Douglas A/B-26 Invader

Operational units ( USAF )

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Douglas A/B-26 Units during WWII
Invaders first saw action with the Fifth Air Force in the Southwest Pacific theater on 23 June 1944, when they bombed Japanese-held islands near Manokwari.

They began arriving in Europe in September 1944 for assignment to the Ninth Air Force at Gt Dunmow and entered combat two months later on 19 November.

  • Sixty seven aircraft were lost in European operations and seven enemy planes were shot down by the A-26 Invaders.
  • Eighteen A-26s were received by the 553rd Bomb Squadron in Great Dunmow, England.
  • The first mission of the A-26s was on November 9, 1944, with the 9th Air Froce.
  • 11,567 missions were flown and 18,054 tons / 18,344 tonnes bombs dropped.
  • One aircraft was credited with a probable kill of a Me 262 jet fighter as it was trying to land.


I received clarification on test aircraft received by bomb groups for evaluation purposes by William Swain

William writes,

There were 4 A-26 assigned to 3rd BG before the end of the world war, one for each Sqdn to evaluate.. Initial reports weren't good and the a/c returned.. The 3rd  started transitioning to the -26's  at Okinawa and completed some time in Sept-Oct 45' in Japan.

According to what Jock Henebry wrote in his report, they were impressed with the speed, firepower and bomb capacity, which totally outclassed the A-20, BUT, the visibility out of the cockpit was horrendous in regards to low level attack missions.. The size and placement of the engine nacelles  made it almost impossible to fly in tight formation, and turns at low level were very tricky.. I would imagine the -26 guys in Europe didn't have such a problem with the altitude they flew at, but in the Pacific, it didn't work..





Associated reading

Operational units - 386th at Gt Dunmow in detail

Ninth Air Force - European Theatre

386th Bomb group - Medium

  • 552nd BS (RG)
  • 553rd BS (AN)
  • 554th BS (RU)
  • 555th BS (YA)

391st Bomb group - Medium

  • 572nd BS (P2)
  • 573rd BS (T6)
  • 574th BS (4L)
  • 575th BS (08)

409th Bomb Group - Light

  • 640th BS (W5)
  • 641st BS (7G)
  • 642nd BS (D6)
  • 643rd BS (51)

410th Bomb group - Light

  • 644th BS (5D)
  • 645th BS (7X)
  • 646th BS (8U)
  • 647th BS (6Q)

416th Bomb group - Light

  • 668th BS (5H)
  • 669th BS (2A)
  • 670th BS (F6)
  • 671st BS (5C)
  • 69th Recon group

Twelfth Air force - Mediterranean Theatre

47th Bomb group - Light

Fifth Air force - Far East Theatre

Seventh Air force - Pacific Theatre

319th Bomb group - Light

41st Bomb group - Medium

Tenth Air force - China/Burma Theatre

  • 12th Bomb group - Medium
  • 341st Bomb group - Medium
  • 20march45befortakeoff.jpg

    Post war units

    The USAF Strategic Air Command had the B-26 (RB-26) in service from 1949 through 1950, the Tactical Air Command through the late 1960s, and the last examples in service with the Air National Guard through 1972. The US Navy also used a small number of these aircraft in their utility squadrons for target towing and general utility use until superseded by the DC-130A variant of the C-130 Hercules .
    The Navy designation was JD-1 and JD-1D until 1962, when the JD-1 was redesignated UB-26J and the JD-1D was redesignated DB-26J.
    • 345th Bomb group - Light
    • 461st Bomb group - Light
    • 10th Tact Recon group

    Units in Korea

    B-26 Invaders carried out the first USAF bombing mission of the Korean War on 29 June 1950 when they bombed an airfield outside of Pyongyang. B-26s were credited with the destruction of 38,500 vehicles, 406 locomotives, 3,700 railway trucks, and seven enemy aircraft on the ground. On 14 September 1951, Captain John S. Walmsley Jr attacked a supply train. When his guns jammed he illuminated the target with his searchlight to enable his wingmen to destroy the train. Walmsley was shot down and posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Invaders carried out the last USAF bombing mission of the war 24 minutes before the cease fire was signed on 27 June 1953.

