The scheduled assignment of the 391st Bomb Group to the European Theater of Operations was delayed indefinitely after the 322nd Bomb Group's disastrous strike on the German submarine pens at Ijmuiden, Holland forced the Allied High Command to rethink the uses of the B-26 Marauder in this theater. The Holland operation had been conducted in formation at low level and the German ground forces had anticipated this move. Intense ground fire had destroyed the whole formation that day. There were four B-26 Marauder groups already in the ETO at this time, the 322nd, the 323rd, the 386th and the 387th, all trained for low level strikes. These groups were taken off operational status while the high command debated further use of the B-26 in its assigned role. There were four additional groups, the 344th, the 394th, the 391st and the 397th presently in the United States ready for deployment into the ETO. These groups were put on a training status while the intense discussions were being conducted between the Commander, Allied Forces in Europe and the United States Army Air Forces high command in the United States about the continued use of the B-26 in the ETO.
The B-26 Marauder had already been under political scrutiny by the United States Senate, the Truman Committee investigating the United States' high training losses. The combat losses supported their political findings and the B-26 was scheduled to be replaced by the Douglas Invader (A-26). In the meanwhile, the plan was to use the B-26 Marauder in whatever manner that would entail acceptable combat losses. The experiences of the 17th, 319th and the 320th groups in the Mediterranean, which had also suffered losses at low level, but now were being used at medium altitudes of 11,500 to 13,500 quite effectively, were discussed by the commanders in the ETO. It was decided to try these type of operational missions in the ETO. They were quite successful. The ETO units were then put on an intense medium altitude formation training status using the Norden bombsight in the lead aircraft with the other aircraft in the formation "toggling" its bombs on the leader's drop. In a short while all ETO units were put on combat alert status and began what was to be the most successful bombing experience of any aircraft in any theater during World War II. There were learning experiences in navigational and bombardier errors, but these were soon corrected as the crews gained confidence and expertness. Ground crews gained experience as did all the other support members of the groups.
Now all the stateside units were put in the pipe line for transfer to the ETO. The combat supply routes across the South Atlantic were bolstered to 'support the massive influx of B-26 Marauders, starting with the transfer of the 391st to Matching Green RAF air base in January 1944.
They would be followed shortly by the other three B-26 units, the 397th, the 344th and the 394th. Replacement aircrews were sent from training bases like MacDill AA Base, Florida and Lake Charles, Louisiana to Savannah, Georgia to pick up , new B-26s and then sent on their way to Europe via Homestead, Florida; Berenquen Field, Puerto Rico; British Guiana; Belem, Brazil; Natal, Brazil; Ascension Island in the mid south Atlantic to the South African coast, thence to Marrakech. Then there was the long flight up the 10th meridian to Lands End, England. They gave up their new planes in Ireland and were put into pre combat intense training at Toome Bridge, North Ireland where they met the balance of their crews who had been sent across the Atlantic by ship. Most of the replacement pilots were inexperienced and had the minimum of transition training in the B-26. They had little or no weather flying experience nor instrument training. They were thrust into the replacement pipeline and some were lost en route due to accidents and weather.
The replacement aircrews began augmenting the combat groups in April 1944. The 391st replacements began flying combat missions in the middle of April 1944, each first pilot flying five missions as co-pilot before being allowed to fly with his own crew. Shortly all the Groups were at full strength and all of them were flying two 36 aircraft missions each day attacking German airfields, bridges, railroad marshaling yards to the extent that they drove the Germans from their airfields, almost halted rail traffic to the Normandy Peninsula and by the time of D-Day on June 6th, 1944, were an enormous combat force to be reckoned with.
The missions as described in subsequent pages of this History unfolds a story of unbelievable accomplishments in the face of almost impossible odds and the term that will live forever, the MARAUDER MEN. -- Hugh Walker, editor.