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B-24 Liberator
U.S. Army Air Forces Consolidated B-24D Liberator over Maxwell Field, Alabama.
Role Heavy bomber
Manufacturer Consolidated Aircraft
First flight 29 December 1939
Introduced 1941
Retired 1968 Indian Air Force [1]
Primary users United States Army Air Forces
United States Navy
Royal Air Force
Royal Canadian Air Force
Produced 1940–1945
Number built 18,482
Unit cost $297,627[2]
Developed from Consolidated XB-24
Variants PB4Y Privateer
XB-41
C-87 Liberator Express
Consolidated R2Y
Consolidated Liberator I

The Consolidated B-24 Liberator was an American heavy bomber, designed and largely built by the Consolidated Aircraft Company of San Diego, California. It was produced in greater numbers than any other American combat aircraft of World War II, and still holds the record as the most-produced American military or naval aircraft. The B-24 was used by several Allied air forces and navies, and by every branch of the American armed forces during the war, attaining a distinguished war record with its operations in the Western European, Pacific, Mediterranean, and China-Burma-India Theaters.

Often compared with the better-known B-17 Flying Fortress, the B-24 was a more modern design with a higher top speed, greater range, and a heavier bomb load; however, it was also more difficult to fly, with heavy control forces and poor formation-flying characteristics. Nevertheless, popular opinion among aircrews and general's staffs tended to favor the B-17's rugged qualities above all other considerations in the European Theater.[3]

The placement of the B-24's fuel tanks throughout the upper fuselage and its lightweight construction, designed to increase range and optimize assembly line production, made the aircraft vulnerable to battle damage.[4] The B-24 was notorious among American aircrews for its tendency to catch fire, but it nevertheless provided excellent service in a variety of roles thanks to its large payload and long range.

Contents

Development

XB-24 in flight

The Liberator originated from a United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) request in 1938 for Consolidated to produce the B-17 under license. This was part of "Project A", a program to expand American industrial capacity for production of the key components of air power.[5] After company executives including President Reuben Fleet visited the Boeing factory in Seattle, Consolidated decided instead to submit a more modern design of its own.[6] In January 1939, the USAAC, under Specification C-212, formally invited Consolidated[7] to submit a design study for a bomber with longer range, higher speed, and greater ceiling than the B-17.

The contract for a prototype was awarded in March 1939, with the requirement that one should be ready before the end of the year. The design was simple in concept but nevertheless advanced for its time. Compared to the B-17, the proposed Model 32 was shorter with 25% less wing area, but had a 6 ft (1.8 m) greater wingspan and a substantially larger carrying capacity, as well as a distinctive twin tail. Whereas the B-17 used 9-cylinder Wright R-1820 Cyclone engines, the Consolidated design used twin-row, 14-cylinder Pratt & Whitney R-1830 "Twin Wasp" radials of 1,000 hp (746 kW). The 70,547 lb (32,000 kg) maximum takeoff weight was one of the highest of the period. Consolidated incorporated innovative features: the new design would be the first American bomber to use tricycle landing gear, and it had long, thin wings with the efficient "Davis" high aspect ratio design (also used on the projected Model 31 twin-engined commercial flying boat)[8] promising to provide maximum fuel efficiency. Wind tunnel testing and experimental programs using an existing Consolidated Model 31 provided extensive data on the flight characteristics of the Davis airfoil.[9]

YB-24

Consolidated finished the prototype, by then known as the XB-24, and had it ready for its first flight two days before the end of 1939. Seven more YB-24 development aircraft flew in 1940 and Consolidated began preparing production tooling.[10] Early orders—placed before the XB-24 had flown—included 36 for the USAAC, 120 for the French Armée de l'Air and 164 for the Royal Air Force (RAF). Most of the first production B-24s went to Great Britain, including all those originally ordered by the Armée de l'Air after France collapsed and surrendered in 1940. The name, "Liberator", was originally assigned to it by the RAF, and subsequently adopted by the USAAF as the official name for the type.[11]

Design

The B-24's spacious slab-sided fuselage (which earned the aircraft the nickname "Flying Boxcar")[12] was built around a central bomb bay that could accommodate up to 8,000 lb (3,629 kg) of ordnance. The bomb bay was divided into front and rear compartments and had a central catwalk, which was also the fuselage keel beam. A universal complaint arose over the extremely narrow catwalk. The aircraft was sometimes disparaged as "The Flying Coffin" because the only entry and exit from the bomber was in the rear and it was almost impossible for the flight crew and nose gunner to get from the flight deck to the rear when wearing parachutes. An unusual set of "roller-type" bomb bay doors retracted into the fuselage, creating a minimum of aerodynamic drag to keep speed high over the target area.[13]

Like the B-17, the B-24 had an array of .50 caliber (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns in the tail, belly, top, sides and nose to defend it from attacking enemy fighters. However, unlike the B-17, the ball turret could be retracted into the fuselage when not in use.

