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B-24: That Other U.S.A.A.F. Heavy Bomber


The United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) used 3 heavy bombers, in large numbers, in World War II. The B-17s served in both theatres but was most famous for its service in the European Theatre. The B-29, was famous for its service in the Pacific Theatre. The Consolidated B-24 Liberator served in many roles, including strategic bombing, but wasn’t as highly regarded or as well remembered as the B-17 or B-29. The B-24 didn’t have the sleek lines of the other two bombers. It often flew missions alongside the B-17.[i] It wasn’t believed by either friend or foe to be as sturdy as the B-17.

[i] Technically below, the B-24 had a lower service ceiling than the B-17.


In 1938 the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) wanted to make Consolidated Aircraft Corporation a second source for the Boeing B-17. Consolidated President Rueben Fleet didn’t want to produce an existing design. The USAAC issued specifications for a bomber superior to the B-17. Reuben offered to build a new aircraft that would meet these USAAC specifications.[i]

The B-24 had a Davis wing. This low-drag high aspect-ratio was already in use on the Consolidated Model 31 flying boat. Like the Model 31 the B-24 had twin tails. The B-24’s engine nacelles were the same as the PBY Catalina, another flying boat. The fuselage was a new design and had two bomb bays. Each bomb bay was as large as the B-17’s bomb bay.[ii]

The USAAC ordered 36 production examples of the B-24 before the prototype’s first flight. The XB-24 made its first flight on December 29, 1939. France committed to buying 120 B-24s. France surrendered to Germany and the B-24s were sent to Britain instead. The British gave the B-24 the name “Liberator”.[iii]

Liberators Enter World War II

Britain received the first B-24s in the spring of 1941. These Liberators lacked turrets. The RAF found the first B-24s they received unsuitable for bombing missions. The British designated some LB-30As. The British used the LB-30As as transports on the Atlantic Return Ferry Service. The British used Armed Liberators as anti-submarine aircraft.[iv] In 1942 an improved B-24, dubbed Liberator IIs by the RAF, flew bombing missions from bases in the Middle East.[v]

A B-24A, serial number 40-2370, was at Hickam Field on December 7, 1941. It became the first American aircraft destroyed by enemy fire in World War II.[vi]

On June 7, 1942 the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) 7th Air Force launched a predawn attack on Wake Island. The lead B-24, commanded by Major General Clarence L. Tinker, was lost in the raid. On December 22 a force of 26 B-24s attacked Wake Island. The night attack surprised the Japanese and no B-24s were lost or crew members wounded during the raid. On January 25 six B-24s carried out an armed reconnaissance mission over Wake and dropped 60 bombs. [vii]

The USAAF 10th Air Force’s 7th Bombardment Group, based in India, began B-24 operations in late 1942. The Group continued operations until the end of the war. The group attacked shipping targets and carried out bombing missions over Burma, Thailand, and China.[viii]

[i] The Aviation History Online Museum, Consolidated B-24 Liberator,, last accessed, 9/10/19.

[ii] The Aviation History Online Museum, Consolidated B-24 Liberator,, last accessed, 9/10/19.

[iii] Vintage Aircraft: Recognition Guide, by Tony Holmes, © HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. 2005. P.141.

[iv] Weapons of Warfare, Consolidated B-24 Liberator in RAF Service, posted April 20, 2015,, last accessed 9/10/19.

[v] ThoughtCo., World War II: Consolidated B-24 Liberator,, last accessed 9/13/19.

[vi], The Consolidated B-24 Liberator, by Forest Garner,, last accessed 9/20/19.

[vii] Pacific Wrecks,, last accessed 9/13/19.

[viii] Consolidated B-24 Liberator in the Pacific War,, last accessed 9/29/19.

