A-26 Invader in WWII header image

Douglas A-26 Invader in WWII

No sooner than the A-20 took to the air for the first time, Douglas chief designer Ed Heinemann, along with Robert Donovan began plans for a new aircraft to not only replace the A-20, but also the B-25 and B-26.  While the US military provided input, the project was initiated by Douglas.  A full sized wooden mockup was completed in April 1941.  The USAAF was impressed with the new design and issued a contract for further development.  First flight of the A-26 was not until July 1942.  Various delays kept the first production model from appearing until September of 1943.  The delays proved extremely frustrating to General Hap Arnold who wrote, “One thing is certain: I want the A-26 in use in this war ... If something drastic is not done, we cannot hope to replace the B-25s, B-26s and A-20s.

The first A-26s were sent to the Pacific for evaluation.  Crews used to their tried and trusted A-20s and B-25 showed little enthusiasm for the A-26.  Initial response from Far East Air Forces commander General Kenney was, “We do not want the A-26 under any circumstances as a replacement for anything.”  However, once shown what an A-26 with a skilled crew could actually do, he later wrote, “... the version with the eight-gun nose and no bottom turret had proved to be highly satisfactory as a replacement for the A-20s and B-25s.”

Reception for the A-26 in the European theater was more enthusiastic as crews were happy to replace their A-20s and B-26s.  Evaluation missions were first flown with the 553rd Bomb Squadron of the 386th Bomb Group.  This is one reason you see so many photos of A-26’s marked with the 386th tail markings.  The first group to actually transition to the A-26 was the 416th Bomb Group, who took the invader into combat in November of 1944.  Close air support provided by the Ninth Air Force was instrumental in allowing the rapid advance of Patton’s Army and the A-26 proved to be an ideal aircraft for the task.

Ninth Air Force A-26 Unit Tail Markings

The A-26s assigned to ETO units were supplied in natural metal finish.  The squadron codes were in the form of either two letters or one letter and one number.  These were applied to the fuselage forward of the national insignia.  The individual aircraft letter was applied aft of the national insignia.  The width and style of the code letters, as well as the position of the aircraft letter varied even within the same unit.  Due to the limited space for the individual aircraft letter, it was frequently applied slightly higher than the other letters and national insignia.

416th BG
The 416th was the first Ninth Air Force unit to fully transition to the A-26.  The group marking while operating camouflaged A-20’s, was a white stripe along the rear edge of the rudder.  Because the A-26’s were operated in natural metal, the stripe was changed to black.  With the A-26 being a new type in the theatre, invasion stripes were applied to the lower fuselage aft of the bomb bay.  Not all the 416th aircraft received these stripes and photographs indicate the position varied.

409th BG
As with their A-20s, the 409th applied a yellow stripe to the rear portion of the rudder.  Squadron and individual aircraft codes were applied in black on the fuselage on both sides of the national insignia in accordance with the practice adopted by units in the ETO.

410th BG
The 410th did not actually complete conversion to the A-26.  Those A-26s that the group operated carried a coloured stripe applied to the rear portion of the rudder similar to the 416th and 409th.  The stripe was white with four black squares. but the latter did not extend the full width of the white band, resulting in the appearance of a narrow white stripe along the leading edge of the rudder.

386th BG
The 386th completed its conversion to the A-26 in the spring of 1945.  It used the same horizontal broad yellow band edged in black that was used on their B-26s.  Squadron and aircraft codes were the same. Additionally. the 553rd BS cowlings were painted blue with some having the blue applied to the entire nacelle.

391st BG
The 391st converted to the A-26 in April of 1945.  The A-26s carried the same yellow triangle markings as their B-26s.  The yellow triangle featured a narrow black edge so the it stood out from the bare metal.  The yellow paint varied as it was drawn from various sources.

397th BG
The 397th used the same markings as they had with their B-26s.  The yellow diagonal stripe was edged in black to help it stand out on the bare metal surface.

344th BG
The 344th only trained with the A-26 but never actually operated it in combat.  As with the 391st, the 344 used their same white triangle markings that they had used with their B-26s.  The triangle was outlined in black so as to stand out on the bare metal vertical stabilizer.

9th Air Force A-26 Invader Tail Codes
Ninth Air Force A-26 Squadron Codes
9th Air Force A-26 Invader Squadron Codes
Twelfth Air Force A-26 Unit Markings
12 Air Force A-26 Invader Tail Codes

47th BG
Although most of the A-26s used by the 47th BG were operated in natural metal, a handful were painted matt black overall to make them better suited to nocturnal interdiction operations.  The group had no dedicated unit markings. instead applying two numeral codes in black to the fins of their natural metal aircraft and white on their matt black aircraft.

Pacific A-26 Unit Markings

3rd BG
The 3rd Bomb Group was the only unit in the Fifth Air Force to convert to the A-26.  The conversion began in early summer of 1945 and the group operated both the A-26 and A-20.  The 3rd was unique in that their A-26s were finished in olive drab.  It is not clear if they were delivered in olive drab or were painted in the field.  Squadron and aircraft markings were similar to their A-20s with the tip of the tail painted in a squadron color trimmed in white.  A single large white letter was applied to the tail below the coloured band.

319th BG
The 319th was an old B-26, later B-25, group from the Mediterranean that converted to the A-26 while stateside.  Conversion began in March 1945 and they arrived in Okinawa at the beginning of July.  They flew twenty missions against targets in China and Japan with no losses.  Upon arrival in the Pacific, the group painted the tails of their A-26s dark blue as they had done with their B-25s.  A large white two digit number was applied to the tail.  The serial number was repainted in white.

A-26 Invader  Pacific Squadron Markings
Flying the Douglas A-26 Invader
Douglas A-26 Invader Pilot Manual
Douglas A-26 Invader Flight Manual
Douglas A-26B Invader (late production)
Douglas A-26B Invader Drawing
Douglas A-26 Invader Nose Drawing for building the Revell A-26 Invader