Operational history

Initial deployment

B-24L 44-49710 "Stevonovitch II" of the 464th BG, hit by 2 cm FlaK 30 while supporting ground troops near Lugo, Italy, 10 April 1945. Colonel James Gilson, commanding officer of the 779th BS and nine others were killed – one waist gunner was thrown clear and survived.

Liberator GR Is in British service were the first B-24s to be used operationally. The very first use of a Liberator I in March 1941 was as a long-range transport used to ferry pilots back from the United Kingdom, while the most important role for the first batch of the Liberator GR Is was in service with RAF Coastal Command on anti-submarine patrols in the Battle of the Atlantic.[citation needed]

Later in 1941, the first Liberator IIs entered RAF service. This model introduced self-sealing fuel tanks and powered gun turrets. At the same time, Consolidated added a 2 ft 7 in (79 cm) plug in the forward fuselage to create more space for crew members. The Liberator IIs were divided between Coastal Command, Bomber Command, and BOAC. Two RAF squadrons with Liberators were deployed to the Middle East in early 1942, in the first use of the Liberator as a bomber.[14]

America enters the war

B-24s bomb the Ploieşti oil fields in August 1943

The United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) took delivery of its first B-24As in 1941. The sole B-24 in Hawaii was destroyed by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Like the RAF, the USAAF used them as transports at first. American B-24s entered combat service in 1942 when on 6 June, four B-24s from Hawaii staging through Midway Island attempted an attack on Wake Island, but were unable to find it.[15] On 12 June 1942, 13 B-24s flying from Egypt attacked the Axis-controlled oil fields and refineries around Ploesti, Romania.

Over the next three years, B-24 squadrons deployed to all theaters of the war: African, European, China-Burma-India, the Battle of the Atlantic, the Southwest Pacific Theater and the Pacific Theater. In the Pacific, the B-24 (and its twin, the U.S. Navy PB4Y Privateer) was eventually designated as the standard heavy bomber to simplify logistics and to take advantage of their longer range, replacing the shorter-range B-17 which had served early in the war along the perimeter of the Pacific from the Philippines, Australia, Espiritu Santo, Guadalcanal, Hawaii, and during the Battle of Midway from Midway Island.

Later development and production

Continued development work by Consolidated produced a handful of transitional B-24Cs with turbocharged instead of supercharged engines. The turbocharged engines led to the flattened oval nacelles that distinguished all subsequent Liberator models.

The first mass-produced model was the B-24D (Liberator III in British service), entering service in early 1943. It had turbocharged engines and increased fuel capacity. Three more 0.50 caliber (12.7 mm) machine guns brought the defensive armament up to 10 machine guns. At 59,524 lb (27,000 kg) maximum takeoff weight, it was one of the heaviest aircraft in the world; comparable with the British "heavies" the Stirling, Lancaster and Halifax.[citation needed]

B-24s under construction at Ford Motor's Willow Run plant

Production of B-24s increased at an astonishing rate throughout 1942 and 1943. Consolidated Aircraft tripled the size of its plant in San Diego and built a large new plant outside Fort Worth, Texas. More B-24s were built by Douglas Aircraft in Tulsa, Oklahoma. North American Aviation built a plant in Dallas, Texas, which produced B-24Gs and B-24Js.[citation needed] None of these were minor operations, but they were dwarfed by the vast new purpose-built factory constructed by the Ford Motor Company at Willow Run near Detroit, Michigan, which opened in August 1942 and began mass production in August 1943. This was the largest factory in the United States, and the largest anywhere outside the USSR. It had the largest assembly line in the world (3,500,000 ft²/330,000 m²) at the time of completion. At its peak, the Willow Run plant produced 428 B-24s per month. Many pilots slept on cots at Willow Run while waiting for their B-24s to roll off the assembly line.[16]

Each of the B-24 factories was identified with a production code: Consolidated/San Diego, CO; Consolidated/Fort Worth, CF; Ford/Willow Run, FO; North American, NT; and Douglas/Tulsa, DT.

In 1943, the model of Liberator considered by many the "definitive" version was introduced. The B-24H was 10 in (25 cm) longer, had a powered gun turret in the nose to reduce vulnerability to head-on attack and was fitted with an improved bomb sight, autopilot, and fuel transfer system. Consolidated, Douglas and Ford all manufactured the B-24H, while North American made the slightly different B-24G. All five plants switched over to the almost identical B-24J in August 1943. The later B-24L and B-24M were lighter-weight versions and differed mainly in defensive armament.[citation needed]

WASP pilots (left to right) Eloise Huffines Bailey, Millie Davidson Dalrymple, Elizabeth McKethan Magid and Clara Jo Marsh Stember, with a B-24 in the background

As the war progressed, the complexity of servicing the Liberator continued to increase. The B-24 variants made by each company differed slightly, so repair depots had to stock many different parts to support various models. Fortunately, this problem was eased in the summer of 1944, when North American, Douglas, and Consolidated Aircraft at Fort Worth stopped making B-24s, leaving only the Consolidated plant in San Diego and the Ford plant in Willow Run.[citation needed]