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Liberators at Sea

The U.S. Navy’s designation for the Liberator was PB4Y. An RAF Coastal Command B-24 sank the U-597 on October 12, 1942. British B-24s also sank the U-216 and U-599 in October. On December 8, a British Liberator sank the U-611.[i] A USAAF B-24 was the first American Liberator to sink a U-Boat, the U-524. The 2nd A/S Squadron B-24 sank the U-524 on March 22, 1943.[ii] The Liberators scored the first U-Boat kill for the U.S. Navy (USN) on July 23, 1943. The U-boat, U-598, sank with 43 of its 45 crew members.[iii] On July 28 a USAAF and an RAF Liberator teamed up to sink the U-404.[iv] On August 2 a USAAF Liberator and a Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Hampden teamed up to sink the U-706.[v] A USN Liberator sank the U-84 with a Fido homing torpedo on August 7.[vi]

The Liberators vs U-Boats wasn’t all one sided. On the morning of August 11 an RAF Liberator, piloted by Flight Officer Lloyd Allan Trigg, spotted the U-468. When Trigg turned towards the U-468 the U-Boat opened fire with her 20mm guns. The shells set the B-24 on fire. Trigg pressed home his attack. The B-24 dropped six depth charges at low level. Two exploded close enough to breach the U-468’s hull. The B-24 crashed into the sea and exploded on impact. Flight Officer Trigg and his crew were dead. Sea water flooded into U-468’s battery compartment causing the release of chlorine gas. The gas killed about half the crew. As the U-Boat sank the survivors jumped into shark and barracuda infested waters. The Liberator’s inflatable dingy survived the crash. Oberleutnant Klemens Schamong, U-468’s captain, and six of his crew survived by using the dingy. A Short Sunderland, that was searching for Trigg’s crew spotted the dingy. The HMS CLARKIA rescued the seven U-468 survivors. Oberleutnant Schamong told of the heroic actions of the Liberator crew and recommended they be given the highest award the British Empire could give. King George VI awarded Flying Officer Trigg the Victoria Cross.[vii] On May 6, 1945 a B-24 of RAF Squadron 86/G sank the U-3523. All 58 sailors on the U-3523 died in the sinking. This was the last U-Boat sank by a Liberator.[viii] Liberators sank, or shared in the sinking of, 72 U-Boats.[ix]

On April 12, 1944 a USN PB4Y-1 Liberator, flown by Lieutenant J.E. Muldrow, sank the Japanese submarine I-174. On June 12 a PB4Y-1, flown by Lieutenant William B. Bridgeman, sank the RO-117. The crew claimed the submarine as possibly damaged but Japanese records showed the RO-117 went down with all hands.[x]

Submarines weren’t the only ships Liberators sank. USAAF 10th Air Force B-24s sank the Nichimei Maru, Seikai Maru, and the Hoyo Maru in the Andaman Sea. The Nichimei Maru sinking was tragic since 500 allied prisoners of war who were onboard died. RAF Liberators sank the Agala Maru also in the Andaman Sea.

On November 21, 1943 a B-24, flown by Pilot Officer A. Wilson, was providing anti-submarine cover for convoy SLI39/MKS 30. German He 177 heavy bombers, armed with Hs 293 glide bombs, attacked the convoy. Pilot Officer Wilson attacked the He 177s. Pilot Officer Wilson engaged 4 of the attackers, and damaged one of them.[xi]

B-24s were among the first aircraft to fly electronic intelligence (ELINT) missions. USAAF B-24s flew missions over Kiska Island to electronically map Japanese radars.[xii]

At the last naval battle, which took place off Kure, Hiroshima, on July 28, 1945, the USAAF lost two B-24s, the “Lonesome Lady” and “Taloa”. Twenty airmen flew in these planes. The Japanese took Captain Thomas Cartwright, the “Lonesome Lady” pilot, to Tokyo for interrogation. Six of the “Lonesome Lady” crew were in Hiroshima and died in the atomic bombing. The tail gunner, Bill Abel, was the only other “Lonesome Lady” crew member to survive the war. At least two of the three “Taloa” crew members who survived the cash, Charles Baumgartner and Sgt. Julius Molnar, died at Hiroshima.[xiii]

[i], The Consolidated B-24 Liberator, by Forest Garner,, last accessed 9/17/19.

