It may be said that the Douglas A-26 better known as the
“INVADER” simply lost its’ identity in a “designation debacle.”
The remarkable Invader, has been largely overlooked by historians
though her accomplishments and longevity could challenge another Douglas aircraft the hardiest airframe ever developed, the
infamous C-47 (DC-3). Fact is the A-26 is the only American Bomber to fight in 3 wars, was the fastest bomber of WWII, was
the first laminar flow bomber wing with double slatted flaps and on short runs could carry a bomb load equal to the all time
winner of “best of breed”, the celebrated B-17.
Low -N- Hot –and-In Your Face, the Air Attack mission, was
then and remains today, the most difficult, most demanding and the most treacherous mission of any air campaign. At the risk
of drawing flak from some “Pursuit” (P-47/P-51) drivers, the Invader, was the original “Tank Killer”,
a distinction now given to another unsung hero, the extraordinary, A-10 Warthog.
Truth is; Douglas’s remarkable design, is so astonishingly
strong and versatile that it has been adapted to every mission conceivable from bomber to tug. Unfortunately, the aircraft
has fallen victim to a loss of identity primarily from enormous number of variants served up by factory and
field modifications, political agendas, and the cloak of black ops. To add some additional variety to this mixture, put military
sales to civilian modification specialists into the recipe with their own flavors or aliases (for marketing reasons) and the
list of designations for this unique and honorable aircraft has grown well beyond convention. A fate to which no respectable
“Fighter” would ever fall.
With, two remotely controlled gun turrets locked into position
by the pilot, some notable versions had the old girl sporting 22 forward facing .50cals with 6000 rounds of lead or 4- 20mm
cannons plus your usual compliment of internal stores and even a 75mm cannon attempt.
Developed just after the onset of WWII as an Attack aircraft, the
A-26 was a late bloomer. In the fall of 1944, she was finally deployed with the 9th Air Force, 416th Bomber Group at Melun,
France, and soon gained experience and respect including the praises of General George S. Patton as she bombed and strafed
Hitler’s despicable German War Machine and the Axis Powers on notable battlefields such as “The Bulge”.
However over a half a world away, another group of A-26s’
joined the fray against the horrific and dishonorable Japanese expansion of the Pacific that was gobbling up islands like
a runaway PacMan. Without the fanfare of fighter exploits and taking an inordinate beating, the A-26 exacted a devastating
toll on Japanese shipping. However, soon after VJ day, it was off to the Philippines and a designation change by the Navy
to the JD-1 for target towing.
The year was 1948. Since the original Martin built “B-26”,
the Marauder, was being deactivated, and to avoid having a too offensive designation (Oh please… someone where is the
Aspirin?), the wisdom of the political powers that be, decided to just re-designate the A-26 the B-26
, thereby and forever throwing the true identity of a B-26 into the question. Yep, let’s face it, political correctness
didn’t just start in the 70’s and “Bomber” is a lot more digestible to sensitive stomachs than “ATTACK”!
No time to debate policy, we must go save Korea from an intolerably
cruel and hostile Communist insurgency of the South. Immediately, the Invader began earning high marks and a reputation in
close air support. According to the accounts of the captured North Korean POW’s, the new “B”-26 was the
most feared weapon in the sky. With the first of many dishonorable United Nations capitulations ending the political chess
game and assuring Truman of an elected term as President, the proud B-26 winged south entering another intervention for the
sake of a free nation. Now in South East Asia, with a few more modifications, the CIA temporarily exploits the B-26s’
awesome speed, strengths and available arsenal to work against the oppressive and communist supported Sukarno regime in Indonesia.
Whoa…. Not too fast, the politicians are running this campaign.
With the usual twist or brain freeze, the US Government sells the Indonesian government 6 B-26s’ for its Air Force.
Talk about loss of identity. The poor girl didn’t know what side she was on.
However, no time to ponder the idiosyncrasies (yes, its spelled
wrong but you get the idea) of politics, now in the trust of the CIA, another mission has come into Ops. So when are these
birds going to get some much deserved R&R (rest and repairs)? Very Soon! Years of constant service, battle damage, pulling
out of a screaming dive at tree top level and hanging every imaginable ordinance from the wings except coconuts, is taking
its’ toll. In a series of tragic accidents from wing failures, the proud bird is grounded. Usually this would mean the
end of the breed, however the design is just too good to scrap. Sub-contractors are contacted and led by On-Mark, a conversion
process including improved main wing spars, fuel capacity and of course more hardpoints is begun and once again with a few
more field modifications including internal and external bombs a slew of rockets, and a hard nose with 8 focused forward facing
.50 cals, the Invader answers yet another call for help. This time from a failing French territory against another communist
supported and blood thirsty expansion now under way into South Vietnam, by the northern Viet Minh rebels under the politically
savvy despot, Ho Chi Minh.
Now fearing the “domino effect”, another plea and off to bases in Thailand to help
stem the shear unimaginable butchery of the Pathet Lao under Pol Pot and you guessed it, more mod’s and another designation
change for the B-26K variant back to A-26A to protect the innocent (politicians).
Hopping again to the other side of the planet, she enters another
conflict for freedoms sake. The entire country of Cuba is under the hostile takeover of another egomaniac (where do they breed
these guys?) and of course, anyone want to guess who is the primary investor? No…. not Donald Trump. The Communist Soviet
Union! Again retrofitted for another role, the again B-26 joins what turns out to be a momentous fiasco. The Bay of Pigs ends
up a poorly organized and executed farce with tragic results. But the Invader is in the middle of the scrap and again finds
itself on both sides.
Let’s not stop here we’re on a role! Around this same
time the Invader is conscripted to Africa for more clandestine operations against the Communist supported Simba Rebels in
the Congo. The culmination of the operation presented an anti-soviet leaning Joseph Motubu the opportunity to assume complete
control and eventually become President of the Congo. His reign lasts 32 years.
Flown by 18 different countries, few airframes ever developed,
have undergone such radical and versatile modifications. The now humble Invader, which has fought to halt communist and fascist
aggression and promote freedom in conflicts throughout the world then continues to serve her country another 50 years as a
civilian transport, surveyor and against another insidious national foe …Wild Fire. This legacy continues today as several
of the “Ole Gals” are still fighting fires in the Northwestern United States.
Finally some recognition…. And a Star is Born! In the wildly
entertaining 1989 Spielberg film “ALWAYS”, an A-26, #59 (Fire Eater) was cast opposite the exquisite Audery Hepburn
(her last movie) and though shared the flying role with a PBY-5A and C-119, she was undoubtedly the “Star” of
the movie. OK, OK, the supporting cast of Richard Dryfus, Holly Hunter and crazy man John Goodman didn’t hurt.
Whether military or civilian, for 69 years this humble hero has
answered every bell for help throughout the world. Unquestionably, this wonderful Freedom Loving piece of aviation fighting
history, is worthy of its’ own “Hall of Fame”.
SO WHAT’S IN A NAME ? Ironically, the only designation
that has survived intact all these years is “INVADER”, and invade it has.
#1…to enter a country by force with or as
an army, especially in order to conquer it.
#2…to enter or be present in a place in
#3…to spoil something by interfering with
or in it, interrupting it, or reducing it.
#4… to enter and spread throughout something
#5…to hostilely subdue.
So you may dub her an A-26, B-26, JD-1, UB-26, DB-26, TB-26, YB-26
or RB-26. You can call her an A to K to Z variant. You can christen her the Conair 32, Marketeer, Executive or Marksman, but
maybe it’s best to identify her by her true nature…. the awesome , “INVADER”!
Just don’t ever refer to her as “Marauder”.