Few USAF WWII aircraft have had such a mixed and controversial operational life as the Douglas A-26 Invader.
While first developed as the successor to the highly successful Douglas A20 Havoc twin-engined light-bomber and ground attack aircraft in 1942, despite its initial frosty reception from operational units, it went on to see service in several major Cold War conflicts including the war in Vietnam.
By 1942, the USAF command had anticipated the need for a smaller, more heavily armed and faster, light bomber and ground attack aircraft that could get in and out of a target area quickly whilst still causing the maximum of damage.
With a crew of three including the pilot, navigator/bombardier and the rear gunner, the A-26 was built in two configurations.
The first was the A-26B ‘gun-nose’ ground attack version which featured a combination of six (and later, eight) .50 caliber machine guns, officially the “all-purpose nose," later known as the "six-gun nose" or "eight-gun nose". A further three machine guns were also later installed in each wing.
The second version was the A-26C ‘glass bombardier nose’ which replaced the heavy machine guns of the A-26B to replace them with a Norden bombsight and bombardier position for medium-altitude precision bombing.
In the A-26A the navigator, usually seated beside the pilot, also served as the gun loader for the pilot operated nose cannons. In the A-26C, the navigator would move down into the glass framed nose for the bombing phase of the mission.
The most unusual position was that of the Invader’s tail gunner who operated the dorsal and ventral gun turrets not via a manned rotating glass turret like other aircraft, but rather through an overly complex and often problematic set of periscopes that could be flipped to show above and below sights, providing a rather limited view from which to fire his machine guns.
The first production run of the A-26A’s were delivered the Fifth Air Force in the Southwest Pacific theatre in mid 1944 and they were not met with much enthusiasm.
In fact, after pilots of the 3rd Bomb Group’s 13th Squadron who had been operating the A-20 Havocs, discovered that their downward view from the cockpit of the new A-26 was severely hindered by the aircraft’s low slung engines making it woefully inadequate for its intended ground support role.
General George Kenney, commander fo the Far East Air Forces stated ‘We do not want the A-26 under any circumstances as a replacement for anything’. He then went on to request additional A-20 havocs which were to fly in mixed formation with the hapless Invaders through to the end of the war in the Pacific.
Surprisingly, the A-26 received a much warmer reception from squadrons based in Europe and was generally liked by pilots and crews and by the end of the war in Europe, it had flown over 11,567 missions, dropping 18,054 tons of bombs recording seven confirmed kills for the loss of just 67 aircraft.
The first deliveries of 18 A-26 to Europe were in September 1944 for the Ninth Airforce and missions were flown immediately with the A-26’s mixed in with the Bomber Group’s A-20 Havocs. With no aircraft lost in the first eight missions the Ninth Air Force announced they were satisfied with the aircraft’s performance and went onto to eventually replace all their A-20s with B-26 Mitchells and the Douglas A-26 Invader.
The 47th Bomber Group operating out of southern Italy also received the A-26 and used them effectively against German transport infrastructure and for direct air support for ground operations.
During the immediate Post War years, the A-20 Invader was effectively mothballed but was recalled back into limited services with some modifications and redesignated the Douglas B-26 when it served with the Strategic Air Command as a reconnaissance aircraft in Europe as well as with the US national Guard back in the US during the early 50’s.
The Korean War revitalised the Douglas Invader's fortunes when the B-26s and later variant, B-26Bs were quickly despatched to bases in southern Japan to conduct the first missions over Southern and Northern Korea in June 1950.
For the next two years until armistice, the Invader conducted daylight and night time intruder missions attacking North Korean ground troops and bombing key North Korean infrastructure with over 15,000 sorties flown with the loss of 85 crew.
In late 1960 during the murky months leading up to the commencement of the US’s increased involvement in the war in Vietnam, unmarked B-26 aircraft began to quietly start showing up in Thailand under the auspices of the US CIA.
Deployed on ‘behalf’ of the Laos government against Pathet Lao independence fighters they were to operate their until late 1961 when they were redeployed to South Vietnam to assist US efforts to support the South Vietnamese regime against the North.
With a mixture of South Vietnamese and US markings, the Invaders flew alongside the US T-28 Trojan against North Vietnamese ground forces until both were eventually replaced by the new Douglas A-1 Skyraider.
From the 1950s through to the late 60’s the Douglas Invader was to also see action on behalf of governments fighting against rebel forces in Indonesia, Portuguese Angola, the African Congo and the Nigerian Civil War of 1967.
Perhaps the Invader’s biggest role in some of the World’s ’secret wars’ was the one it played during the lead up and commencement of the Cuban Bay of Pigs invasion.
In early 1961, 20 B-26 Invaders were flown to a secret airfield in southern Florida where they were stripped of all US insignia and refitted with their original eight-gun noses, drop tanks and wing mounted rocket racks before being flown to a CIA-run base in Guatemala.
Over the next few months, Cuban exile air-crew received training from the Alabama National Guard before they were then flown on to Nicaragua where they were painted in the markings of the Cuban government.
On April 15, 1961, aboard their disguised Invaders, the exiled crews attacked three Cuban airfields before supporting the seaborne Bay of Pigs Invasion two days later.
The invasion was a disaster with the loss of nine Invaders, ten Cuban exile pilots and four US aircrew let alone the many deaths and casualties inflicted on the US backed invasion forces which were quickly overwhelmed by Castro’s military.
All Douglas A-26 Invader Instruments listed below come complete with detailed Scale Model, Mango Wood Stand & Plaque plus Printed Fact Sheet featuring photo of instrument in aircraft cockpit.
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