The Martin Maryland may well rank as one of the least appreciated aircraft of the Second World War. This isn’t because its service record wasn’t impressive, oh no! Indeed, as I hope will become plain as this article progresses the Maryland’s career was one of the most diverse of any aircraft of the war.
To be honest the sheer lack of interest generally displayed towards this aircraft can probably be principally attributed to the fact that though it was exclusively designed and built in the United States it never flew with any of the US services – in fact it was actually used against the Allies on several occasions! If that isn’t enough to peak your interest then how about the fact that this aircraft played an important role in building up US aircraft production…thanks to French money.
Allow me to explain.
A recurring theme when discussing US aircraft in the Second World War is the vast scale of American production capacity; I’ve harped on about this factor many times myself. But that tends to overshadow the fact that said industrial capacity didn’t actually exist until proper impetus was given.
In fact, the US aircraft industry in the late 1930s was…well, you couldn’t call it second-rate, but it was certainly at the bottom of the list with the top-tier builders. This became evident to the British in 1938 when they sent a commission to investigate the state of the American aero industry and the possibility of buying aircraft there to help with the Royal Air Force’s expansion. They concluded that though US civil aviation was first-rate, the military designs and production facilities were really not up to British standards at the time, as well as expensive for what you got, and so only placed limited orders for Lockheed Hudson reconnaissance aircraft and Harvard trainers.
This isn’t that surprising because the British had been investing massively in aircraft design and manufacture as their primary defence priority, whereas the United States, though making noises about building up their capabilities, were not really under any great pressure at the time.
But there was one other country that was not just keen to buy American combat aircraft at the time, they were out-and-out counting on it – France.
The French aero industry was struggling to keep up with an increasingly belligerent Germany’s military aviation efforts, beset as it was with organisational issues and labour strife, as well as having problems getting competitive designs into service in numbers that could match those of their soon-to-be enemy. In January 1938 the French government recognized that they needed to completely overhaul the French Air Force within fourteen months (p.46) for it to stay viable and that there was little chance that the French aircraft industry could deliver in that timeframe. They began to look around for other potential suppliers, even ordering quantities of new fighters from the comparatively obscure Dutch builder Koolhoven.
But absolutely central to French plans was the purchase of at least a thousand modern American combat aircraft. And the problem with this was that the American aero industry wasn’t up to that either, especially as their own air services were placing increasing orders for aircraft that got priority for production.
There was really only one solution for the French – they would have to pay for American production to be expanded. Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the Glenn Martin Company.
In late 1937 the United States Army Air Corp (USAAC) became concerned that their latest attack aircraft, the Northrop A-17, was already obsolete despite only entering service two years before. In March 1938 they issued a requirement for a new, twin-engine attacker that should be capable of carrying a payload of 1,200lbs (544kgs) at speeds over 200mph (322km/h). Potential contenders would all be required to develop their entry at their own expense and have it ready for submission by March 17, 1939. Four companies ultimately made submissions; Douglas with their DB-7, North American with the NA-40, Stearman with the XA-100 and Glenn Martin with their Model 167.
The competition was somewhat controversial. Both the Douglas and North American entries were lost in accidents during company testing, meaning that technically speaking only the Stearman X-100 and the Martin 167 were in the running to be the USAAC’s new attack aircraft.
Stearman’s aircraft was in many ways a superior one. But Stearman was known for building small trainer aircraft, not cutting-edge combat types, whereas Martin had been building American bombers since the beginning. As in literally – the first American-designed and built bomber was the Martin MB-1 of 1918. So, Martin could probably be forgiven for thinking that their Model 167, designated by the USAAC as the XA-22, was the obvious choice for selection to be America’s newest attack aircraft.
But there was a problem. The USAAC, quite sensibly if we are honest, had realized that their original specification issued only a year before was already for an aircraft that was going to be obsolete in short order. So, they reissued it, calling for much higher payloads and speed capabilities.
Ironically, this perfectly suited both Douglas and North American, who could rapidly redesign their aircraft to better fit the new requirements and respectively created the A-20 Havoc and the B-25 Mitchell, two extremely successful designs that would provide huge service to the Allied air forces throughout the Second World War. Martin was, understandably, somewhat upset about this and complained, but ultimately for naught.
And they did have one compensation. While in early-1939 the Americans may have thought that the Martin 167 was not really up to the job, the French, being far more desperate, jumped for it. In January of that year they placed an initial order for one hundred and fifteen Model 167s, followed soon after by further orders to bring total orders up to three hundred and forty-five.
