98th Group lost 21 of 38 aircraft. Kane himself was forced to land in Cyprus, crashing a bomber. 55 of the returned aircraft were damaged.

Of the seven factories in Ploiesti, two were destroyed, two were put out of action for at least six months, two were slightly damaged, and one was never hit. The 9th command then again and again returned to the idea of ​​striking at Ploiesti. But for this he needed to accumulate sufficient power again. When the same five groups attacked Wiener-Neustadt in Austria in mid-August, they managed to lift only 68 aircraft into the air.



American Cruiser

In 1942, the US Air Force did not have fighters capable of escorting heavy bombers for their full range. Since the Americans bombed targets during the day, this significantly increased the losses from enemy fighter aircraft. Therefore, American generals came up with the idea of ​​escorting bombers with bombers. Only escort aircraft did not carry bombs, but instead were equipped with additional defensive weapons and protected by armor. They had to walk along the edges of the formation and drive off enemy fighters with a wall of fire.

Thus, the Americans revived the idea of ​​a "cruiser", which was actively developed in the USSR in the late 20s - early 30s. The heavy bomber brigades of the Red Army Air Force then included "cruiser squadrons" equipped with R-6 (later Kr-6) aircraft. They were supposed to guard TB-3 formations in long-distance raids. Other "cruisers" were also designed, including the huge four-engined TK-4 armed with cannons, machine guns and rockets. The last Soviet "cruiser" was TsKB-54, aka DB-ZSS. This aircraft based on the DB-3 bomber was produced in only two copies.

In the early 40s, a similar machine was created in Japan by the designers of the Mitsubishi concern. It was even released in small series. But the Americans for the first time built "cruisers" on the basis of heavy bombers. Boeing and Consolidated worked in parallel on the XB-40 (based on the B-17F) and the XB-41 (based on the B-24D) projects.

The only experienced XB-41 was converted from a serial bomber at Fort Worth. On January 29, 1943, he was ferried to Eglin Field in Florida. The armament increased from 10 machine guns to 14. A second turret of the A-3 type appeared on the fuselage, closer to the tail. The first turret was redesigned so that it could be raised, increasing the firing sector, or retracted into the fuselage, reducing drag in the stowed position. In the onboard installations, now mechanized, they mounted coaxial machine guns. During the tests, the left installation was covered with a transparent blister, but it began to distort the view, and the blister was removed. The aircraft carried a total of 12,420 rounds, including 4,000 in spare boxes in the front bomb bay. The crew's armor protection was significantly increased. The additional weight of armor, machine guns and ammunition raised the takeoff weight to 28,600 kg - about three tons more than the standard B-24D.

Tests at Eglinfield continued throughout the winter and summer of 1943. On March 16, the Air Force command approved the redesign, but a week later, on March 21, an order to close the work was followed. The fact is that the Boeing was in time earlier and a small series of YB-40s even got to the advanced airfields in England. And there the main drawback of "cruisers" was revealed: while the bombers were carrying bombs, they could still keep in line with them, but after being dropped by bombers, the "cruisers", whose weight had not changed, began to lag behind, becoming easy prey for enemy interceptors. The same was true of their Soviet and Japanese predecessors. Experienced XB-41 was renamed bTB-24D and used as a simulator for training mechanics.

Weapon Modifications

Both German and Japanese fighter pilots quickly identified the Liberator's vulnerability - weak defense against attack from the front. Even the installation of two additional machine guns could not completely eliminate this disadvantage. The commanders of various ranks on the front line quickly realized the need to strengthen the weapons that shoot through the front hemisphere. A variety of homemade designs began to appear.

So, a coaxial machine gun was placed in the bombardier's cockpit. The firepower increased, but it was very difficult to manually wield a pair of bulky and heavy heavy machine guns. The shooter got tired quickly. There were cases of mounting fixed machine guns under the floor of the bombardier's cockpit. But the "Liberator" is not a fighter; it is difficult for a pilot to take aim with the whole plane.

In the Pacific Ocean, the 90th Bomber Group suffered significant losses from frontal attacks of enemy fighters. Then, the forces of the ground personnel on one of the B-24Ds in the bow put the second turret A-6, removed from the wrecked aircraft. A little later, in January 1943, General J. Kenya, commander of the 7th Air Force, requested an additional 35 aft turrets. The aviation depot (air depot) in Hawaii began to put them on airplanes in March. Combat experience proved the conversion to be effective, and Kenya ordered another 36 turrets in May.

Shortly before this, a similar alteration was carried out at the Air Force Modification Center in Oklahoma City. There, they mounted the same A-6 turret in the nose of the bomber, but in a slightly different way, at the same time changing the layout of the bombardier's cockpit. At the same time, the nose acquired a characteristic downward protrusion. Thus, a fairly significant number of B-24Ds were modernized.

