"Flak Bait" Comes Home, Again, and Again, and Again
In January of 1939 the Army Air Corps issued a specification
for a twin engine bomber. While North
American Aviation responded to this by producing the famous B-25
"Mitchell," the Glenn L. Martin Company came up with the B-26
With war raging in the Far East
and war clouds rising in Europe, the AAF
decided to skip prototype testing and adopted both bombers, which were soon put
into production. The first B-26 took to
the air November 29, 1940,
and the airplane was accepted fro service on February 8, 1941.
The B-26 quickly acquired the reputation of being a
"Widow Maker," because it was so difficult to fly. But it turned out that though the plane was
difficult to fly, pilots who mastered it found it not only an excellent war
bird, but also a very survivable one.
Reportedly, the B-26 had the lowest rate of loss to enemy action of any
Altogether, 5,288 B-26s were produced until March of 1945;
of which about 10 percent served with the Royal Air Force and the Royal South
African Air Force. At the end of the
war, all American B-26s were retired from service.
Arguably, the most famous Marauder was nicknamed "Flak
Bait." A B-26B-25-MA, "Flak
Bait" (USAAF serial number 41-31173) was completed at Martin's Baltimore plant in April
of 1943. Transferred to England, the
airplane was assigned to the 449th Bombardment Squadron of the 322nd
Bombardment Group. The plane was
nicknamed "Flak Bait" by Lt. James J. Farrell, after his family dog,
"Flea Bait." Farrell, who
commanded the aircraft until July of 1944, flew over 100 missions in "Flak
Bait," including numerous missions during the build-up to D-Day and two
missions on June 6th in direct support of the invasion.
By the end of the war “Flak Bait” is believed to have survived
more missions than any other American bomber.
Officially credited with 725 hours of combat time, the airplane flew at least
202 missions, and possibly as many as 207, since it was not unusual for
aircraft to fly "unofficial" missions. "Flak Bait" was not immune to damage,
reportedly accumulating over 1000
bullet and flak holes, while losing an engine on two occasions, suffering a
number of men wounded, and taking assorted other damage as well.
The nose section
of "Flak Bait" is on exhibit at the National
Air & Space Museum.
"This Well is Off Limits"
During the War of the American Revolution, Spain and its
ally France made a determined effort to capture Gibraltar,
imposing a close siege on the landward approaches of the British outpost from
June of 1779 to February of 1783, supporting it with warships and floating
batteries whenever the resources of the Royal Navy ran thin.
The British garrison was commanded by George Augustus Eliott
(1717-1790), who had received his military education in France, and
then served in the Prussian Army for a time, before joining the British
Army. A veteran of the War of the
Austrian Succession (1742-1748) and the Seven Years' War (1756-1763), Eliot had
been appointed governor of Gibraltar in 1778.
During the siege, there were many heroic deeds on both
sides, and also one very curious incident.
At one point during the siege, Eliott began to notice that a
small number of soldiers seemed to be almost "constantly intoxicated."
Since he had imposed a tight ban on the
sale or distribution of alcohol, Eliott set out to find the source of the
After a careful investigation, Eliott found that all of the
men in question seemed to get their water from a well in the garden of the
hospital. He had the water tested, and
it became evident that it was heavily laced with rum, making it much like grog.
Further investigation determined that a
recent supply mission had brought a large quantity of rum with it. To secure the booze, the Quartermasters had
buried the casks in the hospital garden.
Soon afterwards, by the fortunes of war, an enemy shell had burst
on top of the spot where the rum was buried.
This caused the casks to rupture, and a large amount of rum seeped into
well. Eliot promptly put a guard on the
well, and the problem of drunkenness ceased.
Naturally, the siege went on. It culminated in a "Grand Assault,"
on September 13, 1782,
when some 400 guns opened up on the landward defenses, while over 50 French and
Spanish warships, including ships-of-the-line and special "floating
batteries" bombarded the fortress from the sea, following which some
40,000 troops attempted to storm the place.
The assault was beaten off with heavy losses.
For his successful defense of the Rock, Eliot was later
created Lord Heathfield, Baron Heathfield of Gibraltar.