Consolidated B-24L Liberator (44-50206 / KN751 / HE807)Consolidated B-24L Liberator (44-50206 / KN751 / HE807)

Consolidated B-24L Liberator (44-50206 / KN751 / HE807)  [@ RAF Hendon]

The name "Liberator" was originally assigned to it by the RAF and subsequently adopted by the USAAF as the official name for the type.  Nicknamed the "Flying Coffin" by its crews because it possessed only one exit, which was located near the tail of the aircraft.  This made it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the crew to escape a crippled B-24.  Delivered in greater quantities than another bomber in aviation history, the RAF's first six Liberators from the USA, originally intended for the French Armée de l'Air but diverted when France fell in 1940, were the unarmed LB-30. 

They were soon followed by 20 Liberator Is [B-24A] starting mid 1941 (they were diverted to the RAF from the initial USAAC order for 38 B-24As).  After a period of testing by the A&AEE at Boscombe Down the variant was found to be unsuitable for combat over Europe.   Among the deficiencies cited were the lack of self-sealing fuel tanks and poor defensive armament.  However, twelve were modified to carry ASV and a ventral gun tray of four forward firing 20 mm Hispano cannon to become the Liberator GR.1 and was used in the maritime reconnaissance role with RAF Coastal Command.   A few were further modified to anti-submarine standard with the addition of a pair of stub wings on the fuselage under each wing to carry eight 3 inch rockets along with the installation of a Leigh Light under the right wing.  All of the GR.1s was assigned to 120 Squadron which reformed in June 1941 at RAF Nutts Corner, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.  By the September nine of the variant was flying from RAF Aldergrove, Northern Ireland, and Reykjavik, Iceland, against the U-boat treat in the Atlantic.  By the end of WW2 the Liberators of Coastal Command were replaced by the Avro Shackleton.

44-50206 was built by the Ford Motor Company at Michigan and delivered to the USAAF on the 6th December 1944.  With Liberator production outstripping demand 44-50206 was placed into storage.  On the 27th April 1945 44-50206 was allocated to the RAF under Lend-Lease as KN751.  After modifications KN751 was flown to India and entered RAF service with 99 (Madras Presidency) Squadron based at Dhubalia, Bengal, on the 26th June 1945.  This squadron was one of six RAF Squadrons plus a Heavy Conversion Unit using the Liberator in the bomber role in South East Asia for mainly night attacks.  KN751 arrived in time to partake in 99 Squadrons final operational sorties and was also used for supply dropping to POW Camps and also the repatriation of POWs after hostilities.  KN751 served only with 99 Squadron and was flown by the Commanding Officer of 99 Squadron, Wing Commander Webster.  KN751 was the last 99 Squadron Liberators to leave Cocos Islands after the Squadron was disbanded on the 15th November 1945.  Flown back to India, KN751 was Struck off Charge on the 11th April 1946 at 322 Maintenance Unit, Chakeri, Kanpur (Cawnpore).  Nearly a hundred RAF Liberators were discarded following the termination of Lend Lease agreement from August 1945 and with Indian Independence on the 15th August 1947 the 322 MU closed in November 1947 and the site and aircraft dump passed to the Indian Air Force (IAF).  Some 36 liberators were stripped down and rebuilt for IAF service from parts obtained from the remainder.  During 1948/49 KN751 was rebuilt and converted to the maritime patrol role by Hindustan Aircraft (Later Hindustan Aeronautics) Ltd at Bangalore.  During January 1951 KN751 entered IAF service as HE807 with 6 (Maritime Reconnaissance) Squadron at Poona to perform in subsequent years a variety of low-level maritime coastal water duties.  In 1957 the Liberators of 5 (Bombing) Squadron and 16 (Training) Squadron re-equipped with the English Electric Canberra which left only 6 Squadron operating the type.  In January 1969 HE807 was placed into storage at Poona and then allocated to the RAF museum in February 1970 following a request.  Following tests and maintenance work by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd at first Poona and then at Bangalore HE807 was formally presented to the museum by the Indian Government in a ceremony on the 1st July 1974.  Flown back to the UK, HE807 arrived at RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire on the 7th July 1974.  Flown on to RAF Coleme for repair and display, this fifteen minute journey was the last flight of KN751.  Transported to RAF Cosford by road in 1976 for display KN751 was painted during 1987 in the livery of  99 Squadron and given the ‘Flying Bee’ motif, originally worn by 99 Squadron’s ‘B’, KH399 [see photograph].  During August of 2005 was transferred by road to RAF Hendon.

Consolidated B-24M Liberator (44-41956 / A72-176)Consolidated B-24M Liberator (44-41956 / A72-176)Consolidated B-24M Liberator (44-41956 / A72-176)

Consolidated B-24M Liberator (44-41956 / A72-176)  [@ RAAF Werribee]

