On September 10, 1920, Ray Harding Hogg was born in the community of Mayking, the fourth child of Charles and Lina Hogg. Quiet and unassuming, Ray would be anything but average. He attended school faithfully, and in 1939 graduated from Whitesburg High School. That fall, Ray enrolled at Eastern Kentucky State College to pursue a degree in education. By 1941, it was becoming clear that the United States would eventually be drawn into another world war. Seeing the news, Ray began to think about the options that he would have should he be called to duty.
The Japanese attack on Pear Harbor in December 7, 1941 thrust the United States headlong into WWII. Like so many young men and women of that generation, Ray felt it was his “duty” to do his part in trying to defeat the Axis powers then determined to dominate the world.
Following tests and examinations, Ray was sworn into the United States Army Air Corps on February 26, 1943. When asked how he came to be selected by the Army Air Force, Ray said, “Well, the recruitment officers told me that they needed pilots. They thought I would probably do well as I had been to college. I told them that it sounded good. I had to wait for the Army Air Force to complete the required testing and exams, but the next thing I knew, I was on my way to basic training and primary flight school.”
Following basic training in Miami, the Army Air Corps sent Ray to Dorr Field near Arcadia, Florida for primary flight training. Ray completed this training flying the Stearman PT-17. From there, Ray was sent to Moody Field, Georgia for twin-engine flight training.
The training was intense. The warm mornings were filled with “PT” (Physical Training) followed by breakfast. The cadets would then go to classes filled with lectures, quizzes and examinations. Then came drill exercises and military detail. Daily inspection of their barracks was normal. Following dinner, the cadets would study training material in preparation for the next day.
“There were days that we were all very tired.” Ray said. “But that was just the way it was. We had a job to do and a duty to perform.”
Ray’s introduction to flying twinengine aircraft began in the Curtis Wright AT-9 “Jeep.” The AT-9 gave flying cadets the knowledge to fly a larger more complex aircraft. It was here that he learned the details of navigation, fuel management, instrument flight, emergency procedures and highspeed landings.
When asked how he came to fly the B-26 Marauder, Ray said “One day our cadet class had a visit from the wing commander’s liaison. We were informed by the liaison officer that we would soon begin transition training in preparation to fly the Martin B-26 Marauder. That was a shock to us because we had heard stories that the B-26 was a tough plane to fly. The rumor was that it could be your coffin if not handled properly. Several cadets decided to quit when they heard that news. Most of us stayed in the program though.”
The decision to stay with the medium bomber training program would prove fortuitous. Those who completed the rigorous training came to be known as “Marauder Men”. The B-26 Marauder was a difficult aircraft to master. Many trainees simply could not handle the plane. Approximately 70% of the flying cadets were “washed out” by their instructors. Those who did master flying the Marauder were considered the best of the best.
Ray was then sent to Barksdale Field, Louisiana, for advanced training in the B-26. The cadets quickly realized that the Marauder was a very different plane from the trainers they had flown. Early in the war, crews had not been properly trained to fly the Martin Marauder. Many cadets were killed in training during the early months of WWII. Because of the high accident rate, the B-26 had been dubbed “The Widow Maker.” Ray reflected on his first impressions of the sleek new aircraft.
“The first time I saw a B-26 it struck me as being the most advanced aircraft ever built,” he said. “From the beginning, I knew I was flying something real different. Our instructors drilled into us that the Marauder had to be flown like a fighter rather than a bomber. It used the same engines that had been installed in the P-47 Thunderbolt. Those engines gave the B-26 plenty of power, but it was also a heavy plane. Even with low fuel and no bomb load, it was a hot ship. Our biggest fear was getting too slow and stalling the wing. If that happened, it was certain death. As long as we kept the airspeed up, it would fly just fine. I learned to bring it in over the runway threshold at 135 mph, flare and keep the power on until the wheels touched the ground. The B-26 was so heavy, it never bounced on landing.”
On June 27, 1944, Ray graduated from flight training as a second lieutenant and was awarded his “Silver Wings.” He was granted a 15-day leave and returned to Mayking before going overseas. He enjoyed the time with his family and friends in Letcher County during the brief visit. Following his leave, Ray was ordered to Hunter Field, Georgia in preparation to join the US Army Air Forces in Europe.