In all, 18,482 B-24s were built by September 1945. Twelve thousand saw service with the USAAF. The U.S. Navy operated about 1,000 PB4Y-1s, and almost 800 PB4Y-2 Privateers which were derived from the B-24. The Royal Air Force flew about 2,100 B-24s in 46 bomber groups and 41 squadrons; the Royal Canadian Air Force 1,200 B-24Js; and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) 287 B-24Js, B-24Ls, and B-24Ms. Liberators were the only heavy bomber flown by the RAAF in the Pacific. Two squadrons of the South African Air Force based in Italy flew B-24s.[citation needed]

Strategic bombing

The B-24 was one of the workhorse bombers of the U.S. Eighth Air Force in the Combined Bomber Offensive against Germany, forming about one-third of its heavy bomber strength, with the other two-thirds being B-17s. Thousands of B-24s, flying from bases in England, dropped hundreds of thousands of tons of bombs and incendiaries on German military, industrial, and civilian targets.

15th Air Force B-24s fly through flak and over the destruction created by preceding waves of bombers.

B-24s of the Ninth Air Force, operating from Africa and Italy, and the Fifteenth Air Force, also operating from Italy, took a major role in strategic bombing. Thirteen of the 15th AF's 18 bombardment groups flew B-24s. The Ninth Air Force moved to England in 1944 to become a tactical air force, and all of its B-24s were transferred to other Air Forces, such as the Fifteenth Air Force in Italy.

The first B-24 loss over German territory occurred on 26 February 1943. By a cruel twist of fate there had been 11 men aboard the aircraft. For some time newspapers had been requesting permission for a reporter to go on one of the missions, and on this date Robert B. Post, and five other reporters of the The New York Times were granted permission. Mr. Post was the only reporter assigned to a B-24-equipped group, the 44th Bomb Group, and flew in B-24 41-23777 Maisey on Mission No. 37 to Bremen, Germany. Intercepted just short of the target, the B-24 came under attack from JG 1's Messerschmitt Bf 109s. Leutnant Heinz Knoke (who finished the war with 31 kills) shot down the Liberator, with only two of the 11 men surviving. Neither was Post. Knoke reported:

The fire spread out along the right wing. The inboard propeller windmilled to a stop. And then, suddenly, the whole wing broke off. At an altitude of 900 metres there was a tremendous explosion. The bomber had disintegrated. The blazing wreckage landed just outside Bad Zwischenahn airfield.[17]

A total of 178 B-24s carried out the famous second attack on Ploesti, Operation Tidal Wave, on 1 August 1943, flying from their bases in northwestern Libya.

RAF Bomber Command did not use B-24s as bombers over Europe. No. 223 Squadron RAF, one of Bomber Command’s 100 (Bomber Support) Group squadrons, used 20 Liberator VIs to carry electronic jamming equipment to counter German radar. Liberators were also used as anti-submarine patrol aircraft by the RAF.

Other roles

The B-24's long operating range made it suitable for other duties including maritime patrol, anti-submarine patrol, reconnaissance, tanker, cargo hauler, and personnel transport. Winston Churchill used a refurbished Liberator II as his personal transport aircraft.

Formation assembly

B-24D Assembly Ship "First Sergeant"

In February 1944, the 2nd Division authorized the use of war-weary aircraft specially fitted to aid assembly of individual group formations. Known as Assembly or Formation Ships, they were equipped with signal lighting, provision for quantity discharge of pyrotechnics, and featured distinctive individual paint schemes of psychedelic colors in stripes, checkers, or polka dots to enable easy recognition by their flock of bombers. The aircraft used in the first allocation were B-24Ds retired by the 44th, 93rd and 389th Groups. Arrangements for signal lighting varied from group to group, but generally consisted of white flashing lamps on both sides of the fuselage arranged to form the identification letter of the group. All armament and armor was removed, and in some cases the tail turret. In the B-24Hs used for this purpose, the nose turret was removed and replaced by a "carpetbagger" type nose. Following incidents when flare guns were accidentally discharged inside the rear fuselage, some Formation Ships had pyrotechnic guns fixed through the fuselage sides. As these aircraft normally returned to base once a formation had been established, a skeleton crew of two pilots, navigator, radio operator and one or two flare discharge men were carried. In some groups an observer officer flew in the tail position to monitor the formation. These aircraft became known as Judas Goats.[18]

Operation Carpetbagger

From August 1943 until the end of the war in Europe, specially modified B-24Ds were used in classified missions. In a joint venture between the Army Air Force and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) code named "Operation Carpetbagger", pilots and crews flew specially modified B-24Ds painted with a glossy black anti-searchlight paint to supply friendly underground forces throughout German occupied Europe. They also flew C-47s, A-26 Invaders, and British de Havilland Mosquitos. They flew spies called "Joes" and commando groups prior to the Allied invasion of Europe on D-Day and afterwards, and retrieved over 5,000 officers and enlisted men who had escaped capture after being shot down. The low-altitude, night-time operation was extremely dangerous and took its toll on these airmen. The first aircrews chosen for this operation came from the anti-submarine bomb groups because of their special training in low altitude flying and pinpoint navigation skills. Also, because of their special skills, they were called upon to fly fuel to General George Patton's army when it outran its fuel supply. When this mission was completed, it was recorded that 822,791 gal (3,114264 l) of 80 octane gasoline had been delivered to three different airfields in France and Belgium.[19]