Due to the long range characteristics of the Liberator the type became a natural choice for the Royal Australian Air Force in the Pacific theatre.  Apparently it was redeemed as unfeasible to build the type under licence due to the high rate of production in the USA and so the AVRO Lancaster (later flowed by the AVRO Lincoln from 1946) was chosen instead.  In the February of 1944 the RAAF acquired twelve ex USAAF B-24Ds for operational training duties only with the newly formed 7 OTU who were based at Tocumwal, Victoria, and remained operational until the end of the war without actually experiencing operational combat.  Many of the early instructors at 7 OTU had themselves been attached to the US 5th Air Force to gain experience on the type.  From May 1944 later variants of the type became available to the RAAF.  In total 287 Liberators were acquired by the RAAF and equipped eight heavy bomber squadrons (e.g. to bomb targets and shipping in the former Dutch East Indies) and two Special Duties Flights e.g. to support in the dropping of agents for guerrilla operations and in the supply of coastal watchers.  When the war ended many of the Liberators were Struck off Charge at Tocumwal and scrapped in the early 1950s and those that remained in service were replaced by the AVRO Lincoln from 1947.  44-41956 was built by Consolidated as an M variant and later modified to an R variant with search radar and assigned to the RAAF.  44-41956 is the only known surviving RAAF and was delivered as A72-176 in January 1945.  A72-176 did not see combat but was used by 7 OTU based at East Sale to train B-24 crews.  At the end of the WW2 44-41956 avoided being scrapped by becoming a geographic survey aircraft.  The last flight of last flight 44-41956 was to RAAF East Sale on the 25th March 1946 to become an instructional airframe.  Struck off Charge on the 23rd March 1948 and with the the wings and tail already sold only the fuselage passed to a private buyer.  The photographs show 44-41956 undergoing restoration.  Parts for 44-41956, including the wings and tail, were recovered from 42-41091 a USAF 5th Air Force B-24D of  the 43rd Bombardment Group, 403rd Bombardment Squadron, that crash landed at Faita Airfield, Papua New Guinea, after being attacked by two Japanese fighters.  The photographs of 44-41956 are by the kind permission of Alf Batchelder of the RAAF museum.

These in turn were followed by an order, from August 1941, for 139 Liberator IIs (the first combat ready B-24 - similar to the B-24C but built to meet RAF specifications with British equipment and armament) and 260 Liberator IIIs - an RAF version of the B-24D.  In fact only 87 out of the 139 Liberator IIs actually entered RAF service – 64 were delivered directly and 23 following a period of service with the USAAF.  Both variants were used in the bomber and maritime reconnaissance role.  The Liberator II differed from the previous variant in having a lengthened nose and four gun Boulton Paul power operated turrets, one in the tail and another in a dorsal position.  It was this variant that finally entered RAF Bomber Command service as the Liberator B.II with 159 Squadron (formed at RAF Thurleigh, Bedfordshire, on the 16th January 1942) and 160 Squadron (reformed at RAF Molesworth, Cambridgeshire, on the 2nd July 1942).  No fewer than 37 RAF squadrons operated the Liberator III.  This variant was fitted with single 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine gun in the nose, two in each beam position, four in a Boulton Paul tail turret and many were fitted with the Martin top turret.  While the Liberator IIA variant was a Lend-Lease B-24D variant fitted with American equipment and weapons.  Following on and modified to carry extra fuel were 112 Liberator B.V bombers and Liberator GR.Vs.  The bomber variant had the same armament as the Liberator III while the GR.V variant for Coastal Command was modified for the anti-submarine role and included ASV radar, a Leigh Light and eight 3 inch forward firing rockets.

Consolidated B-24M Liberator

Consolidated B-24M Liberator  [@ RAF Duxford]

Fitted with Curtiss propellers the B-24E (Liberator IV) was the first model to be built by the Ford Motor Company at their newly constructed factory at Willow Run, Michigan.  The RAF received over 1600 latter variants i.e.  B-24E, B-24H, B-24J, B-24L and B-24M, under Lend-Lease between early 1944 and August 1945, as the  Liberator VI and Liberator VIII and also 24 Liberator C.VIIs based on the C-87 transport derivative of the B-24D.  Unfortunately, there is no straight forward connection between the RAF designations and those allocated by the USAAF.  For example, a mixture of twelve B-24G, H, and J models taken over from the USAAF in Italy during early 1945 were all designated as Liberator VIs by the RAF.  The VI variant tended to be fitted with a Consolidated built nose turret while the VII variant tended to be fitted with an Emerson built nose turret but both variants retained their US built nose, dorsal, ball turret and the tail turret tended to be a British Boulton Paul, thus making all four turrets of different makes.  In very general terms, the B-24J served the RAF as the Liberator B.VI bomber, which often had the ball turret removed to save weight, or as a Liberator GR.VI long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft.  In this variant the ball turret was replaced by ASV radar.  Again in very general terms, the B-24L and B-24M variants were the Liberator VIII and the Liberator GR.VIII.  A number of Liberator VIs and VIIIs were converted to transport standard in the UK and designated C.VIs and C.VIIIs.  All the armament was removed, the nose and tail were faired over and seating for 24 passengers was added.

The Liberator bomber served mainly in South East Asia, where the type equipped 14 squadrons, while the maritime variants succeeded in closing the famous “mid Atlantic gap” and so provide vital air cover against the U-boats.  Over 40 RAF squadrons flew Liberators at one time or another.  All versions except transports and GR.VIIIs were withdrawn from RAF service by June of 1946 with the last GR.VIIIs being withdrawn from RAF Coastal Command in 1947.  In fact the Liberator remained in service with the RAF longer than it did with the USAAF.  A few transport Liberators were taken over by BOAC after the war and continued in service for several years.  The type took part in the Berlin Airlift of 1948 and a few ex- RAF bombers served with the Indian Air Force following India's Independence.

Duxford's B-24 was built by the Ford Motor Company at their Willow Run plant, Michigan in early 1945 and is believed to have been the last Liberator in service with the USAF.  It spent most of its operational career as an ice research aircraft, finally retiring to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas in 1956 where it remained on display until its move to Duxford in 1999.  The aircraft is now painted to represent Dugan, a Liberator based at Wendling, Norfolk, with the 392nd Bomb Group.