Aircraft, awful and awesome:
The flying trivia question

Dr. Marshall Michel
86th Airlift Wing Historian

***image1***America entered World War II with a number of well-known bombers including the B-17, B-24, B-25, and B-26. What was the most numerous bomber in the Army Air Corps at the beginning of World War II? 

The answer: the Douglas B-18 “Bolo.” The B-18, initially called the Douglas Bomber One, was actually designed and tested at the same time that America’s most famous World War II bomber, the B-17. In fact, the DB-1 was in direct competition with the B-17 − known then as the Boeing 299 −to replace the B-10 bomber, which had been the world’s first truly modern bomber with retractable landing gear and enclosed gun turrets. 

The twin-engine B-18 was developed from the very successful Douglas DC-2 transport, using the same engines, slightly longer wings and a deeper, fatter fuselage for the bomb  bay. The B-18 carried three machine guns and could carry a 2,000 pound bomb load 1,000 miles at 170 mph. The four-engine B-17 could carry five machine guns (later increased to 13) and a 2,500 pound bomb load 2,000 miles at 205 mph. Not surprisingly, the Air Corps generals wanted the B-17, but ground force generals on the Army General Staff were concerned about the B-17’s cost, which was twice that of the B-18.  The result was that the General Staff ordered 13 B-17s and 133 B-18s, and in the next three years the Air Corps ordered a total of 211 B-18s. By 1941, most Air Corps bombardment squadrons were flying the B-18, even though by this time the B-18 was, in  performance terms, the worst bomber in service in any major air force in the world.

Fortunately for the United States, by 1941 the war in Europe showed that the B-18 (and many other U.S. aircraft) were inadequate for combat, and the Air Corps had ordered mass production of the B-17 to replace the B-18. Nevertheless, when the Japanese attacked in December 1941, the B-18 was still the most numerous Air Corps bomber. Thirty-three of them were based in Hawaii with the 5th and 11th Bombardment Groups and 12 more were sent to the Philippines in November 1941 to serve with the 28th Bombardment Squadron. Fortunately for their crews, most of the B-18s were destroyed on the ground by the initial Japanese air attacks. Had the B-18s taken to the sky, the Japanese would have easily slaughtered them and the aircrews would have been lost with the aircraft.

The surviving B-18s were quickly removed from the combat zone and relegated to anti-submarine patrols over the east coast of the United States.

They were eventually fitted with anti-submarine radar and a number were supplied to the Royal Canadian Air Force for the same mission, and in the course of the war B-18s claimed the sinking of three German submarines Today B-18s are presevered at the Castle Air Museum in Atwater, California and at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Questions or comments?