Maritime patrol

B-24 Very Long Range Liberators at the Consolidated-Vultee Plant, Fort Worth, Texas in the foreground with the dark green and white paint scheme. To the rear of this front line are C-87 "Liberator Express Transports" in various assembly stages.

The Liberators made a great contribution to Allied victory in the Battle of the Atlantic against German U-boats. The decision to allocate some Liberator Is to Coastal Command in 1941 to patrol the eastern Atlantic Ocean produced immediate results. The Very Long Range (VLR) Liberators "almost doubled the reach of Britain's maritime reconnaissance force".[20] This extended range enabled Coastal Command patrols to cover part of the Mid-Atlantic gap, where U-boats had operated without risking being attacked and sunk by Allied aircraft.[21]

For 12 months, No. 120 Squadron RAF of Coastal Command with its handful of much-patched and modified early model Liberators, supplied the only air cover for convoys in the Atlantic Gap, the Liberator being the only warplane with sufficient range. The VLR Liberators sacrificed some armor and often gun turrets in order to save weight, while carrying extra aviation gasoline in their bomb-bay tanks. Liberator Is were equipped with ASV (Air to Surface Vessel) Mark II radar, which together with the Leigh light gave them the ability to hunt U-boats by day and by night.

These Liberators operated from both sides of the Atlantic with the Royal Canadian Air Force and the U.S. Navy from the west; and with the RAF from the east, based in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Iceland, and beginning in mid-1943 from the Azores. This role was dangerous, especially after many U-boats were armed with extra anti-aircraft guns, some adopting the policy of staying on the surface to fight, rather than submerging and risking being sunk by ASW (anti-submarine warfare) torpedoes and depth charges from the bombers. In addition to flying from the East Coast of the United States, American Liberators flew from Greenland, the Azores, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Trinidad, and from wherever else they could fly far out over the Atlantic.

The rather sudden and decisive turning of the Battle of the Atlantic in favor of the Allies in May 1943 was the result of many factors. However, it was no accident that it coincided with the long delayed arrival of many more VLR Liberators for maritime patrols. Liberators were credited in full or in part with 72 U-boat sinkings.

In addition to very long range patrols, the B-24 was vital for patrols of a radius less than 1,000 mi (1,600 km), in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters where U.S. Navy Privateers and USAAF B-24s took a heavy toll of German and Japanese submarines, and also some Japanese surface shipping.

The Consolidated Aircraft Company PB4Y Privateer was a World War II U.S. Navy patrol bomber that was derived directly from the B-24 Liberator. The U.S. Navy had been using unmodified B-24s as the PB4Y-1 Liberator, and this type of patrol plane was considered to be quite successful. However, a fully-navalized design was advantageous, and Consolidated Aircraft developed a purpose-built long-range patrol bomber in 1943, designated PB4Y-2 Privateer, that was visually distinguishable from the B-24 and PB4Y-1 by having a single vertical stabilizer rather than a twin tail.

Air Transports

Early model Liberators were used as unarmed long-range cargo carriers. They flew between Britain and Egypt (with an extensive detour around Spain over the Atlantic), and they were used in the evacuation of Java in the East Indies. Liberator IIs were converted for this role and were used by the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) for trans-Atlantic services and other various long-range air transportation routes. This version of the Liberator was designated the LB-30A by the USAAF.[11]

In early 1942, a B-24 Liberator that had been damaged in an accident was converted into a cargo transport aircraft by elimination of its transparent nose and the installation of a flat cargo floor. In April 1942, the C-87 Liberator Express transport version of the B-24 entered production at Fort Worth, Texas. The C-87 had a large cargo door, less powerful supercharged engines, no gun turrets, a floor in the bomb bay for freight, and some side windows. The navigator's position was relocated behind the pilot. Early versions were fitted with a single .50 caliber (12.7 mm) Browning machine gun in their tails, and a few C-87s were also equipped with two .50 caliber (12.7 mm) fixed machine guns in their noses, operable by the pilot, though these were eventually removed. A more elaborate VIP transport, the C-87A, was also built in small numbers.

The C-87 was also designated the RY-2 or Liberator Cargo VII. The U.S. produced about 300 C-87s but they were still important in the Army Air Force's heavy airlift operations. The C-87 flew in many theaters of war, including much hazardous duty in flights from Labrador to Greenland and Iceland in the North Atlantic. This airplane proved to be quite vulnerable to icing conditions, and was prone to fall into a spin with even small amounts of ice accumulated onto its Davis wing.

