The first B-24Ds to go abroad were 23 of Col. Henry Halvorsen’s detachment, called HALPRO, originally organized to bomb Japan from China, but rerouted to Egypt. From there, 12 struck at the Ploesti oil center on June 12, 1942, the first AAF strategic mission into Europe. Four of those B-24Ds were interned in Turkey, after running out of fuel. HALPRO planes remained in Egypt to fly raids with the Ninth Air Force, and later became part of the 376th Bomb Group.
Britain-based B-24Ds of the 93rd Bomb Group began operations October 9, 1942, and were joined by the 44th BG on November 7. The 33rd would fly 8,169 sorties on 396 missions, losing 140 planes and claiming 93 fighters by the war’s end, while the 44th flew 8,039 sorties on 343 missions, losing 192 planes but claiming 93 fighters.
The first B-24D squadron in the Pacific attacked Kiska June 11, 1942, and the 90th Group came to the Southwest Pacific in November 1942. Because of their superior range, Liberators eventually replaced all B-17s in the heavy bomb groups opposing Japan, like the 7th in India, the 28th in Alaska, and the 5th and 43rd in the South Pacific.
Like the Boeings, the Liberator also suffered from enemy fighters and on September 29, 1942, construction of an escort fighter counterpart to Boeing’s B-40 was approved. Converted from a B-24D, the Consolidated XB-41 had 1,980 pounds of crew and engine armor and 11,135 rounds for fourteen .50-caliber guns. These were placed in pairs in a new Bendix chin turret, two Martin top turrets, a Motor Products tail turret, a Sperry ball turret, and on power-operated mounts at each waist opening. One was delivered January 29, 1943, but 13 YB-41s were canceled March 16, 1943. Experience with the B-40 had convinced the Air Force that the converted bomber type of escort “would never be satisfactory”.
The “most urgent” change recommended by combat commanders was to improve frontal protection. Colonel Arthur H. Rogers, of the 90th Bomb Group, had suggested placing a Consolidated tail turret in the B-24s nose. Such a mockup was begun at Ford in August 1942, and the Hawaiian Air Depot installed this turret in the nose of a B-24D.
After successful tests in November, this aircraft participated in the Wake Island raid by 26 307th Bomb Group B-24s on December 22, 1942. By March 1, 1943, 35 turrets had been shipped to Australia for nose installations, and 20 more turrets went to Hawaii. The first B-24D-5 modified in Australia was tested on March 3, and flew a combat mission April 10, 1943. Nose turrets for Pacific-based B-24Ds were also added at the Oklahoma City modification center.
Table 6 indicates how many Liberators of each model were completed from 1942 to 1945 by each of the five Liberator builders. So many changes in equipment were requested by the various Air Forces that new aircraft accepted at the factory were then flown to modification centers and depots for final preparations. Unmodified B-24Ds and nearly all B-24E aircraft were used for replacement training in the U.S., the crews getting the most recent models when they went overseas. Certain aircraft were retained for development, such as a B-24D that became the XB-24F when modified to test treated-surface anti-icing equipment in May 1942.