Seek shelter! Here come the bombers!

Baltimore Glimpses

October 19, 1993|By GILBERT SANDLER

IT TURNED Rommel at El Alamein, harried and bombed him all the way across Africa and finally dropped the last bombs on the last German regiment left intact before they surrendered, thereby ending the campaign."

Lt. Thomas Leslie Hogg of the Royal Air Force was visiting Baltimore in 1943 and describing the plane in which he had flown 27 missions in the North African campaign -- the A-30 bomber, known as the "Baltimore," built at Baltimore's Glenn L. Martin plant.

"The Baltimore was the work horse of the North African campaign," said Hogg.

Hogg was not the only Allied pilot to praise the Baltimore bombers -- the planes, not the NFL team that will be granted a franchise in Baltimore later this month.

"The Baltimores are very good, but a little tricky to handle. They start wonderfully and warm up well and are wizards on the take off," said Squadron Leader Plinston (Glimpses could not find a first name) in a 1942 interview from the Washington offices of the British Information Services.

Plinston described an occasion when 18 of the planes took off consecutively. "Within four minutes from the time the first ship left the ground, all were flying in perfect formation. That is what we call maneuverability," he said, "and you can take it from me that we are very happy with our Baltimores."

Everybody was happy with the Baltimores -- the men and women who made them, the pilots who flew them, the Allies who put their trust in them -- everybody, that is, except the Germans, in particular the army in command of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who had led the Afrika Korps to numerous victories in 1941 and 1942 but was about to be defeated at El Alamein by British Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery.

Plinston described "one highly successful raid" and its perfect pattern of bombing: "An area some 400 feet wide and 1,200 yards long was enveloped in a great cloud of dust after the Baltimores dropped our bombs. A tremendous fire broke out and a black pillar of smoke rose to 1,000 feet. Aircraft on the ground and large store dumps were destroyed in this Baltimore show."

Plinston said that when the Axis attempted full-scale attacks at the beginning of September 1942, the number of sorties made by light bombers in the Middle East reached a new record. The Baltimores made the highest number of flights. "One day, 16 Baltimores carried out 48 sorties, sometimes flying four times." A flight lieutenant in the Information Services told a reporter: "They run like sewing machines."

Once, returning to base, the Baltimore bombers' squadron leader was greeted with this message from the field office: "Good bombing. Ground littered with burnt-out vehicles and motor transports. Thanks."

By the way, the Baltimores held the unofficial speed record for bombers, having attained 500 miles an hour in a shallow dive in a test at Middle River.

The A-30 was designed specifically for the desert warfare of the North African campaign. It could be serviced quickly and frequently in an area where planes could be immobilized easily by wind-blown sand. And it was its success in North Africa that doomed the Baltimore. The British canceled their contract with Martin in 1944.

With a name that recalls the toughness and the spirit and the record of the old Baltimore bombers, the new Baltimore Bombers will have their work cut out.

Bombs away!

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