In the China Burma India Theater (CBI), the C-87 was used to airlift cargo and fuel over the Hump (the Himalayas) from India to China. The C-87 was not very popular with either the military or the civilian aircrews assigned to fly them. This airplane had the distressing habit of losing all cockpit electrical power on take-off or at landings, while its engine power and reliability with the less-powerful superchargers often left much to be desired. This airplane had been designed to be a bomber that dropped its loads while airborne. Thus, the C-87's nose landing gear was not designed for landing with a heavy load, and frequently it collapsed from the stress. Fuel leaks from the transport's hastily modified fuel system were an all-too-common occurrence. In his autobiography, Fate is the Hunter, the writer Ernest K. Gann reported that, while flying air cargo in India, he barely avoided crashing a severely overloaded C-87 into the Taj Mahal. As soon as Douglas C-54 transports became available, the C-87s were rapidly phased out of combat zone service.

The USAAF also converted 218 B-24Ds and B-24Es into C-109 tankers. These tankers were used in all wartime theaters, but they were most heavily employed transporting fuel in the CBI theater. C-109s flew from India to B-29 bases in China. With all of their armor and armament removed to save weight, a C-109 could carry almost 2,905 gal (11,000 l) of fuel, over 22,000 lb (10,000 kg). However, whereas a combat-loaded B-24 could safely take off with room to spare from a 6,000 ft (1,800 m) runway, a loaded C-109 required every foot of such a runway to break ground, and crashes on take-off were not uncommon. With its forward fuel tank filled to capacity, the C-109 tanker version also proved to be longitudinally unstable while airborne.

The B-24 bombers were also extensively used in the Pacific area after the end of World War II to transport cargo and supplies during the rebuilding of Japan, China, and the Philippines.

In addition, a large number of unmodified B-24 bombers were pressed into cargo transportation duties. Qantas Empire Airways used Liberators on the Perth to Colombo route, which was at the time the longest non-stop airline route in the world at 3,580 mi (5,761 km), until they were replaced by Avro Lancastrians.

Use by the German Air Force (Luftwaffe)

This aircraft is listed in the appendix to the novel KG 200 as one flown by the German secret operations unit KG 200, which also tested, evaluated and sometimes clandestinely operated captured enemy aircraft during World War II.[22]

