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DOUGLAS DAUNTLESS SBD—SLOW BUT DEADLY

LET’S CELEBRATE an aircraft that contributed mightily to our victory in the Pacific in World War II, the Douglas Dauntless SBD. Indeed, the SBD accounted for destroying more Japanese tonnage than any other aircraft in the war. At the Battle of Midway, SBDs were responsible for all enemy ship losses.

Douglas Dauntless SBD. Note the extended dive brakes on the wings’ trailing edges.

SBD stood for Scout Bomber Douglas, but its admirers claimed it really meant “Slow But Deadly.” Its pilots, complimenting the aircraft’s stability in dive, called it “The Barge.” This bomber had maneuverability, range, an ample bomb load, good defensive characteristics, and the ruggedness required for carrier-based operation.

Genesis of the Dauntless began in 1935 at Northrop Corporation prior to its being taken over by Douglas. Both the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps had SBDs at Pearl Harbor in 1941. Most of the Marine aircraft on the ground at Ewa Mooring Mast Field were destroyed in the Pearl Harbor attack. The Navy’s craft, though, were already carrier-based, the carriers were not at Pearl Harbor, and several SBDs flew to engage Japanese aircraft there.

A Navy SBD-3 flies past the USS Enterprise near Guadalcanal on December 19, 1942, more than a year after the U.S. entered World War II. The USS Saratoga is in the distance.

Three tidbits for the photo above: Note the SBD’s extended arresting-gear tail hook. The aircraft’s open canopies show its pilot and gunner. And the carrier’s top-secret radar array has been obscured in white by a wartime censor.

SBD cockpit. Image from Lone Sentry Blog.

The SBD had a crew of two, pilot and radioman-gunner. Its armament included two 50-caliber machine guns synchronized for forward fire and a pair of swiveling 30-caliber machine guns under the control of the radioman-gunner.

The radioman-gunner controlled twin 30-caliber machine guns, aimed through a shield protecting against enemy fire.

Powering the SBD was a Wright R-1820 Cyclone engine, a single-bank air-cooled supercharged 9-cylinder radial. It produced a nominal 1200 hp at 2200 rpm for takeoff.

This restored SBD can be seen in action in this video. Image from pixdaus.com.

A total of 5936 SBDs, in several variants, was produced between 1940 and 1944. At the Battle of Midway, June 4–7, 1942, four squadrons of SBDs destroyed four of Japan’s large aircraft carriers and a heavy cruiser; enemy losses totaled more than 3000 personnel. The U.S. carrier Yorktown and a destroyer were sunk, with the loss of 307.

There was retribution at Midway because the Japanese carriers Akagi, Hiryu, Kaga, and Soryu were four of the six that had taken part in the Pearl Harbor attack just six months before.

A History video shows Douglas SBDs in action, with commentary by one of their pilots calling it “the finest dive bomber in the world.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017

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This entry was posted on December 14, 2017 by in Vintage Aero and tagged , , .
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