© 2009 454 & 459 RAAF Squadrons

Martin Baltimore

The Martin 187 Baltimore was a two-engined light attack bomber built by the Glenn L. Martin Company in the United States, originally ordered by the French in May 1940 as a follow-up to the earlier Martin Maryland, then in service in France. With the fall of France, the production series was diverted to Great Britain. Baltimore development was hindered by a series of problems, although the type eventually became a highly versatile combat aircraft. Produced in large numbers, the Baltimore was not used in combat by the United States forces, but eventually served with the British, Canadian, Australian, South African, Hellenic and the Italian air forces.

Design and development

Initially designated the A-23 (derived from the A-22 Martin 167 Maryland design), the Model 187 (company designation) had a deeper fuselage and more powerful engines. The Model 187 met the needs for a light to medium bomber, originally ordered by the Anglo-French Purchasing Commission as a joint project in May 1940. The French Air Force sought to replace the earlier Maryland; 400 aircraft being ordered. With the fall of France, the Royal Air Force (RAF) took over the order and gave it the service name Baltimore. To enable the aircraft to be supplied to the British under the Lend-Lease Act the United States Army Air Forces designation A-30 was allocated.

With the passing of the Lend Lease Act two further batches of 575 and then 600 were provided to the RAF.

Operational history

The first British aircraft were delivered in late 1941 to equip Operational Training Units. The RAF only used the Baltimores operationally in the Mediterranean theater and North Africa.

Many users were impressed by the step up that the Baltimore represented from older aircraft like the Bristol Blenheim. The users of the Baltimore, and Martin pilot Benjamin R. Wallace, praised the aircraft for its heavy armament, structural strength, maneuverability, bombing accuracy, and relatively high performance, but crews complained of cramped conditions similar to those in the earlier Maryland bomber. Due to the narrow fuselage it was nearly impossible for crew members to change positions during flight if wounded (the structure of the interior meant that the pilot and observer were separated from the wireless operator and rear gunner). This was common for most light bombers of the era like the Handley Page Hampden, Douglas Boston, and Blenheim. Crews also complained about the difficulties in handling the aircraft on the ground. On takeoff, the pilot had to co-ordinate the throttles perfectly to avoid a nose-over, or worse.

Thrown into action to stop Rommel's advance, the Baltimore suffered massive losses when it was utilized as a low-level attack aircraft, especially in the chaos of the desert war where most missions went unescorted. However, operating at medium altitude with fighter escorts, the Baltimore had a very low loss rate, with the majority of losses coming from operational accidents.

Undertaking a variety of missions in the Middle East, Mediterranean and European theaters, the Baltimore's roles included reconnaissance, target-towing, maritime patrol, night intruder and even served as highly uncomfortable fast transports. The Baltimore saw limited Fleet Air Arm service with aircraft transferred from the RAF in the Mediterranean to equip a squadron in 1944. Used in the anti-submarine role during the war, the Baltimore achieved moderate success, sinking up to eight U-boats.

The RAF also transferred aircraft to other Allies in the Mediterranean area. After the capitulation of Italy in 1943, the type was used intensively in the Italian campaign to clear the road to Rome for advancing Allied forces. After the armistice, an Italian-manned squadron, the 28th Bomber Wing,was equipped with ex-RAF Baltimores, becoming the co-belligerent Stormo Baltimore. The Italians suffered considerable attrition during their training phase on the Baltimore. The majority of accidents were during takeoffs and landings due to the aircraft's fairly high wing loading, high approach speed and a directional stability problems during takeoffs. The Italians only operated the Baltimore for roughly six months. Many of those operations were in Yugoslavia and Greece, providing air support for partisan forces or dropping supplies.

Most Baltimores were scrapped soon after the war, although one RAF squadron continued to use the type in Kenya where the aircraft were used in aerial mapping and locust control until 1948. In post-war service, the Baltimore took part in United States Navy instrument and control surface tests in the effort to break the sound barrier. With its powerful engines and light, yet robust construction, the aircraft was able to be dived at high speed, reaching Mach .74 in tests. All Baltimores were withdrawn from service by the end of 1949, the last one being retired on 23 December 1949.

Variants


The Baltimore GR.IIIA variant supplied to the British under the Lend-Lease program. This variant was equipped with a dorsally-mounted turret housing twin .50-caliber M2 machine guns.


