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MacDill Field
Tampa Bay, Florida


Of the USAF B-26 combat units, every one other than the 17th, 22nd, 28th, 38th and 319th Groups would claim MacDill Field as its beginning or later base. Under the leadership of the III Bomber Command, MacDill Field had been the home of the 20th Group from January 1942 to October 1943. Beginning with the 320th Group in June 1942, from MacDill Field would be launched the 322nd, 323rd, 344th, 386th, 387th, 391st and 397th Groups.

        – John O. Moench, Maj. Gen., USAF, Marauder Men, p. 86.

        MacDill Field is located on a narrow peninsula jutting about two and one-half miles into Tampa Bay (1942). Photo courtesy United States Air Force.

Hangar area, with new hangers under construction (c. 1942). Photo courtesy United States Air Force.

        Twenty-five B-26s parked on the ramp for inspection. The large numbers painted on the fuselages, called "buzz numbers," were intended to discourage reckless flying by enabling civilians calling in with complaints to identify the offending aircraft. "Those big numbers were 53 inches in height with stroke of 9 inches and the numbers from 2 through 0 were 26 inches in width. Space from the trailing edge of the wing to the waist windows was ample." Photo courtesy Leslie C. Hard.

        A "J" boat, part of MacDill's Navy, on patrol in the Gulf of Mexico during World War II (c. 1943). These boats plied the coastline to pick up downed fliers or retrieve bailed-out aircrews. Photo courtesy United States Air Force.

Band posing in front of B-26 Maurauder, MacDill Field, Florida 1943

"One a day in Tampa Bay"

        In the latter part of 1942 at MacDill, thirty-four accidents claimed fifty-six lives despite a favorable climate and air approaches free of obstructions.
       In 1943 MacDill was still engaged in medium bombardment training. The training units welded pilots, navigators, bombardiers, gunners, radio operators and engineers into combat crews. The pace they were required to set was determined by the urgency of total war. Forging competent operational units demanded intense formation flying. In spite of B-26 modifications and growing knowledge of how to fly the airplane, the accident rate at MacDill remained high throughout 1943, totaling sixty-three accidents. Some of the aircraft never returned from flights over the Gulf of Mexico.

        During WWII at MacDill AFB the stubby winged B-26 Maurauders with a pair of 2000 hp engines were dropping like flies in Tampa Bay. Les Mulzer noticed the established landing pattern was too low and that landing gear and flaps were being extended too early. By simply raising the pattern altitude, delaying the extension of the gear and flaps and steepening the final approach he helped sove the problem.

Cappie Bie, writing in the Maurauder Thunder V2N1.

        We were beginning to have enough trouble with the Curtis prop that they installed a hydraulic system in to control the propeller. When we began to use the hydraulic system we found it easier to use, but we found some new problems. We were picking the airplanes up at the Martin plant which was located in Middle River just north of Baltimore, Maryland on the shore of Chesapeake Bay. We were having an occasional plane descend into the bay. Nobody could figure out why. You would take off over the water and while beginning to climb out your aircraft would begin to settle. You had the correct power setting and the proper angle of climb, but the plane would settle into the bay. There was a B-26 base in Tampa, Florida that was having the same problems. They coined a phrase “one a day into Tampa Bay.” We couldn’t find out what was going wrong.
        The project officer at the Martin plant began to accuse the pilots of not trying to get the planes up. He said that he would show us how it was done. He went out there, took off and began to settle into the bay. He skimmed it right in. The rescue boats went out and brought him and his co-pilot in. The 26 was an easy plane to get out of. You just opened the cockpit windows and while it was sinking, you just went to the top. Right after that incident, they began to put the Curtis Electric propeller controls back into the aircraft again. The majority of the pilots seemed to be in fafor of the Curtis Electrics anyway. When we stopped using the hydraulic system the “one a day into any bay” came to a halt.

-Cas. X. Governat, quoted in Maurauder Thunder V1N3.

Buzz Numbers

        Local civilians also expressed concern. A growing uneasiness in Tampa may have been heightened by the comment made at a public meeting by an Army Air Force officer who explained that "The vital drive, the urge to fly in a manner approaching recklessness and lack of fear are qualities which have made American pilots feared and respected in combat--these same qualities have also contributed to some accidents in routine operations."  Some of the reckless flying was in violation of regulations. Since low flying aircraft alarmed animal herds and ranchers, the Army responded to complaints by painting large numbers on the sides of aircraft so that they could be identified and reported.