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Bridge Busters: The 397th Bombardment Group (Medium) and the B-26 Marauder in World War II

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Technical Report

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This study examines the concept of medium bombardment and the role of the Martin B-26 Marauder in World War II WWII through the previously under-documented history of the 397th Bombardment Group BG. It seeks to fulfill two objectives to tell the story of the 397 BG and to aid understanding of the contributions of a capability that did not fit neatly into previously existing conceptions of airpower. The B-26 occupied a middle ground between the formalized doctrines of attack aviation and strategic bombardment. It offered capabilities traditionally associated with both strategic and tactical airpower, yet had limitations in both. The author presents the experiences and contributions of the 397 BG as representative of the mature concept of medium bombardment in WWII. As the last American B-26 group sent to the European Theater of Operations, the 397th entered the war during the preparatory phase for the invasion of France and supported the Allied advance across the Low Countries and into Germany. By the time the 397th entered combat, B-26 units were making valuable contributions to the Allied war effort. However, the aircraft had a troubled and controversial past. Due to high accident rates in training and early operational difficulties, the Army Air Forces AAF nearly eliminated the B-26 from its inventory on multiple occasions. Through a complicated process of adaptation, largely through trial and error, B-26 units forged a role for the aircraft and developed effective tactics. This study traces the history of medium bombardment and the B-26 from inception through victory in Europe. It describes the environmental and organizational factors that resulted in development of an aircraft type that fell between the idealized expectations of both Army and AAF leaders. It details early B-26 operations in the Pacific, Mediterranean and European Theaters to illuminate the path from troubled aircraft to successful airpower capability.

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