Baltimore B. I

Fitted with 1,600 hp (1,193 kW) Wright GR-2600-A5B radial piston engines, armed with ten 0.303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns, eight fixed Brownings and two flexible Vickers K machine guns; all marks had two fixed 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Brownings in the leading-edge of each wing and four similar fixed guns, two on each side of the lower fuselage aft firing backwards, plus two flexible Vickers guns in dorsal and ventral. 50 aircraft built.

Baltimore B. II

As with the Mk I;defensive armament was increased to 12 0.303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns including twin 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers K machine guns in both the dorsal and ventral positions. 100 aircraft built.

Baltimore B. III

Modified Mk II design defensive armament was increased to 14 0.303 in (7.7 mm) guns and impoved with a hydraulically-powered dorsal turret supplied by Boulton Paul in the UK with 4 Browning machine guns. 250 aircraft built.

Baltimore B. IIIa (A-30-MA)

Ordered by USAAF and supplied under Lend-lease to the RAF, two 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns in a Martin-built electrically powered dorsal turret. 281 aircraft built.

Baltimore B. IV (A-30A-MA)

USAAF order, lend-lease to RAF. Four 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Brownings machine guns in the wings. 294 aircraft built.

Baltimore B. V (A-30A-MA)

USAAF order, Upgraded with two 1,700 hp (1,268 kW) Wright R-2600-29 radial piston engines, Wings fitted with 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns. 600 aircraft built.

Baltimore GR. VI (A-30C-MA)

Two prototypes were built for maritime reconnaissance. They included a lengthened fuselage, accommodations for extra fuel tanks and a torpedo, and a Radome in nose. The whole program was cancelled in April 1944. (900 cancelled)


All of the series were built were for the RAF. A number were lost on delivery across the Atlantic Ocean when two ships carrying Baltimores were sunk.

Royal Australian Air Force



1943 General Maritime Reconnaissance Phase - from Egypt, Palestine and Cyrenaica - Baltimore IIIs



First Flight - 14 June 1941


The deep fuselage allowed better communication between the crew, however the narrowness of the fuselage made movement around the aircraft in an emergency almost impossible. The RAF ordered 1,575 Baltimores.

In January 1943, the general maritime reconnaissance phase commenced in Egypt with conversion to longer range Martin Baltimore IIIs, now in Middle East Command, operating from bases in Palestine, Egypt and Cyrenaica, frequently alongside 459 Squadron.  With bomb-bay auxiliary fuel tanks (as used during ferry deliveries from USA via the Equatorial Atlantic route), a range of 5-1/2 hours was possible.

Baltimore Conversion Flight - by Bob Watkins [story contributed by Bob Connel]

"Our ops tour on Baltimores stretched from El Alamein to Sicily.  During those operational flights over the desert I often looked at my navigator, strapped into the perspex nose of the Baltimore and wondered how he felt in such an exposed and vulnerable position.


Gerry, my navigator, would count off his rosary beads, as we headed for the bomb line.  I often wondered why. I was soon to find out.


We completed our tour in Sicily and were posted back to Shandur, an OTU situated on the Suez Canal.

I spent the next year, sitting in the perspex nose of the Baltimore, training pilots to fly an operational aircraft.  It was then that I understood the need for a comforter, like Gerry's rosary beads.


Trainee pilots came from many countries.  The most difficult of the trainees were posted to the OTU from a country where English was rarely spoken.  The pilots brought with them, interpreters.  These were University trained and had some knowledge of English.  Many of the pilots had none.


The Baltimore was not meant for dual instruction.  This aircraft had a slender fuselage, where crew members sat one behind the other and separated by bulkheads.  Our only communication was by intercom, never the best at any time.


The instructor sat in the nose, with a minimum of controls.  These were a control column, pedals, throttles and an instrument panel with a few dials.  There were no flap or undercarriage controls.  I had to rely on the trainee to carry out most flying  Operations.


The interpreter sat behind the pilot and was completely isolated from him, except for one small window.  This was where the wireless operator sat during operations and where the intercom controls were.  Baltimore intercom was irregular in operation and difficult to read at times.


