Friday, 17 June 2011

Liberators of the Atlantic - Coastal Command B-24 Liberator units

In 1940, the RAF purchased 20 Consolidated B-24 A - serial numbers 40-2349 to 40-2368 - under the name of Liberators B. I. The aircrafts were dellivered from  mid 1941 and sent to Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down, where they were intensively tested. They were declared unsuitable for combat operations over Europe, given the lack of self-sealing fuel tanks, poor defensive armament and weak performances.

The Liberator had, however, some important characteristics which could be very useful: its long range and heavy bomb load made it an ideal maritime patrol aircraft. They were passed to the Coastal Command, who was desperately looking for long range patrollers to counter the German U-boats
Liberator after conversion with airborne radar mounted
An extensive conversion programm started, installing ASV MK II radars and Leigh Light searchlights. Some aircrafts were given a pack of four 20mm-cannons under the fuselage, while some others were equipped with 3 ich (76mm) rockets under each wing.
The first unit to receive the Liberator GR I was No.120 Sqn, operating from Northern Ireland. The deployment of the four-engine bomber had great effects in the Battle of the Atlantic;  the Coastal Command reconnaisssance force almost doubled its range capabilities and, for the first time in the war, it was possible to cover part of the mid-Atlantic gap. For almost an entire year, No. 120 Sqn was the only unit capable of supply air cover for convoys in the previous uncovered area.
To further increase the aircraft range, armour and gun turrets were sacrificed in order to save weight and carry extra fuel; the new version was renamed VLR (Very Long Range) The Leigh Leight searchlight gave the Liberator the capability to hunt U-boats also by night, where they had been safe and undisturbed for almost three years.

In the final months on 1942, four U-boats were sunk by No.120 Sqn and the more recently-equipped No. 224 Sqn.
The US Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force also started to operate VLR Liberators on the other side of the Atlantic, and by mid-1943 they started to fly from the Azores too.
The sudden and decisive turning of the Battle of the Atlantic in May 1943 was given to many factors, and the long range cover given by the Liberators was one of the msot important.
At the end of the war, the B-24/Liberator VLR was credited with 72 sinkings (full or shared), making it the most succesfull aircrafts against the U-boats.