Orders were issued and on November 15, 1944, Ray boarded the HMS Aquitania bound for England. After nine days of “zigzagging” across the Atlantic Ocean to avoid German U-Boats, the Aquitania arrived in Stowe, England.
Ray recalled, “I stepped off the ship and the first thing that I saw was that cold dense fog that you always hear about when people speak of England. It was so thick, I could not see the end of the gangway. That fog hung around for three days before it finally lifted.”
Orders were issued for Ray to transfer to Chilbolten, England, where he was assigned to the 9th Air Force’s 397th Bombardment Group (Medium) 597th Bombardment Squadron. Remembering England, Ray said “Once they assigned us to the 9th Air Force, we went to Chilbolten and began what was called ‘Theater Training’. We had to fly and assemble aircraft for mock bombing missions. We flew several of these theater training missions getting ready for operational missions in Europe. One thing about Chilbolten were those damp and dreary ‘Nissin Huts’ we stayed in. It seemed that even with a wood stove burning, they never really dried out.”
Originally based at Rivenhall England, the 397th BG relocated to France shortly after D-Day to support Allied troop movements at the front. This kept the medium bombers within 30 minutes flying time of enemy positions. By January 10, 1945, Ray had joined the 397th BG now based in France at Peronne Airfield. Peronne is located in northern France near the French village of Bouvaincourt-sur-Bresle.
The men of the 9th Air Force, along with so many other American servicemen, struggled against the northern European winter weather.
“It was bitter cold all the time,” Ray said. “The runways were often covered with snow and ice. So we had to take off and land our planes on a snow packed runway. We had canvas tents to billet the crews in. Sometimes, the winds would blow in from the north and bring the temperature down to 5 degrees below zero. When we had to fly missions, they would wake us up at 4 a.m. for breakfast. Sometimes the food would be cold. We lived in our flight suits.
“The ground crews and maintenance personnel had to work on the planes out in the open because we had no hangers. They tried to park the planes near tree lines for windbreaks, but that didn’t help much. I remember sitting in the tent talking and remembering how warm and nice it had been in Florida. We laughed about that. When we were cadets we thought we had it hard because of the heat in Florida, Georgia and Louisiana. We were freezing in northern France wishing we could go back to Florida. We never really warmed up while flying either. It was extremely cold at altitude. We just endured it. Of course, we had it better than the men at the front. So many of them had no shelter at all. Those fellows just had to deal with the weather as it came.”
As tactical bombers, the B-26 Marauder and B-25 Mitchell flew a different mission than the B-17 and B-24 strategic bombers of WWII. The typical B-17 or B-24 bomb group would fly one mission per day to a target within occupied Europe and return to their base in England. The B-26 and B-25 bomb groups would fly between 2 and 5 missions per day.
Another aspect of the medium bomber mission was their operational altitude. B-17’s and B-24’s would typically fly at 30,000 feet. They were susceptible to the German 88mm FLAK and Luftwaffe fighters. Because the medium bombers were providing tactical support, they operated from altitudes of 10,000 to 12,000 ft. This made them vulnerable to 88mm, 37mm and 20mm anti aircraft fire as well as fighters. These missions were extremely stressful as the crews would face the enemy not once, but twice and in some instances up to 5 times per day. This was the life of the Marauder men.
When asked about flying the B-26 in combat Ray, with a stern look on his face, said, “Well, we mainly flew against enemy communication targets: bridges, railroad yards, fuel storage facilities and ammunition dumps. It was our job to deny the enemy of his supplies. We would also be called in to support troop movements in heavily defended areas. We would fly in first and ‘soften up’ a target area prior to the army beginning an offensive. Occasionally, we would be given a NOBALL target. At the time, we didn’t know what NOBALL targets were. At least not officially. We figured it out as we went along though.”
NOBALL missions were undertaken against the German V1 and V2 rocket sites. The B-26 Marauder groups were selected to attack them because of their reputation for accurate bombing against difficult targets.