[ii], U-524,, last accessed 9/17/19.

[iii], U-598,, last accessed 9/17/19.

[iv], U-404,, last accessed 9/17/19.

[v], U706,, last accessed 9/17/19.

[vi], U-84,, last accessed 9/17/19.

[vii] War History Online, Used His Last Moments In a Burning B-24 To Sink a U-Boat – Rescued German Captain Recommended Him For a VC, by Shahan Russell,, last accessed 9/18/19.

[viii], U3523,, last accessed 9/20/19.

[ix], The Consolidated B-24 Liberator, by Forest Garner,, last accessed 9/20/19.

[x] Submarines Sunk by Patrol Squadrons During World War II, file:///C:/Users/rsacc/AppData/Local/Packages/Microsoft.MicrosoftEdge_8wekyb3d8bbwe/TempState/Downloads/Appen3%20(1).pdf, last accessed 9/2019.

[xi] Aircraft Profile: Heinkel He 177, by Alfred Price,

[xii] Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) At NSA,, last accessed 9/28/19.

[xiii], Under the Atomic Bomb: American POWs in Hiroshima by Shigeaki Mori, Paul Satoh, Yukako Ibuki, & Mark Shavers,, last accessed 9/30/19.

B-24s and Contemporaries

Source: Vintage Aircraft Recognition Guide by Tony Holmes (c) HarperCollns Publishers 2005






Max Speed

290mph (467 km/h)

287 mph (462 km/h)

287 mph (462 km/h)


2,100 miles (3,380 km)

2,000 miles (3,219 km/h)

2,530 miles (4,072 km/h)


10x0.50 cal (12.7mm) machine guns

12x0.50 cal (12.7mm) machine guns

8x0.303 cal (7.6 mm) machine guns

Max Bomb Load

12,000 lb (5,443 kg)

12,800 lb (5,800 kg)

14,000 lb (6,350 kg)

Liberators Over Land

B-24s flew their first mission with the USAAF 8th Air Force on October 9, 1942. The target was Lille. The mission comprised 24 B-24s and 84 B-17s. The 10 effective B-24 sorties dropped 50,000 pounds of bombs. One B-24 was lost and another was written off.[i] The next 8th Air Force B-24 lost was on December 6.[ii] The First two 8th Air Force B-24 losses in 1943 occurred on February 16.[iii]

On March 8, 16 B-24s with a Spitfire escort attacked Rouen. Luftwaffe fighters attacked the bombers and their escorts. The Germans shot down two 2 RAF Spitfires and the two lead B-24s. The B-24 formation shattered and the B-24s dropped their bombs well short of the target. A third damaged B-24 crashed in England. The B-24s claimed 14 enemy aircraft shot down, and 3 probably shot down. The 8th Air Force counted the B-24 that cashed in England as damaged, not repairable. The Luftwaffe had no losses.[iv] B-24s & B-17s flew their first mission into Germany on March 18, 1943. On May 14 21 B-24s flew a mission against Kiel. Eight B-24s were lost and one was damaged beyond repair. B-24s didn’t fly another mission with the 8th Air Force until September 7.

The most famous, exclusively B-24, mission happened on Sunday, August 1, 1943. Rumania suppled ½ the Axis needs for oil. The main Rumanian oil complex was at Ploesti. Ploesti presented a tempting target. The 9th Air Force launched 178 B-24s from Benghazi. The B-24’s had extra fuel and a slightly lighter than normal bomb load. They flew the mission at low level to surprise the defenses. The mission was complex and many of the crews were on their first mission. Five B-24 pilots received the Medal of Honor for this mission. Enemy action destroyed 41 aircraft. Six others were lost for non-combat related reasons. Another 8 B-24s landed in neutral Turkey and their crews were interned. Other B-24s landed in Malta, Sicily, and Cyprus. Many of the Liberators that flew back to Benghazi had battle damage. At the end of the day the 9th Air Force only had 30 airworthy B-24s from the strike force. The Ploesti complex was soon back in operation. Despite other bombing raids the complex remained in operation until Soviet forces overran it one year later.[v]

