An early model of the Consolidated B-24 plane
In 1938, one year before the start of WWII and three years before the United States joined the Allies against Japan and Germany, Consolidated engineers designed a bomber that met the requirements laid down by the U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC). The first prototype came off the line at the end of 1939. The first production line B-24 Liberator left the Ypsilanti, Michigan, Ford Plant on November 28, 1942, the first Liberator of the more than 8,685 that would take to the air from the Michigan plant. More than 18,500 were built in the war, many produced at Consolidated’s main facility in San Diego, which employed 41,000 people by 1941. At the height of production one B-24 was completed every 59 minutes. They carried ten .50 caliber Browning machine guns for self-defense from four turrets and two waist positions, and 8,000 pounds of bombs for short range and 5,000 for long range bombing sorties.
Consolidated B-24J Liberators under construction at the Consolidated-Vultee plant in San Diego, California, during the summer of 1944
More than 100,000 American airmen were killed in WWII, about one-quarter of the nation’s total losses. Almost 7,000 of those deaths were due to accidents, many in the United States. Designing planes and flying the early models, especially, proved hazardous, and the B-24, with a crew capacity of ten men contributed its share of accidental fatalities. In the European theatre (ETO) of operations, the B-24 became known as “the flying coffin,” “the boxcar with wings” and the “widow-maker.” The Liberator was difficult to fly and had a poor low-speed performance compared to its sister B-17. Nonetheless, the B-24 was the most-produced bomber and multi-engine aircraft in history, and fought in every theatre of the Second World War. The pilots liked the roomier cockpit than in the B-17 construction, its larger payload, its ability to take a beating from anti-aircraft fire and fighter planes, and faster speed in the air.
A rare color photograph of a B-24 in RAF service
The typical crew included four officers—Pilot, Co-Pilot, Navigator and Bombardier. The other six men were enlisted, usually sporting three stripes—flight engineer, tail gunner, ball turret gunner, radio operator, and two waist gunners. They flew in a system of four planes in a box pattern, almost wing-tip to wing-tip with “stacks” of the other identical formations not far in a formidable armada of roaring bombers. Every plane had an artistic image and name painted near the nose.
An informal group portrait of a crew of a Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber aircraft of the RAAF, standing beside their aircraft