This configuration was fine during operations, when every crew member knew his role.  It was a different story when only the instructor knew what was going on.


Circuits and landings were the real test for instructor, trainee pilot and interpreter.  Certain smells often bring memories of past events back to many people.  There is one smell that has stayed with me all my life and it would begin during circuits and landings. 

The smell was a combination of escaping petrol vapour, continual vomiting and a strong mixture of pilot sweat and heavy scent. All this locked inside the narrow fuselage of a Baltimore light bomber!


Certain pilots after showering, dowsed themselves in scent.  The poor little interpreter heaved his heart up in the wireless cabin as the instructor tried desperately to get messages through the interpreter to the pilot.  Completing a single circuit appeared to take hours and by the time the undercarriage was raised and the flaps were up we were over the canal and heading well into the Sinai desert. Eventually we would get into the down-wind leg, seemingly miles out from the runway.  Now the problems really began when we came to lowering the undercarriage and flaps in preparation for landing.  Quite often the flaps would come down first and the aircraft would slow close to a stall point.  This was when I had to bang open the throttles and cockpit drill for landing would start all over again.


In many ways, it was a good thing that we were so far out from the runway.  We had time to slowly go through the whole procedure again.  During all this our height would fluctuate between 800 to 1,500 feet.  With constant yelling from me and the very sick interpreter passing on my commands, the sweating pilot would turn onto the final leg.  The runway often appeared a very slender and distant strip in the distance.  We would lumber towards the drome, with full flap, wheels down and often at a low altitude and throttles fully open.  I always tried to make a landing on the first attempt.  To have to go around again was too awful to contemplate.  All this had to be repeated at night.  I don't know who felt drained the most at the end of an hour. The poor interpreter had the job of cleaning up his section.  The smell of sweat, perfume and vomit never did disappear from these dual aircraft.


Our flight had a Hurricane and a Fairchild Argus attached to it.  It was heaven to occasionally fly the Hurricane and relax, alone above the "desert or to fly the Fairchild Argus to Palestine to pick up a load of Jaffa oranges and fresh fruit.


After going solo and in the mess later, the pilots insisted on buying drinks all round and presenting instructors with gifts.  They were generous men.


I had a year on this conversion flight and was glad when a posting back to Australia came through.  People back home in Australia would often ask what you flew during the war.  When you said a Baltimore they would often look blank.  Pilots only flew Spitfires and Lancasters.  Ah well, so be it....."


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Apart from routine anti-submarine convoy patrols, a steady sequence of long range penetrations by Baltimore reconnaissance

aircraft (up to 3 or 4 per day) were despatched to search the Aegean Islands' harbours at low level in daylight. 

Some sightings led to strikes by waiting airborne Beaufighters [this plane discussed further down the page], or later by night bombers or submarines. Unfortunately, crews were lost whilst a number, having survived running battles with 2 or more fighter aircraft, managed to coax their badly damaged aircraft back to base or to crash land on the coast. One large scale operation on 23.7.43 involved 8 454 Baltimores. Ordered to attack installations on the north coast of Crete, they were preceded by 145 fighters strafing the area. This day low-level operation was part of an Allied diversionary strategy to focus Axis attention on a possible invasion of Greece to parallel the successful invasion of Sicily then nearing completion. Five 454 Baltimores were lost; one made it to a beach near Gambut; and two reached base; whilst 25 of the fighters were lost.


Under W Cmdr Coates DFC - RAF (Nov 43 - Apr 44) and later W Cmdr Moore (1.4.44 - 25.11.44), long range aggressive searches and convoy cover were continued from Berka 3 near Benghasi. A few medium sized and some smaller supply vessels were located.  Small formations bombed targets in Southern Greece.


On 1st and 2nd June 1955, 454 evened the July 1943 score in the week before D Day in France - perhaps an unplanned diversion.

Eight long range reconnaissance Baltimores from 454, in turn, located and "shadowed" a desperately needed Axis supply convoy bound for Crete, despite continuous attacks by fighter cover. The convoy consisted of a 3 merchant vessels, 4 destroyers and some smaller escort vessels. The Baltimores based 400 miles away at Beghasi in Cyrenaica hung on successfully from dawn, all but the last safely eluding the strong convoy cover. A large strike force of Beaufighters, Marauders and Baltimores, plus fighter cover attacked at 7pm, sinking all but two vessels. One of these was sunk the following day in Candia Harbour and the other in a badly damaged condition was sunk by a submarine after it left the harbour. A "Box" of nine South African Air Force Baltimores was led on both bombing strikes by a 454 "vic" of three, with successful results on each occasion. Six Beaufighers were lost during this battle.