The reason for the delay appears to be that initially, as stated, the Martin factory located near Baltimore in Maryland wasn’t able to build the large numbers that the French required quickly. So the French, hoping to tie American aircraft producers closer to them, invested $2¼ million in Martin to allow them to increase the size of their production line rapidly. For reference that’s about equivalent to $50 million in 2023.
This, along with the considerable purchase cost of $130,000 per aircraft that the French paid for the order, gave Martin a huge boost in their finances and their manufacturing capacity that would pay off in the future when the company started churning out B-26 Marauders that were one of the principal medium bombers of the USAAF later in the war. So, when people make cracks about what the French did during the war, well, there’s helping ensure that the US aero industry was on its way to achieving its capability due to their investments and comparatively large orders for US aircraft.
But back to the Model 167, the version supplied to the French was a classic aircraft of its time.
Political issues with the American isolationist lobby meant there was some delays in getting the aircraft delivered, but by early 1940 the Martin was entering squadron service with the French Air Force and Navy. Designated as the -167A-3 by the French, and colloquially known by the crews as the “Glenn”, the -167 was an all-metal monoplane with an extremely tight fuselage that meant the crew were in separate compartments – the pilot in the cockpit and the bombardier in the nose with the rear gunner behind the bomb bay to the back of the aircraft.
Payload was either two 624-pounds (283kg) or eight 116-pound (c.53kg) bombs, while armament was made of six 7.5mm machine guns; one each in dorsal and ventral positions, with another four forward-firing in the wings. However, here we have the first discrepancy I’ve found in generally printed information on this aircraft, because I have seen at least one picture that shows a “Glenn” with twin machine guns in its dorsal turret, though this may be a modification undertaken later in the aircraft’s life.
And I have similar issues with information on the type’s power plant, and I am going to ask you folks out there for your input. The XA-22 prototype is generally stated to have had Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp radial engines, whilst many other sources state that the production aircraft for France were fitted with Wright 1820 9-cylinder radials.
But I have some issues with this. French sources I’ve read say that the “Glenns” had Twin Wasps, and an article from Flight magazine dated 30th May 1940 states that the aircraft can be fitted with:
“Any of the three models of Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp…”
Additionally, this picture I found of German troops posing with a captured -167A-3 does look like it is fitted with Twin Wasps.
I will be the first to admit to being far from competent at picking out the fine details on World War Two radial engines, and I am sure there are those out there who can confirm or correct me with this. But I am just about positive that those are Pratt & Whitneys, and that makes me fairly confident that the reporting of the French -167’s having Wright Cyclone engines is one of those details that has crept into the literature at some point and is now widely cited despite being incorrect.
However, if anyone knows anything solid about this, please let us know in the comments.
Anyway, details aside, the French were happy with their “Glenns”. While the aircraft’s payload was on the anemic side, it was fast and surprisingly agile. You might expect me to now tell you how fast it was, but truth is, I don’t know. I have seen everything cited from 275mph (443km/h) to 316mph (508km/h). Various sources give various speeds, which could be explained by the different batches of aircraft getting different models of Twin Wasps which were more powerful with every mark. Again, this issue does highlight the fact that of all the aircraft of the Second World War, the Martin 167 is very much glossed over.
Regardless, reports from French sources indicate that once thrown into battle trying to stem the German invasion of May 1940 they did pretty well. Despite their light defensive armament, which to be fair was comparable to its contemporaries, the -167’s only suffered a loss rate of 4% in 418 combat mission flown by the French Air Force in both attack and reconnaissance missions.
But with the French military rapidly being overwhelmed the remaining aircraft were withdrawn to North Africa where the original plan was that they would be used to attack Southern Italy, who had also joined the conflict. But the Armistice and division of France meant that the remaining two hundred or so now became one of the primary attack aircraft of the Vichy Air Force, being spread across the French African empire. This saw them involved in a host of actions that, because they were part of campaigns that generally get little more than footnote status in the histories of the War, means their combat record is also overlooked.
The battles between the Vichy French and the Allies.
With the German victory in Western Europe in June 1940, France was divided into two, with the north occupied by the Germans while the south remained notionally independent and neutral with its capital in the town of Vichy. Vichy France also retained control of the French overseas empire and the powerful French Mediterranean fleet. This all presented a complete nightmare for the British, who suddenly found their previous ally now a potential threat to their own interests and strategy.
Though no declaration of war was ever announced between Vichy France, the British and later the Americans, a lot of fighting did occur between the two sides. And Martin 167s were one of the foremost aircraft involved.
