After effective service as a rugged, accurate medium bomber flying mainly in WWII’s European theater, few Martin B-26 Marauders survived the Army Air Forces’ rapid demobilization at the end of the war. Nearly all Marauders were flown to European collection depots, then dynamited into scrap to help revive broken economies on the continent. In the end, just a handful of B-26s outlasted the wreckers so we can see them today.
The pieces of one combat-veteran Marauder are now being reassembled to add to the 6 preserved aircraft at museums in the U.S. and France. This B-26, the 10th off Martin’s Middle River, Maryland assembly line, was built as serial number 40-1370. Assigned in 1941 to the 73rd Bomb Squadron, the plane went to Alaska and flew out of Elmendorf Army Air Field in Anchorage, made frequent patrols down the Aleutian chain, and fought the Japanese during their June 1942 raid on Dutch Harbor.
Perhaps presciently, its wartime crews nicknamed the aircraft “Basket Case.” On August 16, 1942, the ship returned from patrol in bad weather to Naknek Field in western Alaska, skidded off the runway, and was wrecked beyond repair. Ssgt William Chapman, bombardier of 1370, was killed in the crash.
Maintenance crews stripped the damaged airframe for parts and shoved the hulk into a gully, where it sat with another damaged Marauder until 2000.
Hill Air Force Base’s museum salvaged the B-26 components and brought them to Utah, but little work was done on the aircraft until 2015, when it was purchased by Aircraft Restoration Services in Murietta, California. Pat Rodgers at ARS directs the Marauder project and hopes to restore the completed B-26 to display standards within the next couple of years.
Aircraft Restoration Services
Rodgers says he has about 80 percent of 40-1370’s fuselage, and will add the 25-35 percent of the other wrecked Naknek Marauder, 40-1381, most importantly the center, bomb bay section. About 30 percent of the wings will be original, but major sections were cut up in Alaska nearly 80 years ago and will need to be rebuilt. When finished, the Marauder will represent an original “short wing” B-26.
Rodgers says his team has removed “a lot of Alaska dirt” from the fuselage, revealing many examples of wartime graffiti adorning the aluminum skin inside and out. When completed, he’ll still have enough original airplane to perhaps complete a nose section restoration on #1381.
“The coolest thing,” says Rodgers, is that his team is in touch with the daughter of one of Basket Case’s pilots, Capt. Benjamin Shoenfeld, who survived the Alaska crash landing but perished on Christmas Eve 1944 in an A-26, flying home to see his family. Schoenfeld’s operational records and letters will join his restored B-26 to illuminate the history of the uncertain early days of the Pacific war.
Thank you to Pat Rodgers of Aircraft Restoration Services for his telephone interview and the use of Marauder project photos from the ARS Facebook page.