Variants and conversions

U.S. Army Air Force Variants

XB-24 (Consolidated Model 32)
Designed in 1938 as an improvement on the B-17 Flying Fortress, at the request of the Army Air Corps. It had a wing specially designed for a high aspect ratio, tricycle landing gear, and twin vertical stabilizers. The XB-24 was ordered in 1939 March, and first flew on 29 December 1939. (Total: one)
YB-24/LB-30A Preproduction prototypes
Six examples were sent to Great Britain under lend-lease, designated LB-30A.
B-24
Service test version of the XB-24, ordered on 27 April 1939, less than 30 days after the XB-24 was ordered and before its completion. A number of minor modifications were made: elimination of leading edge slots, addition of de-icing boots. (Total: seven; only one used for actual testing)
B-24 ex-"Diamond Lil" from the Commemorative Air Force collection. Airframe returned to B-24A configuration and renamed "Ol 927"[23]
B-24A/LB-30B
Ordered in 1939, the B-24A was the first production model. Due to the need for heavy bombers, the B-24A was ordered before any version of the B-24 flew. The main improvement over the XB-24 was improved aerodynamics, which led to better performance. Some sent to Great Britain under lend-lease as LB-30B. (Total: 38,20 LB-30Bs, 9 B-24Cs)
XB-24B
When the XB-24 failed to reach its projected top speed, the Pratt & Whitney R-1830-33 radials rated at 1,000 hp (746 kW) it carried were replaced with R-1830-41 turbo-supercharged radials rated at 1,200 hp (895 kW), increasing its top speed by 37 mph (59 km/h). The engine cowlings were made elliptical to accommodate the addition of the turbo-superchargers. The XB-24B version also lacked the engine slots of the original. (Total: one converted XB-24)
B-24C
Conversion of the B-24A using turbo-supercharged R-1830-41 engines. To hold the supercharger and the intercooler intake, the cowlings were made elliptical and the new items added on the sides. The tail air gunner position was improved by adding an Emerson A-6 power turret with twin .50 caliber (12.7 mm) machine guns; a Martin power turret was added to the forward fuselage. (Total: nine converted B-24As)
B-24Ds of 93rd Bomb Group in formation. Nearest aircraft is Joisey Bounce (s/n 41-24226), wingman is The Duchess, (s/n 41-24147), and next higher is Bomerang (s/n 41-23722).
B-24D
First model produced on a large scale; ordered from 1940 to 1942, as a B-24C with better engines (R-1830-43 supercharged engines). During the production run, the tunnel gun in the belly was replaced by a remote-sited Bendix belly turret; this was later replaced by a Sperry ball turret. In late B-24Ds, "cheek" guns were added. (Total: 2,696: 2,381 Consolidated, San Diego; 305 Consolidated, Fort Worth; 10 Douglas, Tulsa, Oklahoma).
B-24E
A slight alteration of the B-24D built by Ford, using R-1830-65 engines. Unlike the B-24D, the B-24E retained the tunnel gun in the belly. The USAAF used the B-24Es primarily as training aircraft since this model was not current in armaments and other technology as were the aircraft being produced by Consolidated / San Diego (CO). Ford also built sub-assemblies for Douglas; these sub-assemblies were identical to Ford-built B-24Es, except that they used the same engines as the B-24D (R-1830-43 radials). These sub-assemblies were called PK ships and were shipped by truck from Willow Run to the final assembly in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Total: 801)
XB-24F
A prototype made to test thermal de-icers instead of the standard inflatable rubber "boots". (Total: one converted B-24D)
B-24G
Sperry ball turret, three .50 caliber (12.7 mm) machine guns in nose. All B-24Gs were built by North American Aviation, which was contracted in 1942. (Total: 25)
B-24G-1
Modified Emerson A-6 tail turret in nose instead of two–three .50 caliber (12.7 mm) machine guns in earlier models. The B-24G-1 was based on the design of the B-24H (Total: 405)
B-24H
Because of obvious vulnerability of the B-24 to head-on attack, the B-24H design used a electrically powered Emerson A-15 nose turret. Approximately 50 other airframe changes were made, including a redesigned bombardier compartment. The tail turret was given larger windows for better visibility, the Martin A-3 top turret received a raised "high hat" dome, and the waist gunner positions were enclosed with plexiglas windows and offset to reduce mutual interference between the gunners during battle. Most H model aircraft were built by Ford at the Willow Run factory. (Total: 3,100)
Consolidated B-24J-55-CO Liberator, Serial number 42-99949 belonged to 93rd BG, 328th BS; lost 21 September 1944 over Belgium
B-24J
The B-24J was very similar to the B-24H, but shortages of the Emerson turret required use of a modified, hydraulically powered Consolidated A-6 turret in early J model aircraft. The B-24J featured an improved autopilot (type C-1) and a bombsight of the M-1 series. B-24H sub-assemblies made by Ford and constructed by other companies and any model with a C-1 or M-1 retrofit, were all designated B-24J. (Total: 6,678)
XB-24K
An experimental aircraft, made by Ford by splicing a B-23 Dragon tail empennage onto a B-24D airframe. The aircraft was more stable and had better handling than other models, leading to the decision to incorporate a single tail in the PB4Y-2 and B-24N. (Total: one converted B-24D)
B-24L
Because of the immense weight of the B-24J, the Army pushed for a lighter version. In the B-24L, the Sperry ball turret was replaced by a floor ring mount with two .50 caliber (12.7 mm) machine guns, and the A-6B tail turret by an M-6A. In later aircraft no tail armament was installed, and when they arrived at their airfields either an A-6B, an M-6A, or a dual-mount manual .50 caliber (12.7 mm) gun was field-installed. (Total: 1,667)
B-24M variant
B-24M
An enhancement of the B-24L with further weight-saving devices. The B-24M used a more lightweight version of the A-6B tail turret; the waist gunner positions were left open. For better visibility from the flight deck, the windshield was replaced by a "knife-edge" dual pane version. The B-24M became the last production model of the B-24; a number of the B-24s built flew only the course between the factory and the scrapheap. (Total: 2,593)
XB-24N
A redesign of the B-24J, made to accommodate a single tail. It also featured improved nose and tail turrets. While 5,168 B-24Ns were ordered, World War II ended and there was no longer any need for them. (Total: one)
YB-24N
Pre-production service test version of the XB-24N. (Total: seven)
XB-24P
A modified B-24D, made by Sperry Gyroscope Company to test airborne fire control systems. (Total: one converted B-24D)
XB-24Q
A General Electric conversion of the B-24L, using radar-controlled tail turrets. (Total: one converted B-24L).
XB-41
Because there were no fighters capable of escorting bomber formations on deep strike missions early in World War II, the Army authorized tests for heavily armed bombers to act as escorts for bombing missions. The XB-41 had fourteen .50 caliber (12.7 mm) machine guns, through the addition of a Bendix chin turret and a dorsal Martin power turret on the mid-fuselage and was completed in 1942. Performance changed drastically with the addition of more turrets. The escorts were also unable to keep up with bomber formations once the bombs had been dropped. The results of 1943 testing were very negative and the project was quickly cancelled. (Total: one converted B-24D)
AT-22 or TB-24
C-87 used for flight engineer training.
  • RB-24L: Developed for training B-29 gunners on an identical remote gun system installed on a B-24L.
  • TB-24L: As with the RB-24L, but with additional radar equipment.
Experimental B-24J with B-17 nose section, containing chin turret, grafted on; modification not adopted for production
C-87 Liberator Express
Passenger transports with accommodation for 20 passengers.
  • C-87A: VIP transports with R-1830-45 instead of -43 engines and sleep accommodations for 16 passengers.
  • C-87B: Projected armed transport variant with nose guns, dorsal turret, and ventral tunnel gun; never produced.
  • C-87C: U.S. Army Air Force/Air Force designation for the RY-3.
XC-109/C-109
Tankers with specialized equipment to help prevent explosions, used to ferry fuel from India to China to support initial B-29 raids against Japan.
XF-7
Photographic reconnaissance variant developed from the B-24D.
F-7
Photographic reconnaissance variant developed from the B-24H; -FO block.
F-7A
Photographic reconnaissance variant developed from the B-24J; three cameras in the nose and three in the bomb bay.
F-7B
Photographic reconnaissance variant developed from the B-24J; six cameras in the bomb bay.
BQ-8
A number of worn-out B-24D and B-24Js were converted as radio-controlled flying bombs to attack Japanese islands. Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. was killed in a BQ-8 during Operation Aphrodite.[24]