The USAAF 15th Air Force began operations in November 1, 1943. B-24s of the 15th Air Force flew their first mission on November 2. A force of 38 B-24s and 74 B-17s with an escort of 72 P-38s attacked Wiener Neustadt, Austria. The bombers dropped 327 tons of bombs. The losses were 5 B-24s and 6 B-17s.[vi]

Many aircrew members, on both sides, believed the B-24 was more prone to catching fire, when hit by enemy fire, than the B-17. Interestingly, the B-24s had a higher write off to loss ratio than B-17s. For example, 8th Air Force missions with both B-17s and B-24s, from January 4 – February 20, 1944, B-17s had 23 write offs and 121 losses, 19%. B-24 had 23 write offs and 46 losses, 50%.

The USAAF used B-24s and B-17s in Operation Aphrodite. Old bombers were loaded with explosives. A pilot and copilot would take off with the bomber, arm the bombs, then bail out over England. A crew from another bomber would remotely pilot the bomb laden plane and crash it into hard targets, such as submarine pens or V-2 rocket launch sites. On August 12, 1944 Naval aviators Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. and Lt. Wilford John Willy took off in a B-24 to fly such a mission. After they armed the bombs the B-24 exploded, killing both aviators. The Navy awarded Lieutenants Kennedy and Willy the Navy Cross.[vii] Operation Aphrodite was a debacle. Only one target was damaged and that was by chance rather than design.[viii]

In 1944 B-24s, outfitted with ELINT receivers, flew missions to guide jamming of German ground radars.[ix] B-24s also dropped agents and supplies behind enemy lines in Operation Carpetbagger. The 492nd Bomb Group flew over 3,000 such sorties and dropped 7,000 tons of supplies to partisans.[x]

Liberators have the unfortunate distinction of being the first victims of Sonderkommando Elbe. On April 7, 1945 Sonderkommando Elbe launched its only mission. Unteroffizer[xi] Heinrich Rosner got separated from the main formation but found a formation of B-24 Liberators. Rosner overshot his initial target. He weaved his Bf 109 through the B-24 formation. If the Liberator gunners shot at him, there was a good chance they would hit one of their own bombers. Rosner flew out of the formation then executed a climbing turn. He was attacking the lead bomber, “Palace of Dallas”, from the bomber’s 12 o’clock high. It was the mission of the Sonderkommando pilots to ram the heavy bombers. Rosner rammed “Palace of Dallas”. The collision sent Rosner’s Bf 109 cartwheeling into another B-24. The three airplanes fell out of the sky. Rosner and three USAAF airmen survived the carnage. Another Sonderkommando pilot, Heinrich Henkel, rammed the B-24, “Sacktime”, and took off one of “Sacktime’s” vertical stabilizer. Henkel parachuted safely. “Sacktime” pilot Bob Winger and his co-pilot Jeff Nard, regained control of the aircraft and nursed it until it reached a friendly airstrip. Then Winger and his crew bailed out.[xii] Three weeks later, with Germany’s fall imminent, the USAAF ended its strategic bombing campaign over Europe.

In the Pacific

The USAAF 5th Air Force began B-24 operations From Australia in November 1942. The first unit was the 90th Bombardment Group (BG). The 90th BG moved to New Guinea in February 1943, to Biak in August 1944, to Mindoro January 1945. In August 1945 these B-24s moved to Ie Shima as part of the preparation for the invasion of Japan scheduled in November.[xiii]

The 5th Air Force 43rd BG received its first Liberators in May 1943. This Group struck many targets throughout the war. It began bombing Japan and surrounding waters in July 1945.[xiv]