Indeed, they likely were involved in several attacks on one of the most important British outposts; Gibraltar. Following the British attack on the French fleet moored in Mers El Kebir in Algeria in July 1940 and then the attempts to land a Free French force in Dakar in Senegal to take control of French West Africa, the Vichy Air Force launched three bombing raids on Gibraltar in July and September 1940.
I’ll be honest, I haven’t been able to confirm that Glenn’s took part in any of these raids. But as one of Vichy’s most modern aircraft, and the fact that the final raid used eighty-three bombers which would have been a substantial part of the available bomber force the French had in North Africa, it seems likely that Martins were used as part of the attack force.
Certainly, they were reported as the type responsible when ten of the aircraft attacked the cruiser HMS Sheffield in March 1941 off the coast of Gibraltar, though only causing light damage from near misses. That was not to be repeated later that year though when Vichy forces in Lebanon and Syria became embroiled in a full-scale war with British and Imperial forces.
A squadron of Martin 167’s had been deployed to the area in September 1940, but this number was substantially increased when conflict erupted. In brief, in May 1941 the Vichy French had allowed German and Italian aircraft to refuel in Syria before flying on to Iraq where they assisted the nationalist forces there fighting against the British.
This led to an invasion of the French-controlled countries of Lebanon and Syria by substantial Imperial forces – which incidentally also used the Martin bomber, which I’ll get to in a bit – but the long and the short is that the Vichy Air Force, including many of their available -167s, were heavily committed to fighting the attack. Initially this revolved around conducting reconnaissance over Cyprus and leaflet dropping missions over Haifa in Palestine, but soon escalated to bombing missions. On June 14 Martin 167s of the French Navy attacked British ships operating off the coast of Syria where they damaged the destroyer Ilex so badly that she did not return to service until September 1942.
Vichy Martin’s continued to attack Imperial ground forces and on the 19th of June there was an interesting episode that sums up the rather sad nature of the fighting between the former allies. Ten Martins attacked Australian ground forces in the vicinity of Sidon but were then bounced by seven RAF P-40 Tomahawk fighters, another American-built aircraft. The Tomahawks managed to damage the French Martin’s, but credit to the bombers they apparently all got home.
With the Imperial and Free French forces overwhelming the Vichy French by mid-July (a campaign incidentally that was surprisingly fierce despite the lack of attention it receives), the remaining Martin 167s were withdrawn back to French North Africa, where they saw their last hooray with their original purchasers.
On the 8th of November 1942, an Anglo-American task force landed in French Morocco with the aim of opening a second North African front against Axis forces there. Once again hopes that the French would not resist were to prove short sighted.
Operation Torch, as it was code named, is another one of those campaigns that tends to get glossed over, dismissed as a test run for the huge amphibious operations that would follow in subsequent years. And so most people don’t know that there were several days of sporadic but fierce fighting at sea, on the ground and in the air. I mean, something like 2,500 people were killed, which is hardy an insubstantial number.
And as the Vichy Air Force had about thirteen -167s on roster in the area, I assume, though I haven’t been able to confirm this, that the now rather dated aircraft were thrown into some of the frantic fighting that occurred.
The Vichy French cut a deal with the allies that came into effect on the 10th of November, which saw them switch sides and the large forces they had in North Africa became part of the Free French regime. The squadrons of the French Air Force were to be quickly reequipped with more modern aircraft, generally another Martin-built bomber, the B-26 Marauder, and were soon in action again against the Axis.
But this didn’t quite spell the end of the French Martin 167’s. The French Navy squadrons continued to use them until 1943 for naval reconnaissance, a job that they were rather successful at, as will become apparent as we examine the type’s service with the other major user of the aircraft; the British and South African Air Forces.
Again, the story seems to be far from straight forward. Generally, the histories of the aircraft state that the British took over the outstanding French order of fifty -167’s still at Martin’s factory, adding them to an order of their own for seventy-five of the type. These, in deference to the builder’s home state, were designated in British service as the Martin Maryland Mk I.
But I suspect that the aircraft initially taken were all French aircraft, either taken over from Martin production, seized from cargo ships that had put into British ports when France capitulated or else flown to England by French pilots escaping capture.
As already said, the British were dubious on the qualities of many American aircraft in 1939 and initially confined their orders to the most modern designs they could possibly get. Gavin Bailey’s book Arsenal of Democracy; Aircraft Supply and the Anglo-American Alliance, 1938-42 (p.55) shows that in March 1940 British orders for American aircraft did not have any for Martin 167s, instead placing orders for the improved Martin 187, which would become the Baltimore bomber.
But this seems to have changed with the panic that the fall of France caused, and the British put in an order for 150 of their own version of the Maryland, designated as the Mk II.