1944-45 Day Army Close Support Phase with Desert Air Force in Italy (East Coast) Light Bomber Baltimore IV's and V's

In 1944 the Squadron with Moore in command, replaced later by W Cmdr Henderson (25.11.44 - May 45) now converted to short range light bomber Baltimore IVs and later Vs. After training for tactical formation operations, it moved to Italian east coast bases in support of the British 8th Army at Pescara, Falconara and Cesenatica.


Between August 1944 and January 45, despite incessant rain and mud, particularly at Falconara, 1420 sorties were despatched against tactical and close support targets, delivering 1013 tonnes of bombs, often only 800 yards ahead of the British, Canadian, Polish and New Zealand troops. These troops were gradually driving their way in atrocious weather conditions and over difficult terrain through the Gothic Line defences towards the Po River. [see Maps]

Upturned Baltimore


The old Baltimore after our crash at Gambut in 1943. Note - the gash under the window - there was a grating noise I heard when the starboard propeller passed that way, plenty of fresh air in the front way.  [photo from D. Roberts -454 - collection]


Flight Lieutenant (Later deputy Flight Commander of B Flight) - Bob Norman - 459 Sqdn noted in his book "Bush Pilot" - The Baltimore had four .303 firing forward in the wings, four .303 scatter-guns in the tail, and two .5's in the turret. I don't think an enemy fighter ever knocked down a Baltimore.  They were shot down by "ack-ack" yes, but fighters had no stomach for them. The Baltimore lacked the sophistication of the Ventura.  No radar, no radio altimeter, no auto-pilot, and the crew were divided off in compartments so that if one was hit the others could not attend to him.  We moved our Baltimores to Benghazi and a new type of operation was added: low level reconnaisance.  By fitting a seven hundred gallon tank in the bomb-bay we cold range out as far as the Dardanelles and into Northern Greece on recon.


The Baltimore was an aeroplane all pilots feared before they started flying them, mainly because no instruction was available.  You were given a dossier on the aircraft and when you thought you knew enough about it you took off.  Landing a Baltimore required a special technique and we all had trouble with the landings until we developed this technique.  A flying boat skipper could have landed a Baltimore easily; the technique was the same.  Come in low with power, then at one or two feet ease on more power until the wheels touched, then ease off power.  Once on the ground it was imperative you kept absolute control because she was a vixen for group-looping.


Take-off in a war machine like a Baltimore or a Spitfire is an exhilarating experience.  The acceleration is so great yo feel you are being punched along.  The stalling speed was 118 miles per hour so you had to be doing more than that before take-off.  The single engine control speed - that is, the speed if one engine cuts so you can still maintain control of the aeroplane - was 165 miles per hour.  so there was a 47 miles per hour gap to make up before you could consider the flight under control. This period lasted a few seconds only due to the high rate of acceleration.


The undercarriage which always is a drag when suspended, would retract in a Baltimore in three seconds, and by the time the undercarriage locked in the "up" position the speed was only a second or two away from 165 miles per hour.  Once it raced past that speed it was a glorious aeroplane to control."


Baltimore flying over Italy


"Tedder Bombing" flying formation --  Baltimores


The "Tedder Bomb Carpet" delivered from 10,000 to 13,000 feet by 454 and other squadrons in formations of 6, 9,12 aircraft,

together with the "Rover David Cab Rank" of fighter/dive bombers called in to strike particular targets by controllers, who were often located well ahead of forward Army units, was in great demand, as ground attacks became stalled.  Immediate plain language radio reports by strike leaders to base about target hits used "Strine" coded messages. Thus "Apples" meant all bombs (some 80% of strikes were in the category); "Oranges" meant some were on and some off target; and "Lemons" mean a miss. 

Back at base the next "box" preparing to strike would thus vary its target priority in accordance with the code assessment.