The 5th Air Force 22nd BG received its first B-24s in February 1944. It flew missions to support the invasions of the Philippines and the Luzon campaign. It also struck targets in China and Borneo. It was moved to Okinawa so it could support the planned Japanese invasion.[xv]

The B-24s of the 5th Air Force 380th BG were assigned to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) where they trained Australian airmen to fly the Liberator. They attacked targets in the Dutch East Indies, the Bismarck Archipelago, Borneo, and New Guinea. The BG rejoined the 5th Air Force in February 1945 and participated in the Luzon campaign. They also attacked Formosa, and Indochina. In August the BG moved to Okinawa and flew missions over Japan. [xvi]

The 7th Air Force B-24s began operations in mid-1943. In November 1943 Liberators participated in the invasion of Gilbert Islands, the Marshall Islands, of the Marianas. From August 1944 the 7th Air Force bombed Japanese home islands and China. [xvii]

The 11th Air Force B-24s were based in Alaska. The harsh weather conditions proved a more dangerous adversary than the Japanese. The 11th Air Force Liberators took part in recovering the Aleutian Islands and the bombing of the Kurile Islands. The 11th Air Force activities made the Japanese believe an invasion was possible from the north. The Japanese kept a garrison to counter that possible move. [xviii]

The 13th Air Force began operations from Guadalcanal in August 1943. It moved to Munda later in 1943. In 1944 the 13th Island hopped from New Georgia to Morotai. Then the 13th moved to the Philippines in 1945.[xix]

[i] Mighty Eighth War Diaries, by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981, P. 19. B-17 losses were 3 with another written off.

[ii] Mighty Eighth War Diaries, by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981, P. 28.

[iii] Mighty Eighth War Diaries, by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981, P. 39.

[iv] JG26: Top Guns of the Luftwaffe, by Donald L. Caldwell. © 1991.

[v] RedState, August 1st, 1943 – The Ploesti Raid, by Skanderbeg, August 1, 2009,, last accessed 9/22/19.

[vi] Fifteenth Air Force Story by Kenn C. Rust, © Historical Aviation Album, 1976.

[vii] Find a Grave,, last accessed 9/23/19. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. was the brother of John F. Kennedy, who was elected president in 1960. Joseph P, Kennedy Jr’s untimely death raises the “what might have been” question.

[viii] The Secret Drone Mission that Killed Joseph Kennedy Jr., by Ed Grabianowski, 2/21/13.,, last accessed 9/23/19.

[ix] Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) At NSA,, last accessed 9/28/19.

[x] Operation Carpetbagger, United States Army, Misc. 7899, 1951,, last accessed 9/24/19.

[xi] Equivalent to a USAF Senior Airman/Sergeant.

[xii] History Channel, Dogfights deadliest Missions of the Luftwaffe, “The Flying Battering Rams”,, last accessed 9/1/19.

[xiii] Consolidated B-24 Liberator in the Pacific War,, last accessed 9/29/19.

[xiv] Consolidated B-24 Liberator in the Pacific War,, last accessed 9/29/19.

[xv] Consolidated B-24 Liberator in the Pacific War,, last accessed 9/29/19.

[xvi] Consolidated B-24 Liberator in the Pacific War,, last accessed 9/29/19.

[xvii] Consolidated B-24 Liberator in the Pacific War,, last accessed 9/29/19.

[xviii] Consolidated B-24 Liberator in the Pacific War,, last accessed 9/29/19.

[xix] Consolidated B-24 Liberator in the Pacific War,, last accessed 9/29/19.

Post-World War II

Liberators of the 7th Air Force flew mercy missions to the Allied prisoners of war in Japan.[i]

After World War II the RAF abandoned the B-24s it had in India. By the Lend-Lease agreement these B-24s could not fall into anyone else’s hands. The RAF damaged these Liberators so they were unflyable. With independence and the subcontinent divided into India and Pakistan came conflict. The first Indo-Pakistan War broke out in 1947 and ended on December 31, 1948.

