Low Blow

Air & Space Smithsonian - - Technically Speaking - —HEATHER GOSS

HOURS BE­FORE SUNRISE on June 6, 1944, B-26 Ma­rauder pi­lots sta­tioned in Eng­land woke up to find their air­planes freshly painted in black and white stripes: The Al­lied in­va­sion of oc­cu­pied Eu­rope was un­der way. Any air­plane with­out stripes was likely to be shot down by Al­lied gun­ners.

The Ma­raud­ers took off in rain. A low cloud front pushed them down as low as 3,500 feet, where the bom­bardiers could see their tar­gets: Ger­man guns aimed at any­thing that tried to cross the nar­row strand co­de­named Utah Beach. Nearly 300 Ma­raud­ers dropped more than a mil­lion pounds of ex­plo­sives, keep­ing losses among land­ing forces low, com­pared to the car­nage on Omaha Beach, tar­geted by high-fly­ing heavy bombers.

Still, the B-26 was not what Hap Arnold had in mind for Nor­mandy. He had wanted its suc­ces­sor, the Dou­glas A-26 In­vader. That air­craft be­came the fastest U.S. bomber of the war. The A-26 earned its own kind of stripes through a long, suc­cess­ful life, in­clud­ing ser­vice in Korea and Viet­nam.

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