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Dominator: The Heavy Bomber That Was Supposed to Be a Backup

Consolidated’s B-24 Liberator and PB4Y-2 Privateer Got All the Awesome Sauce

B-32. Image via USAF

The Consolidated B-32 Dominator bomber was the last US Army Air Forces (USAAF) four engine heavy bomber to enter service and the last in combat during World War II. The Dominator was in many ways similar to the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. The B-32 was planned to use the same turbo-supercharged Wright R-3350 Duplex Cyclone engines as the B-29 and to be pressurized with remote controlled gun turrets. In fact the contracts for both the B-29 and the B-32 prototypes were signed on the same day. The reason for the similarities is simple. The B-32 was developed as a back up to the B-29; a fallback plan should the ambitious B-29 not become the success everyone in the Pentagon needed it to be.

XB-32. Image via USAF

The original XB-32 prototype looked more like a fattened up B-24 Liberator than anything else when it flew for the first time on 7 September 1942. The same Davis wing design used on the B-24 was used on the B-32, and the XB-32 also had a similar empennage design, with dual vertical stabilizers mounted at the ends of a large horizontal stab. But like the B-29, the XB-32 prototype experienced engine, pressurization, and gun turret issues. In addition to the fuselage mounted gun turrets, the XB-32 also mounted a pair of .50 caliber machine guns and a single 20 millimeter cannon in each outboard engine nacelle mounted to fire behind the bomber. It didn’t help that the prototype crashed on 10 May 1943.

B-32. Image via USAF

The next prototype first flew in July of 1943 with a revised cockpit canopy. But the USAAF took one look at the second XB-32 and sent Consolidated back to the drawing board. The aircraft’s role was changed from a high altitude bomber to a low to medium altitude bombing role thanks to pressurization problems that were never really resolved- so the pressurization system was removed. The remote control gun turrets were wonky as well, so they were removed too. All turrets were manually aimed. On the plus side the B-32’s payload was increased to 20,000 pounds. The final and most obvious change was made to the empennage. A conventional tail plane arrangement was adopted, looking more like that of the PB4Y-2 Privateer than anything else.

B-32. Image via USAF

Test results gathered over the course of testing the three XB-32 prototypes resulted in orders for 1,500 B-32s by 1944. The first production B-32 was delivered on 19 September 1944, and promptly crashed when its nose wheel collapsed. In January of 1945 the USAAF began B-32 crew training using converted early production bombers designated TB-32. By this time, with B-32 development lagging seriously behind schedule, it made no sense to re-equip ETO B-17 and B-24 Bomb Groups with B-32s and send them to bomb Japanese targets. It was a good thing the development of the B-29 was more or less on track by that point. Ironically the B-32 might not have made it to the Pacific Theater at all if there had been enough B-29s to go around.

B-32. Image via USAF

General George Kenney, Fifth Air Force and Allied Air Forces commander in the Southwest Pacific Area, requested B-29s for his bomber crews, most of whom were flying B-24s. He was denied, so he asked for and received B-32s instead. Things started slowly. A pair of squadrons flying the Douglas A-20 Havoc were pegged for a switch to B-32s. A few missions were flown with three B-32s out of Clark Field on Luzon in the Philippines with good results. The crews appreciated the Davis wings and reversible pitch propellers on the big bombers, but they didn’t like the cockpit layout and noise level. Not surprisingly, the R-3350 engines were prone to fires too. But the deficiencies didn’t stand in the way of the 386th Bomb Squadron (BS) of the 312th Bomb Group (BG) switching to B-32s in July of 1945.

B-32 from the 386th BS. Image via USAF

The 386th flew just six missions after the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan but before the war ended. 13 August 1945 saw the 386th move from Clark Field to Yontan on Okinawa. There the squadron flew primarily photographic reconnaissance missions monitoring Japan’s ceasefire conditions compliance. During one of those monitoring flights, on 17 August 1945, the B-32s were intercepted and attacked by Japanese fighters. For more than two hours the Japanese made repeated attacks but failed to do more than minor damage to the B-32s. The missions continued though, and on the next day a pair of B-32s were attacked by 17 Japanese fighters. Aboard one of the B-32s two crew members were wounded. As he came to the aid of a wounded crew member during the attack, Sergeant Anthony Marchione was killed in action by a Japanese 20 millimeter shell. Marchione was the last of thousands upon thousands of Americans to die in aerial combat during World War II.

B-32 at Yontan. Image via USAF

Both B-32s were able to return to Okinawa. Propellers were removed from Japanese fighters beginning on 19 August 1945. B-32s continued their photographic reconnaissance missions until two B-32s were lost, with their entire crews, to accidents on 28 August 1945. The 386th BS and their B-32s were stood down on 30 August 1945. Inevitably perhaps, B-32 Dominator production contracts were all cancelled on 8 September 1945. Production came to a halt on 12 October 1945. The 118 B-32s built by Consolidated were broken up for scrap, the longest surviving at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (AFB) until 1949. Not a single example of the B-32 remains today, but a few turrets formerly mounted in Dominators can be viewed at museums. Oh, and this tidbit:  In an amazingly prescient case of early over-political correctness, the name Dominator was officially dropped from the B-32 in August of 1945.

B-32 production line. Image via USAF

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Bill Walton

Written by Bill Walton

Bill Walton is a life-long aviation enthusiast and expert in aircraft recognition. As a teenager Bill helped his engineer father build an award-winning T-18 homebuilt airplane in their Wisconsin basement. Bill is a freelance writer, an avid sailor, engineer, announcer, husband, father, uncle, mentor, coach, and Navy veteran. Bill lives north of Houston TX with his wife and son under the approach path to KDWH runway 17R, which means they get to look up at a lot of airplanes. A very good thing.

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