India wanted a bomber aircraft. India’s choices were B-25 Mitchells, Lancasters, or trying to make the disabled B-24s flyable. India chose the B-24s. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), attempted to make some of the B-24s flyable. They did this without compensation. HAL had 6 B-24s read for squadron service on November 2, 1948. HAL made 18 Liberators flyable. Two of the Liberators were C-87s, a transport version. India used the C-87 for mapping. One C-87 photographed Mount Everest.

Indian B-24s participated in the takeover of Portuguese colonies in India in 1961. On December 18, 1961 B-24s dropped surrender leaflets over Goa. They carried out maritime patrols during the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War. The Indian Air Force, the last air force to fly Liberators, retired its Liberators in 1968.[ii]

[i] Consolidated B-24 Liberator in the Pacific War,, last accessed 9/29/19.

[ii] India’s Reclaimed Bombers: The B-24 Liberator,, last accessed, 9/28/19.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Robert Sacchi


Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on October 31, 2019:


Very interesting.

Robert Sacchi (author) on October 06, 2019:

You're welcome.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on October 06, 2019:

Hi, Robert, I appreciate you. Thank you again.

Robert Sacchi (author) on October 06, 2019:

Hope you enjoyed the day and good fishing.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on October 06, 2019:

hello, Robert, you'll okay, and I'm okay likewise. Enjoy the day.

Robert Sacchi (author) on October 05, 2019:

Good point. Thank you for your input.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on October 04, 2019:

Hello, Roberts, I agreed with you. History had record all these. But the part played by Germany in sinking commercial ships of neutral nations was excessive. Thank you for your input.

Robert Sacchi (author) on October 03, 2019:

Thank you for reading and commenting. In World War II submarines on both sides engaged in sinking merchant ships. A submarine trying to board a suspect ship was asking to get sunk. Sir Winston Churchill viewed the U-Boats as the greatest threat to Britain's survival. The U-Boats had 2 "Happy Times". At the beginning of the war they were able to sink many ships with almost impunity. Right after America entered the war U-Boats sank many ships off America's Eastern Seaboard. At this time, early 1942, they were brazen. They would often torpedo a merchant ship then surface to finish it off with their cannon.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on October 03, 2019:

Hello, Roberts, thanks for sharing a historical piece. I am happy of the honor done to Flying Officers Criggs after he is dead. The U-boats are very notorious in sinking even commercial vessels. That The B-24 engaged these U-boats and destroyed them mercilessly is commendable., because Germany was the aggressor in World War 2.

Once again, thanks for the story and have a nice time on HubPages.

Robert Sacchi (author) on October 02, 2019:

Thank you for reading and commenting. I'm glad you like the article. The middle of the ocean is a dangerous place. Then again war is by definition deadly. The scale of the carnage in WWII is hard to fathom.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 02, 2019:

This article gives us such detailed descriptions of the horrible figths is WWII. The B-24 has an amazing history. The men had to jumping into the shark infested waters sounds so horrible, but I know the dangers of chlorine gas. One place my husband worked used chlorine gas and just a little bit escaped one night and it kille a huge number of trees in the back of the building. I do not have nearly the knowledge about WWII history and the planes like you do, but I enjoyed your well-written article.

Robert Sacchi (author) on October 01, 2019:

Thank you for reading and commenting.

FlourishAnyway - Yes, there is much speculation about how Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. would have become president. In all likelihood that would have been the case. It may have been the reason for his demise. Volunteering for a dangerous mission during the war would have been good on his presidential resume.

Mary Norton - One thing I recommend for museums is the guided tour. It's a good way to get information about what is one display.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on October 01, 2019:

There are some planes in museums in Southeast Asia but I don't know much about them. I wish I have your knowledge.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 30, 2019:

I appreciated the vivid descriptions of what the servicemen endured (shark and barracuda infested waters). It’s also interesting to ponder the what if’s had Kennedy’s brother not met his demise at the hands of this plane. A very interesting plane and I like all the history you interweave.

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