Other work was carried out to strengthen defensive weapons. In the 7th Air Army, instead of an astrodome, they made a hatch with bulletproof glass, in which a 7.62-mm machine gun was mounted in a ball socket. The 44th Bomber Group in the Middle East and the 1st Bomb Group in the Pacific Ocean set up homemade twin onboard installations.

On All Fronts

In 1944, the "Liberators" of the new generation were already in full force in combat operations. Aircraft of this type were the backbone of the 15th Air Army's striking power. Their main targets in the 44th were the factories that supplied Germany with fuel. They bombed Ploiesti, oil refineries near Budapest and Vienna. On August 19, 350 planes were sent to Ploiesti. The Germans began to widely use synthetic gasoline from coal - "Liberators" began to destroy the factories where it was driven. They raided factories in Odertal, Blechhammer and elsewhere. By the beginning of 1945, the Germans had only four refineries and six enterprises producing synthetic fuels in working order.

On March 15, 1945, the command of the 15th Air Army threw 522 B-24s and 225 B-1 7s at an oil refinery in Floresdorf near Vienna. 1600 tons of bombs completely disabled it.

Both the Americans and the British actively used the "Liberators" in Burma. They bombed railways and rare highways, ports and warehouses. In October 1944 - May 1945, the B-24 laid mines on the approaches to ports, in particular, to Rangoon. Since December 1944, the Americans have used Azon radio-controlled bombs to destroy bridges. They were dropped by a specially trained 493rd Squadron. On December 27, 1944, the very first Azon destroyed the Pinman Bridge on the Rangoon-Mandalay railway, which could not be disabled for two years.

From Kwajalein Atoll B-24 flew to bomb the Mariana Islands. The first such raid took place on April 1 8, 1944. The Army Air Force and naval aviation took part in it jointly. From Australia, raids were made on Borneo, where oil refineries were located in the town of Balikpapan. At the same time, the B-24 were in the air for 17-18 hours. After the seizure of airfields in northern New Guinea, the flight time was reduced to 14 hours.

The Liberators raid on Davao on September 1, 1944, launched a campaign in the Philippines. Later, these aircraft were used in battles in Iwo Jima and the Ryukyu Islands.

Australian units also flew in the B-24 in the Pacific Ocean. Two Australian squadrons supported the Borneo landing in July 1945.

The last major raid in the Second World War "Liberators" made on August 11, 1945 at Kurum in Japan. Then incendiary bombs burned down more than a quarter of buildings in the city.

Scouts

"Liberator" also had reconnaissance modifications. But they were not produced in factories, but were converted from bombers in various workshops. The first XF-7 was a rework of the B-24D. The rework was done at Northwest Airlines' workshops in St. Paul. All bomber weapons were removed and seven cameras were installed - in the nose, bomb bay and rear of the fuselage. Part of the bomb bay was occupied by additional gas tanks.

The F-7A was already the standard type based on the B-24J. He carried three cameras in the bow and three in the bomb bay. A total of 182 F-7A appeared. The next variant, the F-7B, differed only in the placement of six cameras in the bomb bay. Thus, the 32 B-24J was redesigned.

Photographic reconnaissance personnel were used throughout the Pacific Ocean, from the Aleuts to the Philippines.

Tankers

Tankers S-109 were made on the basis of different modifications of the B-24. The experienced XC-109 was converted from the B-24E. All armor, bombs and small arms were removed from it, as well as almost everything that was not firmly fixed. One fuel tank was placed in the bow, two soft in the bomb bay and three in the tail of the fuselage. Arriving at the place, the plane drained all the fuel in an hour. 218 B-24D and B-24E were converted into C-109 in different places. Most of the tankers were used to transport gasoline from India to China for American aviation units, but some of them also flew in Europe, providing fuel to advanced airfields.

As an experiment, the B-24 was also used to refuel aircraft in the air. At the very beginning of 1942, various plans for air raids on Tokyo were developed. One of them provided for the use of a group of "Flying Fortresses" with refueling from the V-24. They were going to take off from Attu Island, and land in China. Moreover, each aircraft could deliver 2,700 kg of bombs to the target.

All equipment was supplied by the British company Flight Refueling. It was similar to that previously used on the Harrow aircraft, but differed in the presence of a hydraulic drive. British engineers also supervised the installation. The B-24D was converted into a tanker. The works were carried out in the workshops of the company Pennsylvania Central Airlines. The drum with the hose and the tanks were placed in the bomb bay. The B-17E received a receiver on the right at the tail turret.

