Bombers built here played key roles in World War II

October 02, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

Although it's an industry that is quickly receding from the Baltimore landscape, aviation, especially warplane development, once earned the city an international reputation.

In fact, Baltimore is one of a few cities that can be considered the birthplace of modern military aviation, said Philip Edwards, technical information specialist with the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington.

Baltimore's Glenn L. Martin Co., along with Boeing Co. in Seattle, Wash., and Consolidated-Vultee in Fort Worth, Texas, were the nation's hotbeds of development in the years leading up to and during World War II, said Mr. Edwards.

"At one point in time the Martin plants were pre-eminent in the field. . . . The name was synonymous with excellence," he said. The company, founded by aviation pioneer Glenn L. Martin, was a forerunner of Martin Marietta Corp., now based in Bethesda.

Martin's best known plane may have been the B-26 Marauder. But its greatest contribution to the science was probably the B-10, a fast bomber developed in the 1930s that convinced skeptical military leaders that a plane could elude defenses and deliver explosives to enemy targets, he said.

"There was really nothing like it around. It was a modern bomber in every sense of the word, and its presence on the scene rocked the world. . . . It greatly influenced world events," he said.

The Marauder was a fine plane, but early designs were plagued by control problems that led to crashes and near-abandonment several times by the military. The twin-engine, medium-range bomber carried a crew of six and and was built between 1939 and 1945.

"Its contributions were fairly minor compared to the heavy bombers, the B-17 and B-24. It wasn't that it wasn't a good plane. It just didn't fit the program," Mr. Edwards said.

Shortly after the development of the B-26, Allied military leaders began favoring longer-range bombers that could hit strategic targets deep inside enemy territory, he said.

Baltimore was also the home to the Maryland Bomber and its successor, the Baltimore Bomber, both attack bombers that found use with the British prior to the United States' entry into World War II.

"They are very good, but a little tricky to handle. They start wonderfully and warm up well and are wizards on the take-off," a British squadron leader told The Sun in 1940.

Mr. Edwards said the Baltimore Bomber filled an important niche in the war, but was soon outclassed by other planes.

"It was really outdated by the time the war started. It didn't have much punch; it really was a lightweight bomber. But you fight a war with what you have," he said.

Martin's local plants also developed several other important planes, including seaplanes, and more recently the Titan nuclear missile. But their greatest contributions to military aviation occurred in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, Mr. Edwards said.

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