    3rd Bomb Group

    • 8th BS
    • 13th BS
    • 90th BS
    • 731st BS

    452nd Bomb group

    • 728th BS
    • 729th BS
    • 730th BS

    17th Bomb group

    • 34th BS
    • 37th BS
    • 95th BS


    Units in South East Asia

    The first B-26s to arrive in Southeast Asia were deployed to Takhli RTAFB, Thailand in December 1960. These unmarked aircraft, operated under the auspices of the U.S. CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), were soon augmented by an additional 16 aircraft, 12 B-26Bs and B-26Cs plus 4 RB-26Cs under Operation Mill Pond. The mission of all of these aircraft was to assist the Royal Lao Government in fighting the Pathet Lao. The repercussions from the Bay of Pigs invasion meant that no combat missions are known to have been flown, though RB-26Cs operated over Laos until the end of 1961. The aircraft were subsequently operated in South Vietnam under Project Farm Gate. The only other deployment of B-26 aircraft to Laos prior to the introduction of the B-26K/A-26A, was the deployment of two RB-26C aircraft, specifically modified for night reconnaissance, deployed to Laos between May and July 1962 under Project Black Watch. These aircraft, initially drawn from Farm Gate stocks, were returned upon the end of these missions.

    The aircraft from Laos participated in the early phase of the Vietnam War with the USAF, but with Vietnamese markings as part of Project Farm Gate. Though Farm Gate operated B-26Bs, B-26Cs, and genuine RB-26Cs, many of these aircraft were operated under the designation RB-26C, though they were used in a combat capacity. During 1963, two RB-26C were sent to Clark AB in the Philippines for modifications, though not with night systems as with those modified for Black Watch. The two aircraft returned from Black Watch to Farm gate were subsequently given the designation RB-26L to distinguish them from other modified RB-26C, and were assigned to Project Sweet Sue.

    The B-26s were withdrawn from service in 1964 after two accidents related to wing spar fatigue.

    In response to this, the On Mark Engineering Company of Van Nuys, California was selected by the Air Force to extensively upgrade the Invader for a counterinsurgency role. The first production flight of the B-26K was on May 30, 1964 at the Van Nuys Airport. On Mark converted 40 Invaders to the new B-26K Counter-Invader standard, which included upgraded engines, propellers, and brakes, re-manufactured wings, and wing tip fuel tanks, for use by the 1st Air Commando Group. In May 1966, the B-26K was re-designated A-26A for political reasons and deployed in Thailand to help disrupt supplies moving along the Ho Chi Minh trail. Two of these aircraft were further modified with a Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR system) under project Lonesome Tiger, as a part of Operation Shed Light.

    • 4400th Combat Crew Training squadron


    Air National Guard units (ANG)

    • 102nd Bomb Squadron
    • 103rd Bomb squadron
    • 106th Tact Recon Squadron
    • 108th Bomb Squadron
    • 110th Tactical Bombardment Squadron
    • 112th Bomb Squadron
    • 114th Bomb Squadron
    • 115th Bomb Squadron
    • 117th Bomb Squadron
    • 122nd Bomb Squadron
    • 131st Fighter Wing
    • 135th Bomb Squadron
    • 168th Bomb Squadron
    • 180th Bomb Squadron
    • 183rd Tact Recon Squadron
    • 184th Tact Recon Squadron

    With the end of the Second World War, America rapidly decreased its military and tens of thousands of pilots and aircrew suddenly found themselves without a job. For most, this was fine since they wanted to return home and pursue a family, education, and a job (for example, the AAF went from 2,253,000 personnel to 889,000 and in one year the number of aircraft went from 63,745 to 34,195). However, some still wanted to fly and many turned to the Air National Guard. Before the war, the National Guard aviation units were mainly equipped with a variety of rather primitive biplanes operating in the observation role. After the war, there was a wide variety of warplanes available to equip ANG units - among the selection was the Invader.

    The mission of the newly revitalized ANG was: "To provide a reserve component of the Army and Army Air Forces capable of expansion to immediate war strength, able to furnish land and air units fit for service anywhere in the world, training and equipped to: a) defend critical areas of the US against land, seaborne or airborne forces; b) assist in covering the mobilization and concentration of the remainder of the reserve forces; and c) participate, by unit, in all types of operations, including offensive, either in the US or overseas."

    The combat element was organized into twelve wings which were then divided into 20 fighter groups totaling 62 squadrons, two light bombardment groups comprising four squadrons, and five composite groups with twelve fighter squadrons and six bombardment squadrons.

    In an interesting break-down, each fighter squadron was equipped with 25 mission aircraft and Mustangs would be assigned to units in the west and midwest while Thunderbolts would go to states in the east and south. Each squadron would also receive four Invaders modified as target tugs along with two T-6 trainers, one C-47, and two L-5s. The ten light bomb squadrons each received 20 B-26B/Cs, a C-47 or C-46, two T-6s or AT-11s so these were all very WWII style units.