Flight tests began in April 1943 in Florida. After the first setbacks, we made seven successful refuelings.

As the production of the B-29 expanded, interest in refueling the B-17 gradually diminished until it completely disappeared. In the middle of 1944, it was proposed to refuel Super Fortresses from the B-24, but the equipment needed to be improved for higher flight speeds.

In November 1943, Captain Smiley introduced an original project to increase the range of the P-38 fighters. The Liberator was supposed to transfer an outboard tank to the Lightning in the air! Nevertheless, the idea was taken seriously. The design was carried out by the Inland me-nyufecuring firm, and the completion of the P-38 pair and the manufacture of special tanks - by All American Aviation. The B-24 was supposed to lower the tank on a cable. The fighter caught it by grabbing it, after which compressed nitrogen distilled gasoline into R-38 tanks.

The device was tested in July 1944 on the V-24N. The tank hung from the outer bomb racks under the left wing. It was an ordinary drop tank to which the plumage was attached. There were problems with the stability of the tank, it twitched and shook, the cables were torn. Ten variants of plumage were made in succession. The first successful capture was performed on October 2, 1944, but the line broke again. On the second grip, the cable hit the propeller of the fighter. Until March 1945, when the work was closed, it was never possible to pump fuel into the R-38.

Marine Liberators

The aircraft of the American fleet also used the "Liberators". There they were designated PB4Y-1. The Navy needed a heavy aircraft with a long range and a significant bomb load to patrol over the ocean. Flying boats "Catalina" and "Coronado" had the necessary range, but were not able to carry a sufficient number of conventional or depth charges. Their main function was intelligence.

At this time, the Army Air Force needed a plant to build new B-29 bombers. The fleet owned a plant in Renton, where they were preparing for the production of flying boats "Sea Ranger". But the plane was unsuccessful. The army proposed to the command of the fleet to abandon the "Sea Ranger" and give the plant. Instead, they offered deliveries of Liberator, Mitchell and Ventura bombers. The admirals agreed.

The first "naval" Liberators were regular B-24Ds. They were received in September 1942 by the VB-101 squadron in Hawaii. Then both the navy and the marines formed such squadrons one after another. They conducted a long-range search for submarines in the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean.

Squadrons VB-101 and VB-102 fought in the Pacific Theater, VB-103 was based in Newfoundland, and since August 1943 in Cornwell, England. Patrolled the Bay of Biscay for the last 22 months.

November 10, 1943 PB4Y-1 arrived at a point off the Spanish coast where the English Wellington spotted a German submarine. The plane made two approaches with shelling, but in response received shells from the submarine. Shrapnel broke the bomb release, and the bomb had to be abandoned. An English fighter came to the rescue, which doused the cabin of the boat with machine guns. An hour and a half later, another Liberator arrived. Five depth charges were dropped on the submarine. The boat sank to the stern, but, firing back, continued to leave. It took two more Liberators, an American and an English one, to finish her off. After a missile salvo of the British, the crew left the boat, which went to the bottom.

By December 1943, nine Liberator naval squadrons were patrolling the Atlantic. On D-Day, when the Normandy landings began, anti-submarine aircraft passed over the English Channel at half-hour intervals. By May 1945, a total of 24 naval squadrons were flying the PB4Y-1.

A total of 977 aircraft were produced for the fleet. Not all of them were based on the B-24D. The American fleet also received aircraft of modifications J, L and M. But they were all designated the same in the lists of naval aviation.

As in the Air Force, naval pilots considered the armament in the bow of the Liberator insufficient. This led to the emergence of a number of curious homemade products. On the plane of Lieutenant Commander Lefebvre from the VPB-108 squadron, two 20-mm cannons were stationary in the nose. Then several more aircraft in the same squadron were equipped in the same way.

Several PB4Y-1s have received ERCO ball turrets. It was originally designed for the Sea Ranger. The turret was heavy and bulky, but with heavy armor at the front. Its ammunition capacity was twice that carried by the Air Force aircraft. Such aircraft had an elongated nose and a greater take-off weight.

Type J, L and M aircraft retained their standard nose armament. All PB4Y-1s carried Martin A-3 turrets at the top and Consolidated A-6A (A-6B) at the rear. Early aircraft were delivered without radar, later ones were equipped with radar to search for surface targets.

With one exception, all PB4Y-1s are built in San Diego. The C-87 transport aircraft supplied to the fleet were designated RY-1, and the C-87A - as RY-2. The flight data of naval aircraft practically corresponded to the data of their counterparts for the Army Air Force.

Bibliography

  • Aviation and Cosmonautics / 2003, 2004 / V.R. Kotelnikov /