U.S. Navy nomenclature and sub-variants

PB4Y-1
B-24D with different nose turret for U.S. Navy. Designation later applied to all G, J, L and M models received by the U.S. Navy.[25]
PB4Y-1P
Photographic reconnaissance variant developed from the PB4Y-1.
PB4Y-2 Privateer
See Main Article
P5Y
Proposed twin-engined patrol version of PB4Y-1. Unbuilt.[26]
RY-1
U.S. Navy designation for the C-87A.
RY-2
U.S. Navy designation for the C-87.
RY-3
Transport variant of the PB4Y-2.

British nomenclature and sub-variants

Rare color photograph of an LB-30A (YB-24) in RAF service
Liberator B Mk I
B-24A, direct purchase aircraft for the RAF. (Total: 20) Considered unsuitable for combat, some rebuilt as the GR.1 and used in British anti-submarine patrol squadrons.
Liberator B Mk II
The first combat-ready B-24. The modifications included a three-foot nose extension as well as a deeper aft fuselage and wider tailplane – there was no direct B-24 equivalent but similar to the B-24C, built to meet British specifications with British equipment and armament. A small series of B Mk IIs were reconstructed as unarmed transports, designated the LB-30 with the USAAF. (Total production: 165)
Liberator B Mk III
B-24D variant with single .303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine gun in the nose, two in each beam position, and four in a Boulton Paul tail turret – similar to that on contemporary British heavy bombers such as the Halifax – as well as other British equipment. The Martin dorsal turret was retained. (Total: 156)
  • Liberator B Mk IIIA: Lend-Lease B-24Ds with American equipment and weapons.
Liberator B Mk IV
Reserved for the B-24E, but there is no record of the RAF actually receiving any.
Liberator B Mk V
B-24D modified for extra fuel capacity at the cost or armor, with the same armament fit as the Liberator Mk III.
Liberator B Mk VI
B-24Hs in RAF service fitted with Boulton Paul tail turrets, but retaining the rest of their armament.
Liberator B Mk VIII
RAF designation for B-24Js.
Liberator GR Mk V
B-24D modified by RAF Coastal Command for the anti-submarine role with search radar and Leigh Light. Some were fitted with eight zero-length rocket launchers, four on each wing.
Liberator GR Mk VI
B-24G/H/J type used as a long-range general reconnaissance aircraft by RAF Coastal Command.
Liberator GR Mk VIII
B-24J modified by RAF Coastal Command for the anti-submarine role.
Liberator C Mk VI
Liberator B Mk VIII converted for use as a transport.
Liberator C Mk VII
British designation for C-87.
Liberator C Mk VIII
Liberator G Mk VIII converted for use as a transport.
Liberator C Mk IX
RAF designation for the RY-3/C-87C

Late in the war RAF Liberator aircraft modified in England for use in South East Asia had the suffix "Snake" stenciled below the serial number to give them priority delivery through the Mediterranean and Middle East.[27]

Operators

A B-24M of the 15th Air Force releases its bombs on the railyards at Mühldorf, Germany on 19 March 1945

Survivors

There are only three flying B-24s in the world, a B-24J named Joe of Fantasy of Flight in Polk City, Florida; a B-24A named Ole 927 (ex DIAMOND 'LIL') of Commemorative Air Force kept at Addison, Texas and a B-24J named Witchcraft of the Collings Foundation in Stow, Massachusetts. There are five complete B-24 airframes on static display in the United States, and another five on static display outside of the U.S. Also, there are nine known partial airframes / wrecks in the world.[28] However, it is also known that hundreds of B-24 wrecks lie at the bottoms of oceans, lakes, and rivers around the world.

Currently, the B-24 Liberator Restoration Australia Group is in the process of restoring one of Australia's B-24s to a flight-ready state. The group uses an old hangar on Geelong Road, Werribee, a south-western suburb of Melbourne, for the renovation.[29]

Specifications (B-24J)

B-24 photographed from above.