“We had been told that the Germans were killing more civilians in England than they were Allied soldiers in the field with those V1 and V2 rockets. They had to be stopped,” Ray said. “The Marauder could handle the missions requirements very well. I remember taking off from our field at Peronne in the early morning just before sunrise to attack a NOBALL target. We got to 11,000 ft. and formed up in a tight [combat] box. As we approached the IP (Initial Point), we turned with the lead aircraft heading toward the AP (Aiming Point). I looked out the window and all I could see was a thick solid wall of dense black cloud in front of us. At first, it looked like a storm cloud, but I could see red flashes inside the cloud. That’s when I realized it was FLAK. The Germans had acquired our altitude and were shooting everything they could at us. We were too close to the target to take evasive action, so we flew straight into that mess. I could hear chunks of metal hitting the airframe and striking the propeller blades. We could hear and feel explosions under the airplane and we saw red flashes several times. I still don’t know how we managed to make it through that stuff. It really was so thick that you thought you could step outside and walk on it. The Norden bomb sight was like an auto-pilot and it was in total control of the airplane from the AP (Aiming Point) on. With the bomb sight controlling the aircraft, it was straight and level flying during the bomb run. My co-pilot and I could only talk about our strategy for exiting the area once the bombs were dropped. A typical bomb run lasted about three or four minutes, but it felt like time was standing still. Once the bombs were dropped, we banked hard left with the rest of the group and tightened up the formation to maintain the defensive firepower of the [combat] box. When we got back to base, our plane was riddled with holes and pock marks from all the FLAK we had flown through.”
When asked if he had flown the B-25 Mitchell bomber Ray said, “Well, yeah I flew the B-25 several times. It was a good flying airplane, but I sure am glad I didn’t have to fly it in combat.” Ray then continued with a smile, “ The B-26 was a tough old bird. That thing was tougher than 10 acres of garlic. We took so many hits in those planes. Sometimes, it was unbelievable. There were times that we wondered how it kept flying. I remember once, a plane in our [combat] box took a hit directly under the right wing. It was an 88mm FLAK battery. That German 88 blew a hole completely through the wing and ripped most of the aluminum sheeting off the top surface. The aileron was just barely hanging on. We thought he would go down, but he didn’t. He stayed right there and made it back to base.”
On April 19, 1945, Ray flew his 25th and final mission from Peronne, France. The 397th BG was sent in to Germany to bomb a railroad bridge that prevented the Nazis from resupplying troops near the French boarder. After that mission, he was given a 30-day R&R leave and traveled to Paris, France. While returning to duty from his R&R leave, Germany surrendered to the Allies, bringing an end to the bitter war in Europe.
During the summer of 1945, Ray remained in France as part of the American occupation forces. The 397th BG was relocated to Mons-En-Chausse, France and later to Clastres, France before being formally disbanded.
By the end of WWII, the reputation of the Martin B-26 Marauder, known as “The Widow Maker,” had been completely transformed. Thanks to the efforts of flight training, ground school instructors, support personnel and flight crews, the Marauder achieved the record of incurring the least losses of any Allied bomber. In fact, the B-26 lost less than 1% of the crews that flew them. Yet, the end of hostilities brought a sad fate to the surviving Martin B-26 Marauders. The aircraft that had so faithfully served its crews during the war were scrapped in Europe. The metal was given to Germany to help rebuild its crushed economy. Only a few Marauders survive today as a memorial to those who flew them.
On December 1, 1945, Ray boarded the USS Argentina to return to the United States. By December 12, he arrived at Fort Knox, Kentucky and was given leave to return to his family in Letcher County for the Christmas holiday.
In the years to come, Ray would earn a bachelor of science and master’s degrees in agriculture from the University of Kentucky. He worked and served the Commonwealth of Kentucky as an educator in Falmouth, Kentucky. Ray continued to serve as a reserve officer in the United States Air Force. For 18 years, Ray served as the liaison officer for the Kentucky to the United States Air Force Academy. He retired in 1982 as a Lieutenant Colonel.
On December 31, 2010, Ray Harding Hogg died at the Thomas Hood Veterans Center in Wilmore, Kentucky. In a private ceremony, he was buried at the Hogg family cemetery in Mayking.
Quiet and unassuming, Ray Hogg was a true American hero. He would be remembered by most for his lifetime accomplishments. For our family, however, Ray will always be Mayking’s Marauder Man.
Victor Annas is a greatnephew of Ray Hogg.