These got British equipment and weaponry in the shape of Browning .303 machine guns and twin Vickers K’s in the dorsal position, as well as gauges in Imperial measurements; apparently the metric measurements of the requisitioned French aircraft caused some minor horror for British crews.
But the British certainly seemed to have valued the Maryland’s when they got into service using them like the French for reconnaissance and bombing duties. Indeed, they seem to have been able to increase the aircraft’s payload to a maximum of eight 250-lb bombs. This saw the type giving valuable service as a bomber in North Africa against German and Italian forces and, ironically, against the Vichy French in Syria and Lebanon.
But as said, the real impact the type had in service with the RAF and the South African Air Force was as a reconnaissance aircraft. After the fall of France the British in the Mediterranean had to get more aggressive and innovative to deal with the threat to their supply lines running through the region, which included the critical Suez Canal. And it was recognized that dealing a blow to the Italian fleet was a priority.
A bold plan was drawn up to use carrier aircraft to attack the Italians at anchor at their base in Taranto in Southern Italy. But for there to be any hope of success the intelligence for the raid would have to be first-class and as fresh as possible. And this was provided by the Martin Maryland’s of No.431 Flight operating out of Malta.
Maryland’s flew a number of missions identifying defences and the location and identities of Italian ships in Taranto harbour and on the day of the actual attack itself started the legend of one pilot who would become famous on the Maryland – Adrian Warburton.
Faced by very low cloud over the target Warburton apparently flew the mission at wave top level in his aircraft, telling his crew to make sure their pencils were sharp so that they could write down the names of the ships they roared past. One of his contemporaries later said that Warburton was the only pilot he knew who had been shot at by anti-aircraft batteries from above, but he was also to prove that the Maryland was no slouch in the air and in his time operating in the Mediterranean theater was credited with achieving five kills with the aircraft. These weren’t all bumbling seaplanes or bombers, at least two fighters were credited to Warburton in the Maryland while flying recon missions – apparently those four-wing mounted guns could be pretty useful.
And Warburton wasn’t unique, all-in-all the Martin bomber proved a great recon aircraft. In May 1941 a Maryland of the Fleet Air Arm was the first to report that the battleship Bismarck had left its anchorage, leading to the British to put most of their fleet to sea and the subsequent actions that are one of the most famous of the Second World War – the Battle of the Denmark Straight that saw the sinking of HMS Hood and the pursuit that saw the Bismarck join her on the bottom.
Over Syria fighting the French, accounts often tell harrowing stories of the RAF’s principle light bomber, the Bristol Blenheim, getting a hard time from defending French aircraft. But the few accounts of Morane 406’s, the main French fighter, going after Maryland’s of the South African Air Force always read: “Tried to intercept, the Martin’s outpaced us.”
South African Maryland’s would also play an important role in yet another of the obscure campaigns fought against the Vichy French; Madagascar. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent rampage by the Japanese Navy in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, the Allies had real concerns that the Vichy-held island, located at a strategic point off the east African coast, could become a major base for Japanese naval operations.
In February and March 1942 South African Maryland’s performed long-range photo-recon missions over Madagascar to see if these fears had already been realized and also to prepare for an Allied invasion and occupation of the island.
Landings took place in May and South African Maryland’s were deployed to Madagascar, where they provided bomber and reconnaissance support throughout the campaign, which lasted until that November. Interestingly the Maryland’s acquired a reputation for great reliability as opposed to the newer Beaufort bombers that provided much of the SAAF’s strength in the campaign, attributed to the excellent Twin Wasp engine that they used.
And even when downed, the Maryland proved dangerous. On one occasion a SAAF Maryland was shot down near a Vichy position, leading some of the troops to rush out to try to capture any survivors. But as they approached the wreck they came under intense fire from the twin dorsal Vickers K’s and were ordered to surrender by the crew, who then marched their prisoners to the coast and got picked up by a destroyer! (p.96)
But as with its service with the French, the Maryland was already being phased out by newer and more powerful bombers, though it has to be said that considering that it is an aircraft that the British initially dismissed its contribution is impressive.
The Maryland’s notionally carried on in service until 1945 with Imperial forces, remaining in backwater theaters or relegated to target towing duties. The French kept their Glenns for a few more years, though moved to liaison and transport duties, and they are reported to still have had squadrons equipped with the type in 1949.
And that is the history of the Martin 167, otherwise known as the Maryland. I hope that this article serves as an appropriate salute to the aircraft and to the crews on both sides who fought in them and are all too unappreciated and undervalued in the histories of the Second World War.