Data from Quest for Performance[30]

General characteristics

Performance

Armament

  • Guns: 10 × .50 caliber (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns in 4 turrets and two waist positions
  • Bombs:
    • Short range (˜400 mi): 8,000 lb (3,600 kg)
    • Long range (˜800 mi): 5,000 lb (2,300 kg)
    • Very long range (˜1,200 mi): 2,700 lb (1,200 kg)

Notable B-24 crew

  • Don Herbert, television pioneer "Mr. Wizard", flew 56 missions as a Liberator pilot over Northern Italy, Germany, and Yugoslavia, winning the Distinguished Flying Cross.
  • American Senator and 1972 presidential candidate George McGovern served as a B-24 pilot in missions over Italy as a member of the 455th Bomb Group of the Fifteenth Air Force; his wartime exploits and some of the characteristics of the B-24 are the focus of Stephen Ambrose's book The Wild Blue.
  • Brigadier General Jimmy Stewart USAF Reserve, flew B-24s as commanding officer of the 703rd BS, 445th BG out of RAF Tibenham, UK, before a promotion to operations officer of the 453rd BG. From 1943–44, Stewart was credited with 20 combat missions as a pilot, including one over Berlin. Stewart flew several more (possibly as high as 20 additional) uncredited missions, filling in for pilots as duties and space would allow. Stewart's leadership qualities were highly regarded; the men who served under him praised his coolness under fire. He entered service as a private in early 1941 and rose to the rank of colonel by 1945.
  • Former Speaker of the House, Jim Wright, served as a B-24 bombardier in the Pacific. He recounts his experience in his book The Flying Circus: Pacific War–1943–as Seen Through a Bombsight.
  • William Charles Anderson, author of BAT-21 and Bomber Crew 369, piloted Liberators based in Italy as a member of the 451st Bomb Group of the 15th AF.
  • The Lonesome Lady, crew was mainly killed during the atomic explosions in Hiroshima

Popular culture

  • The book One Damned Island After Another (1946) contains the official history of the 7th Bomber Command of the Seventh Air Force. It describes B-24 operations in the Central Pacific. B-24s from the Seventh Air Force were the first B-24s to bomb the Japanese home islands.
  • The story of the "Lady Be Good" inspired a television movie titled The Sole Survivor (1970 film), with a B-25 Mitchell playing the B-24D role.
  • In the young adult novel Under a War-Torn Sky, the main character Henry Forester co-pilots Out of the Blue, a U.S. B-24 Liberator serving in the Royal Air Force.
  • The B-24 is featured in the video game "Call of Duty: Big Red One", fifth mission: "Liberators".

See also

Maintenance mechanics at Laredo Army Air Field, Texas, give a Consolidated B-24 Liberator a complete overhaul before flight, 8 February 1944.

Related development

Comparable aircraft

Related lists

References

Notes
  1. ^ Indian Air Force
  2. ^ Consolidated B-24 Liberator
  3. ^ Birdsall 1968, p. 3.
  4. ^ Winchester 2004, p. 56.
  5. ^ Green 1975, p. 83.
  6. ^ Taylor 1969, p. 462.
  7. ^ Baugher, Joe. "The Consolidated XB-24." USAAC/USAAF/USAF Bombers. Retrieved: 16 February 2007.
  8. ^ Donald 1997, p. 266.
  9. ^ Birdsall 1968, p. 40.
  10. ^ Wagner 1968, pp. 127–128.
  11. ^ a b Taylor 1968, p. 463.
  12. ^ A Brief History of the 44th Bomb Group
  13. ^ Green 195, p. 84.
  14. ^ Birdsall 1975, p. 5.
  15. ^ Lord 1967, p. 279.
  16. ^ Nolan, Jenny. (compiled)."Willow Run and the Arsenal of Democracy". The Detroit News. Retrieved: 30 March 2009.
  17. ^ Weal 2006, p. 16.
  18. ^ Freeman 1984, p. 176.
  19. ^ Parnell 1993, pp. inside cover, p. 91.
  20. ^ Green 1975, p. 85.
  21. ^ Winchester 2004, p. 57.
  22. ^ Gilman and Clive 1978, p. 314.
  23. ^ CAF's "Diamond Lil" back to B-24A configuration
  24. ^ Andrade 1979, p. 60.
  25. ^ Baugher, Joe. American Military Aircraft. 18 August 1999. Consolidated PB4Y-1. Retrieved: 19 August 2007.
  26. ^ Wegg 1990, p. 90.
  27. ^ Robertson 1998
  28. ^ wrecks
  29. ^ [1]
  30. ^ Loftin, L.K. Jr. "Quest for Performance: The Evolution of Modern Aircraft." NASA SP-468. Retrieved: 22 April 2006.
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  • Birdsall, Steve. B-24 Liberator In Action (Aircraft number 21). Carrollton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications, Inc., 1975. ISBN 0-89747-020-6.
  • Birdsall, Steve. Log of the Liberators. New York: Doubleday, 1973. ISBN 0-385-03870-4.
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External links

Naval Liberator and Privateer








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