General Leese (C.I.C. 8th Army) signaled his appreciation on 22.9.44 as follows "Thanks for the unceasing pressure you have kept on enemy positions, guns and supplies, at every point in our advance. The advanced troops have complete trust in the accuracy of your close support bombing."


A similar message of appreciation was received from Canadian Corps forward troops 26.9.44 "Bombing by Baltimores this afternoon on gun areas was excellent. Artillery much reduced", From Canadian 1st Infantry Division, "Thank you on behalf of all ranks for your magnificent help".


Baltimore "shooting up" Villa Orba air strip before final flight to Campoformido


1945 Night Intruder Phase and Disbandment

In January - February 1945 the Squadron converted to night intruder bombing and harassment of a stubbornly defensive, retreating Germany Army. This phase reached a peak during March and April. On 30 April/1st May eight Baltimores flew 13 armed reconnaissance sorties (five flew two sorties) attacking cross roads, and motor transport, success in this phase as in the other phases, was not without significant losses.


By May, W Cmdr Res DFC, DFC (USA) had replaced Henderson as C.O. For a period A Flight had been based at Forli.

Finally, 454, after settling in at Villa Orba near Udine in Northern Italy, was disbanded on 14.8.45, very proud to have been part of the 8th Army and Desert Air Force drive "From Alamein to the Alps".


On 19.7.44 conversion to Baltimore aircraft and an operational pattern of bombing, anti-sub and armed reconnaissance was established. This continued the Squadron now at Berka 3, Cyrenaica. November 1944 saw W Cmdr Henderson posted to command No. 454 Squadron in Italy. He was replaced by W Cmdr C.E. Payne. As the Eastern Mediterranean area was now virtually under Allied control, very little shipping was to be escorted, but in the months following, bombing intensified in the Aegean and on Rhodes with some leaflet dropping on Crete and other Islands. On 16.2.44, the Squadron was instructed to move to Almaza with aview to posting to the UK, but with disbandment imminent.

This occurred officially on 10.4.45, but prior to leaving the M.E., the following messages were received from A.O.C. Middle East Command:-


"On leaving my command, I would like to convey to all ranks my great appreciation for their loyal support.

Your Squadron's record has been excellent in operations and also in your almost accident-free flying.

I am certain that the missions you have flown have contributed largely to the defeat of the enemy in the Aegean.

Good luck to you all."


Mark V Baltimores

[Information from Mark Lax's book Alamein to the Alps]


The Mark V Baltimores operationally had some good and bad points.  Wing Commander Jack Coates recalled the MkV had a flat plate windscreen, a big improvement on the earlier versions which had a curved Perspex screen.  The flying particularly hazardous.  Pat Humphreys also discussed another problem, the rudder sensitivity.  This particular Mark had a most unfortunate re-design feature, in the shape of a forward-projecting horn on the rudder.  The idea behind this modification was to make it easier for the pilot to correct the Baltimore's tendency to swing on take-off or landing, but the result was that the aircraft was so light on the rudder that it wiggled its tail, which added to the difficulty of maintaining tight formation.

Within a short time, an enterprising partnership between the Engineer Officer and the Equipment Officer resulted in the acquisition of a stock of tail-units from crashed Mark IV Baltimores which were fitted to the Mark Vs, much to the relief of the Aircrews.


"Eventful Eve"

A Typical 454 Bomber Baltimore at Work in Italy by Norm Gilham

[This brief story and photographs add further to the Pola Harbour strike by the Baltimore Wing of Desert Air Force operating from Falconnara, Italy in late 1944].


"Eventful Eve" showing battle scars.  The patched holes and the broken window and nose bear witness to our lucky escape.



12 Mustangs from No 3 Squadron RAAF of 239 Wing gave us fighter protection on this daylight formation raid. 

The Baltimore Squadrons were 454 RAAF, 400 RAF, 15 SAAF.  I flew "Eventful Eve" in the bombing strike of Pola Harbour. 

Later Reconnaissance showed heavy damage to 2 ships and to the dock area.  Our call sign was "E-Easy", so we name our plane "Eventful Ee".  The scroll on the engine read "The Four Sinners Kite".  A commercial artist in civvy street, our squadron artist did a remarkable job on the planes and printed matter, etc for the squadron.


Harry Keelan - 454 with Eventful Eve



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Photos from Norm Gilham collection]