    By the end of 1947, 1965 aircraft had been delivered to the various units but there were delays and in mid-1948, when the number of federally mandated squadrons had grown to 73, the units had only a bit above 75 percent of their mandated aircraft. In some ways, these squadrons were almost like a flying country club and a pilot could often show up at the field, check out an air, craft and go flying. However, these units also had regular military exercises that kept up proficiency and in gunnery and bombing contests they would often score better than full-time USAF units.

    The Invaders practiced formation bombing as well as lowlevel intrusion and strafing. Parts were no problem and many of the maintenance personnel were WWII veterans so readiness was quite high and the planes were often much better maintained than their USAF counterparts.

    It must be remembered that jets were starting to appear in considerable numbers and older models that the regular USAF did not want began being transferred to the ANG starting in 1948. By mid-1949, the ANG was organized into twelve wings, 27 groups, and 84 squadrons with five squadrons of F-80s, 41 squadrons of Mustangs, 26 squadrons of Thunderbolts, and twelve squadrons of Invaders for a stunning total of 2159 piston-powered aircraft and 104 jets.

    With the surprise invasion of South Korea on 25 June 1960, and the regular military's complete lack of readiness, the ANG was mobilized into federal active duty just five days later and was able to field 1489 piston fighters, 317 Invaders, 306 trainers, 170 transport aircraft, and 373 jet fighters. With the war, many units sped up their transition to jet fighters but, conversely, at least one unit had their jets taken away and transition back to Mustangs.

    By October 1950, 15 squadrons were inducted into active service and a total of 67 ANG squadrons was called up to perform 21 months of active duty with 51 of these units serving in the US with another three going to South Korea, three to Japan (for attacks on Korea), six to Europe, and four to Britain.

    The units performed very effectively and the experience of pilots and crews proved to be a major factor in the destruction of vast amounts of enemy personnel and equipment. It must be remembered that the regular USAF at the start of the Korean War had been cut back to just 48 combat wings so the influx of the 22 ANG wings was a major boost.

    After the end of the Korean War, it was obvious that the WWII aircraft would have to be replaced. Jets were added to many of the fighter units. At the same time, some of the ANG units such as the 183rd Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron at Hawkins Field in Mississippi received RB-- 26Cs for their assigned mission. By 30 June 1955, the ANG Invader force was down to 105 R/B-26 aircraft but by 1958 most Invader units had reequipped with aircraft like the Martin B-57 Canberra. Sent to storage, many of these aircraft would soon have another life as civilian aircraft.

    One unit did retain the Invader for a much longer time - the Air National Guard Bureau. Some Invaders were retained and converted to highly polished VIP (Veeps) transports for highranking officers and officials. The rear fuselage was fitted out with sound-proofing, seats, and other amenities. In this guise, the VB-26B soldiered on until 1972 when the last example was retired and donated to the National Air and Space Museum.


    United States Navy - JD-1 Invader

    • VU-1
    • VU-2
    • VU-3
    • VU-4
    • VU-5/VU-5A
    • VU-7
    • VU-10

    The Navy's work with FireBee Drones


    Navy JD-1 Invaders
    In 1945, the US Navy acquired one USAAF A-26B and one A-26C for testing. They were assigned the designation XJD-1 and were given the Bureau of Aeronautics numbers of 57990 (ex A-26B-45-DL 44-34217) and 57991 (ex A-26C-40-DT 44-35467).

    Subsequently, in the immediate postwar years the Navy acquired 150 surplus A-26s for use by land-based utility squadrons as target tugs. Some of the early deliveries were from a batch of Invaders that had been ordered by the Royal Air Force but never delivered, but most of the planes were ex-USAAF Invaders from postwar stocks that were now deemed to be surplus to requirements.

    The JD-1s were operated well into the 1960s by seven US Navy utility squadrons (
    VU-1, VU-2, VU-3, VU-4, VU-5, VU-7, and VU-10) as target tugs, drone directors, and general utility aircraft. Those that were modified as drone directors were redesignated JD-1D. As a teenager back in the 1950s, I remember seeing them operate from the NAS Chincoteague, Virginia
    on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

    In 1962, the surviving JD-1s were redesignated UB-26J in accordance with the new Tri-Service designation system. The JD-1D drone directors became DB-26J.