Consolidated B-24 Liberator Heavy Bomber
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B-24: Range, Speed, greater than B-17
B-24 Liberators in flight. USAF photo.
The B-24 Liberator was built in greater numbers than any other U.S. bomber during World War II. Although it was less famous than the B-17 Flying Fortress, the Liberator had a longer range, greater top speed, and could carry more bombs. It was, however, reportedly more difficult to fly. The first B-24 Liberators were flown by the RAF, and in British service became Liberator IIs and IIIs. Eventually flown by every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, the Liberator fought in every theater of WWII.
Armament and Crew for the B-24
The twin tail fins gave the B-24 a distinctive appearance and when used as a bomber, the number of crew members was usually 10. For armament it carried up to 10 machine guns including two in the ball turret under the belly. This turret was similar to the one on the Flying Fortress, except the Liberator's turret had a hydraulic lift by which it could be raised or lowered.
B-24 assembly line at Willow Run. U.S. Army photo.
The belly turret could rotate a full 360 degrees and allowed the gunner to fire from any position ranging from level to straight down.
Willow Run Assembly Facility
Designed by Consolidated Aircraft Company, the B-24 was produced in four different factories including an assembly line built by Ford at Willow Run near Detroit.
Willow Run was the largest assembly line in the United States and at its peak could reportedly produce 14 or more bombers a day.
Ploesti Bombing Raid by B-24s
B-24 Liberators dropping their bombs at low altitude at Ploesti oil fields. USAF photo.
The most famous, although not the most successful bombing raid by B-24 Liberators, was the attack on the Ploesti oil field in Romania on August 1, 1943. "The importance of the Ploesti oil complex ... located in south-central Romania, in the heart of the oil fields, [was that] Ploesti's refineries supplied half of the Nazi war machines' petroleum requirements," B-24 Liberator Legend by Philip A. St. John (p59).
The U.S. attack bombers were divided into several waves and due to multiple problems that arose, these groups got out of sequence and ended up attacking from several directions. Approaching from low level positions, the planes crossed one another as they skimmed over their targets, at great risk from the numerous anti-aircraft guns below as well as from the spectacular explosions their bombs created. The mission saw some success for the Allies, but only about 20 percent of the targets were seriously damaged, and the Americans suffered tremendous losses.
B-24 Assembly Ships - Judas Goat
B-24 colorfully painted for use as an assembly ship (Judas goat). USAAF photo.
As the bomber missions grew larger in size, it become more difficult for each pilot to know where he was suppose to fly in the formation. Older B-24s were used as assembly (formation) ships, painted in bright color schemes. Once in the air the bombers would form up behind this highly visible aircraft (sometimes called a Judas Goat) and continue the mission in correct formation, while the assembly ship would return to base. Assembly ships were also used with B-17 formations, but less frequently.
Liberator in the Pacific & Atlantic
Furthermore, the B-24, because of its long range, helped to fill the black gap in the Atlantic, an area half way between England and Canada, where U-boats had previously been safe from Allied air attacks. In the Pacific, the Liberator's extended range enabled it to do patrol work the other aircraft could not accomplish.
These patrol duties included scouting for enemy fleet movements, searching for downed Allied airmen and survivors from sunken Allied vessels, as well as attacking Japanese submarines. The B-24s in the Pacific were armed with depth charges as well as bombs.
Throughout World War Two, the B-24 Liberator took part in a wide range of missions and could still be be found in air forces into the 1950s.
Museum B-24 Liberators on our website
|B-24Liberator at Castle Air Museum|
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* B-24 Liberator facts
| US Army Air Forces
Royal Air Force
Royal Canadian Air Force
|Cruising speed||175 mph|
|Max. speed||297 mph|
|Altitude||28,000 feet service ceiling|
|* Numbers are approximate|